Ahead of the last leg of campaigning in Karnataka, Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah has defended the party’s decision to project BS Yeddyurappa as chief minister in the light of the anti-corruption campaign against him. In a free-wheeling interview, the BJP stalwart has downplayed concerns around the impact of demonetisation and GST implementation on the economy, while suggesting that the saffron brigade was eyeing gains in many new regions after making its way to the Left’s impregnable citadel Tripura.
What’s your assessment of the Karnataka Assembly elections and its likely outcome?
It’s not an assessment, but it’s my firm belief that the BJP would form government with a comfortable majority.
Why do you think that the people will elect a BJP government in Karnataka?
There's more than one reason for the people to choose the BJP over Siddaramaiah-led Congress government. Let me list them out — more than 3,500 farmers have committed suicide in Karnataka during the Congress rule. There’s no other state which has seen such a surge in farmers’ suicide.
On the contrary, Maharashtra, in three and a half years of the BJP government, has registered a 42 per cent decrease in cases of farmers’ suicide.
The rise in number of suicides indicates the government has failed to address the issues faced by the farmers such as the lack of irrigation facilities. Moreover, the level of sensitivity on the part of the government towards the problem is zero.
Secondly, the whole of Bengaluru has been handed over to Harris-George and Roshan Baig (the alleged mafia duo from the Congress ranks). The law and order situations have crumbled. Anybody can barge into a hotel and kill just anyone. Not even an FIR is registered. As many as 24 BJP workers have been murdered in the state.
In the manifesto released by the BJP for Karnataka, the party has promised to waive off farm loan up to Rs 1 lakh. The BJP had made similar commitments in Uttar Pradesh during the Assembly polls. Since farmers’ distress is pan-India, why can't the Centre waive off farm loans uniformly across the country?
It’s not like that...farmers’ situations are not same everywhere in the country. In UP, the previous had ignored the farmers for over 15 years, whereas in Karnataka, a farmer with an M.Sc in Agriculture committed suicide. We are not talking about a helpless illiterate farmer here. It’s not a small thing. So, this issue of farmers’ loan waiver should be addressed after looking into the conditions of farmers in each of the states.
There has been some debates on the term of reference of the 15th Finance Commission and particularly of the 2011 Census as a reference point, in some of the southern states. How do you look at it?
Debate is good. I don’t take any of the debate negatively. The 15th Finance Commission should take note and consider the views of all who should articulate their arguments before it. But there’s one thing — if each state begins to think this way then who would bear the cost of the Indian Army? Who would bear the cost of running the Parliament and several embassies and offices of the ambassadors across the world?
But discussions and debates, I admit, should happen in public and all the stakeholders should put forth their arguments before the Commission. It’s a quasi-judicial process.
The BJP is seen playing the caste card in Karnataka. Besides, there’s an attempt on the part of the Congress to cut into the Lingayat vote base.
Who is at fault of playing the caste card in Karnataka? Who has played the Lingayat card? The Congress hasn’t succeeded in reaping dividends out of the caste card since 2014. The record is before all to see.
PM Modi, in one of his rallies has reportedly asked the people not to waste their votes by choosing the JD (S) candidates. What do you think of it?
No, Modiji did not say that. The JD (S) cannot oust the ruling Congress as it has a limited influence, in a few pockets. So, those who want to vote out the Congress from power should support the BJP— this is what he had meant to convey.
You tweeted during the course of the Mysore roadshows that there are people who talk against interests of India like Pakistan. Who were you referring to?
Today, Pakistan has praised Tipu Sultan saying that he fought the British etc. So, I have tweeted to state the similarity in thoughts and actions of the Congress and Pakistan. Even here (Karnataka), they (Congress) celebrate the Tipu Jayanti.
How do you assess the Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah as a politician?
I don’t need to assess Siddaramaiah. He, as a Chief Minister is a failure. He has committed disasters in the state. The issue of corruption was seen as a big plank of the BJP... It’s even today...
...but hasn’t it been blunted after the BJP fielded tainted candidates?
Who is the candidate?
...Reddy brothers and even the BJP’s CM candidate B S Yedyurappa.
What are the allegations against Reddy brothers? Tell me if there’s a single case against them. Nocahrges have been proven against BSY. The Karnataka government did not appeal in higher courts against Yedyurappa as they knew that they wouldn’t be admitted.
Is the Karnataka BJP no longer faction ridden?
There’s no such thing now. Everyone is unitedly contesting the elections. Yedyurappa will rule for a full five-year term (in the backdrop of three chief ministers sharing power in the last BJP regime in Karnataka). We made him the BJP state unit chief and then the chief ministerial candidate. In Varuna Assembly seat, there is not much to read into denying tickets to BSY’s son Vijayendra. We have denied tickets to 15 claimants in each of the Assembly seats.
The Election Commission has expressed concerns at the use of money power in the light of seizure of about Rs 180 crore cash.
We don’t do this.
You’ve mentioned in BJP manifesto to take steps to strengthen the Lokayukta. But the Modi government couldn’t constitute the Lokpal in four years.
Central government is not the only stakeholder in the process of constituting the Lokpal. We can take initiatives. The Chief Justice of India and the leaders of other parties are members of the panel. (Mallikarjuna) Kharge ji doesn’t attend the meeting at all.
...but Kharge wasn’t recognised as leader of the Opposition.
We don’t have to give status. I cannot give him the seats needed to get the Constitutional position. How can I give seats (in Lok Sabha). His party will need to win the seats. This is the Constitutional arrangement.
It was reported earlier this week that the cash circulation in the economy has reached the pre-demonetisation level.
There has been a growth rate in the last two years. The GDP adds up.
Law Commission has recently discussed the possibilities of holding simultaneous elections.
I would like to make a comment when the Law Commission prepares a report on the basis of the deliberations. But I think one day or the other there would be a need to enact a law in the Parliament on the subject. It would be possible (holding simultaneous elections) only then.
Inter-state river water distribution has been a contestable subject in a few of the states in the southern states. What do you think is a lasting solution to this?
It’s not an issue of just southern states. It has been seen across the country. There is a mechanism. If there is a case before the Supreme Court, one should not comment.There had been the Narmada issue also, besides the issue of sharing of water from Tapi.
Once the BJP came to power in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, the issue of the inter-state water distribution was resolved amicably. We could do similar things here.
The BJP had set out for ideological battles against the Left in Tripura, West Bengal and Kerala. After winning Tripura,what are the plans in store for WB and Kerala?
We are working hard in Kerala and West Bengal and in both the states the BJP would give good performances. In West Bengal, the BJP would win 22 Lok Sabha seats. In Kerala, we are in talks with two allies to broaden the socio-political base.
One of your trusted and old NDA ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP) broke away. Could the relations have been handled better?
It was not an old ally. It had been with the NDA only from 2014. They were with the NDA during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, but afterwards the TDP had been out of the NDA for 10 years.