At least three public addresses in a day, meeting grass root level party workers at every district en route, unveiling of government projects worth crores of rupees--this has been Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's daily schedule for almost a month now. Amidst the tiring schedule of his Karnataka Navanirman Yatra (a monthlong statewide tour to promote his government), OneIndia caught up with a busy but enthused Siddaramaiah in Udupi who believes that anti-incumbency is non-existent in Karnataka. From the assembly elections to polarisation to his new found interest in Hindutva, Siddaramaiah shares the reasons behind why he believes the Congress will retain power in the state.
Will Karnataka elections be the most polarised it has seen in recent times?
They (Bharatiya Janata Party) are expecting polarisation and that is why they are strongly campaigning for communalism. However, it is not possible in Karnataka. Karnataka is a different state. It is not Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, or Madhya Pradesh. It is different from Hindi speaking states.
In the last few months, you have successfully kept the BJP on the backfoot on a range of issues including Hindi imposition and Kannada pride. How have you managed that?
It is not management. We are taking the right decisions at the right time. We have clarity on all issues, hence I take the right decisions. We have clarity on issues of language, social justice, secularism. I have no confusions. BJP is confused because they have no definite ideology.
Allegations are being made that the Congress is peddling soft Hindutva to counter the BJP's attempts at polarisation. Your thoughts?
No, we are not. I do not believe in soft Hindutva or hard Hindutva. Hindutva is Hindutva. Humanity comes first. Religion without humanity is no religion. That becomes communalism and that is what the BJP is doing.
You have been countering Narendra Modi directly during your public interactions. Your posters are plastered across the state. Are you becoming larger than the party?
Nobody is above the party. I am conveying the ideology of the party to the people. I am a little aggressive since BJP is attempting to polarise votes and is making false promises. I am only countering it. It is not Modi versus Siddaramaiah; it is Congress party versus the BJP. This is an ideological fight between Congress ideology and BJP. If you ask me, this time around, because they (BJP) are making Hindutva a major issue, this election will be communalism versus secularism.
Where does the Janata Dal (Secular) feature in this equation?
JD(S) is confined to five or six districts. I won't say that the JD(S) has no base in Karnataka. They may be strong in a few pockets but it has a limited place. Even the BJP has no base in all districts- for example, Mysuru, except Krishnaraja, they have no candidates for any other constituency. In Mandya, there are no winning candidates for the BJP. They have no strong candidates in Hassan, Ramanagara, Bengaluru Rural, Chikballapur or Kolar. BJP is very weak in South Karnataka. Congress isn't like that. We are fighting in constituencies where the BJP, as well as the JD(S), is strong.
Just as you ask if the BJP has the right over Hindutva, parties like AIMIM ask if Congress has the right over Muslims votes. Do only Hindu votes matter since you know Dalits and Muslims will vote for you?
The BJP directly opposes Muslims. Ask people like Ananth Kumar Hegde what the BJP's stand on Muslims is. He will tell you the truth. B S Yeddyurappa and the like are liars and hypocrites but Hegde will tell you the truth (referring to Hegde's earlier comments about making changes to the Constitution). Though he has no political culture he will tell you the truth and expose their hidden agenda.
You had proposed ambitious bills like Anti-superstition bill or Karnataka Private Medical Establishment bill. Are you happy with the outcome, even though they are watered down?
We did not want to make them too stringent in the first phase itself. Changes will be brought in depending on our experiences. Amendments are likely to be made.
You have claimed that perpetrators as well as victims of communal clashes are all Dalits or belong to backward classes...
This is the RSS and Bajrangdal's doing. There is nothing to hide. Innocent boys from backward classes are being fed communalism, hatred of other religions and incited against Muslims.
Are children of RSS or Bajrang Dal leaders among the victims?
A compensation has been announced for families of Deepak Rao and Ahmed Basheer but what about the others like Prashanth Poojari (murdered over two years ago) and others. Is it due to the elections?
Compensation is announced in the case of a death due to communal violence not due to personal reasons. We give Rs 5 lakh from the government but since these families are poor, I have announced an additional Rs 5 lakh from Chief Minister's fund.
By doing so aren't you already declaring that Deepak Rao's death was a result of communal hatred?
No, I haven't declared anything. Prima Facie it looks like a case of communal violence. His family is very poor and deserves the help and hence an announcement has been made.
Most exit polls have predicted a hung assembly. What are your predictions for the upcoming polls?
We have carried out surveys too. AICC has conducted surveys and so have I. According to our surveys, we will get a comfortable majority, There will be no hung assembly.