Widespread anger against the Modi government and its failure to create jobs will are major election issues, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said on Tuesday. The Congress, according to him, will certainly emerge as the single largest party in Karnataka and can even cross the half-way mark. In an interview with TNIE, the former Union finance minister questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign style, terming it as unbecoming of a PM. Excerpts:
Q: How important is the Karnataka election from the national perspective?
A: It is important because it is the only state south of the Vindhyas where the BJP is challenging the Congress and therefore it is important to see whether the BJP has been able to gain over 2014 or has lost in comparison. Secondly, it is coming about five months before elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, which are Hindi speaking states. Result of this election will a precursor for the three state elections.
Q: How do you see the situation in the state?
A: What I gather from people is that the Congress will clearly be the single largest party. Some independent polls say we will be close to the half-way mark. But the CM is very confident that we will cross the half-way mark comfortably.
Q: Do you think there is anger against Modi's economic policies?
A: Clearly, there is widespread unhappiness about the economic situation. In colleges, there is an uncertainty among students about getting jobs when they graduate. Seven out 10 will say they are not sure if they will get jobs after they graduate.
Q: You have said unemployment will be the largest issue in the 2019 elections. Where did the government go wrong?
A: The government is not creating jobs. The SME sector accounts for 90% of all jobs in the country. The sector is simply not creating jobs and additional jobs are being created only in non-SME sectors. But, how much can they create? Another problem is that the government is not filling up the vacancies. Teaching jobs are not being filled, HC judges are not appointed and vacancies are not being filled in many departments.
Q: If this is a factor, how has the BJP been winning elections?
A: Winning election is again a self-perpetuating myth. Where have they won? They won in UP and it was driven by anti-incumbency. They lost in Punjab, Manipur, Goa and Meghalaya. Gujarat, they lost. They planned to get 150 seats, but ended up with 99. It was a moral defeat. In the last elections, all the first-time voters almost unanimously voted for the BJP, even in Tamil Nadu. Mainly because Modi promised to create two crore jobs. But, today they don’t have jobs.
Q: If so, will it not work against the Siddaramaiah government as well?
A: Yes, it will. However, the fact remains that Karnataka has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 2.6% when the all India average is 5.9%. In Gujarat, it is 5%. Relatively, more jobs are available in Karnataka.
Q: The PM is campaigning in Karnataka like the way he did in Gujarat. Will it work?
A: That is the only weapon the BJP has got. To address 21 rallies in Karnataka and tell the Supreme Court that the PM is not able to devote time to resolve issues is a sad commentary. I don’t think the PM should campaign so intensively in a state election and even if he does, he should remain Prime ministerial. When Modi campaigns, he is not prime ministerial.
Q: PM cautioned Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi against attacking Yeddyurappa saying they are also out on bail?
A: He has run out of issues. The average man does not even know about the National Herald case and anyone who studies it for half an hour knows that it is a bogus case. But, Modi presents it as if they are out on bail in a major criminal case.
Q: Do you think BJP’s attempt to paint Siddaramaiah as anti-Hindu and its talk of ‘ease of doing murder’ in Karnataka will work?
A: These are all one-day slogans. People remember them for only one day. This is not the kind of campaign that a PM should launch.
Q: Parties are wooing voters by promising freebies. What’s your take?
A: Some subsidies are merit subsidies and they are justified. America gives food coupons and education vouchers. And, some goods and services that people cannot access have to be given free in order to ensure a minimum level of life, like rice or wheat. Apart from these two, I don’t believe freebies have a great effect upon people. They would rather get good roads, hospitals, schools, drinking water. Governments should concentrate on giving public goods, merit subsidies and some absolutely essential items.
Q: What are the factor working in favour of the Congress in Karnataka?
A: Five years of stability and one chief minister, in contrast to the previous five years, which were marked by instability, infighting and three CMs. The GSDP of Karnataka has grown by eight per cent and per capita income of average Kannadiga has grown by 125% in last five years. That is why Yeddyurappa does not speak about his record as CM. There will be some degree of anti-incumbency but that is at local level.
Q: In the event of a hung assembly, do you think secular forces should join hands?
A: Congress leaders here tell me that we will get absolute majority. Generally, not just in the context of Karnataka, if coalitions become inevitable, the correct path is being shown by Mayawati and Akilesh Yadav in UP. Secular and liberal parties should come together.
Finance Commission terms unconstitutional: Chidambaram
Bengaluru: Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday accused the Modi government of distorting and violating the constitutional provisions while appointing the 15th Finance Commission and drawing up the Terms of Reference. Speaking to mediapersons in Bengaluru, he said the terms are biased against the states that have been better governed in the past and are relatively more developed. “If the Terms of Reference are followed, the share of funds of the affected states will be sharply reduced, revenue deficit grants will be stopped altogether, and the states will be denied the freedom to devise their own social welfare programmes,” he said. It is another grave misadventure after demonetization and flawed and hastily implemented GST, he said. Chief Ministers and Finance Minister of some states have taken it up and it has to be amended, he said. Chidambaram accused the Centre of using IT department to target leaders of opposition parties.