There will be a change in the country, this is my firm belief: DK Shivakumar

There is no Modi or Ram Mandir wave and there will be a change in the country, the Congress leader said at “Karnataka Dialogues,” a mini conclave,organised by TNIE in Bengaluru.
There will be a change in the country, this is my firm belief: DK Shivakumar

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister and State Congress president DK Shivakumar is unarguably the busiest politician in Congress, which is making all-out efforts to extend its winning streak in the assembly polls last year in Karnataka to the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

There is no Modi or Ram Mandir wave and there will be a change in the country, the Congress leader said in an interaction with Editor of The New Indian Express, Santwana Bhattacharya, and Assistant Resident Editor, Ramu Patil, as part of “Karnataka Dialogues,” a mini conclave, in a session titled “To the polls…and after” organised by TNIE in Bengaluru. Excerpts…

Santwana Bhattacharya: In the run-up to the assembly elections, you had said Congress would win 140 seats. You were on the mark: the party won 136. Now, what is your assessment of the situation in the state as well as nationally? How many seats will Congress win in Karnataka and across India?

DK Shivakumar: As far as Karnataka is concerned in assembly polls last year, in the initial stage I had predicted 141. This was my political arithmetic. We had some internal issues in five to six seats and we lost it. Now, coming to the Lok Sabha polls, the nomination process is over for the 14 Lok Sabha seats and remaining 14, we are issuing ‘B’ forms. I am confident that in Karnataka, we are going to give a significant number to Parliament. Earlier, though we had our government here in 2019, we could not give a good number of seats to Parliament. As far as the national level is concerned, our seats are not finalised in many parts. But for the NDA, it will not cross 200 seats. In Karnataka, there is no Modi or Ram Mandir wave. On the other hand, Congress has stood for its values and delivered what we promised, people trust us. There will be a change in the country, this is my firm belief.

Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar at “Karnataka Dialogues” organised by TNIE in Bengaluru.
Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar at “Karnataka Dialogues” organised by TNIE in Bengaluru.

Ramu Patil: What are the factors working for the Congress? Unlike the BJP, the Congress or I.N.D.I.A bloc is not projecting a PM face. Is that the correct approach?

DKS: We are a bloc of 23 political parties, still I.N.D.I.A has not decided who should be the prime ministerial candidate. We believe in collective leadership. I.N.D.I.A was born in Karnataka as it was decided at a meeting held here. We look at every state and all the leaders. Our AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge is the convenor of the alliance. Collectively, we will face the elections and we are getting a good response for this. In Karnataka, if BJP was strong and if they were confident of winning all 28 seats, what was the need to have an alliance with JDS? They are weak and that is why they went to a party that had thrown them out of power earlier. They have joined together with a purpose to defeat Congress, it is the people of Karnataka who will decide.

RP: Do you think the guarantee schemes approach will be a game-changer for Congress? It worked in Karnataka, Telangana. Now there are national promises….

DKS: We coined this guarantee scheme. It is not done for the party, but for the welfare of people of this country. A woman had to pay Rs 400 to Rs 1,000 for a gas cylinder, cooking oil price increased from Rs 90 to Rs 220 per litre and prices of many other commodities increased. Even during Covid time, the Central government tried helping big companies and not the small people. We decided to help people economically. BJP looks into emotions, we look into development of every individual. We gave free power, women can now take free bus rides and women get Rs 2,000. It is the development of the common man, and through this their socio-economic status will improve. We went to Telangana and Himachal Pradesh, where we delivered our promises. This is not guaranteed only for votes, but to give strength to the common man.

SB: But you also have Modi’s guarantees as a reply to it…

DKS: Modi works on emotions. He works on Article 370, Ram Mandir, CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and other such issues. We will look at a hungry person. If a person’s stomach is full, he will be happy. When Congress was in power at the Centre, we came up with many laws including right to food, right to employment, etc, but in the last ten years, this NDA government did not bring any such law to help the common man. This is the difference between our party and theirs.

SB: Do you think projecting Kharge as prime ministerial face would have helped Congress, particularly in Karnataka?

DKS: Kharge is the convenor of I.N.D.I.A bloc, our ultimate goal is to win more seats in each state. Then parties will decide. There was a time when Sonia Gandhi led the UPA, MPs wanted her to become PM. But she sacrificed this and gave the opportunity to an economist [Dr Manmohan Singh]. This is the inner strength and leadership of Congress. Let I.N.D.I.A come to power, then we will decide.

RP: There is a perception that development has taken a backseat in Karnataka due to huge allocations for the guarantee schemes…. How do you respond?

DKS: If I am strong, my country will become strong. I should be physically, mentally and financially healthy. Also, guarantee schemes allocation is just Rs 52,000 crore and for a state like Karnataka, it is not a big amount. We are there for the common people. The PM could not control the prices of commodities. The PM said he will double the income of farmers, which he could not. We need development and we have allocated Rs 1.27 lakh crore for the development of the state. We look at problems from a common man’s perspective. In Bharat Jodo Yatra, an old woman gave a cucumber to Rahul Gandhi and told him that she had grown it on the land given to her because of Indira Gandhi. This is the gratitude of people who were landless many years ago.

SB: On one hand, your government is going to the Supreme Court for not getting drought relief funds from the Centre, and at the same time, the government is allocating huge amounts of funds for guarantee schemes…

DKS: Every piece of document is available online. The way funds are allocated to Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh is not the same. Karnataka is the second top state in the country to pay taxes. Today Karnataka is witnessing drought in 224 taluks. It is the duty of the Central government to provide drought relief funds. The CM (Siddaramaiah) and the ministers met the Union Ministers. But not a single rupee has been given. Earlier, when such droughts were declared, thousands of crores were allocated to the states. When a state reels under severe drought or in extreme situations like Covid, the mandatory 100-day job under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is extended to 150 days. If it was a BJP government in power in Karnataka, they would have helped us, like how they have done in states where BJP is in power. They do not want to lend any help as Congress is in power (in Karnataka) and the people here did not not vote for them.

Even in Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget, where they allocated Rs 5,300 crore for the Upper Bhadra project, not a single rupee has been released. We are being looked at as political enemies.

SB: What is Congress and I.N.D.I.A bloc’s narrative when you go to the voter this election? Is it a strain on the federal relationship? Or the promise of guarantee? Or saving the Constitution?

DKS: There is no level playing ground. Centre is taking our money and is torturing us. We want to fight for our taxes. On issues like Mahadayi and Mekedatu or any other issue bothering the state, BJP MPs (from Karnataka) have not raised their voices. There are 27 MPs from Karnataka’s BJP and one from Congress. Karnataka is facing drought and this could have been averted had the necessary permissions for Mahadayi and Mekedatu projects been given. If they really wished to solve the problems, they could have done so, but BJP’s eyes, ears and heart are closed. Our main narrative is “Our Tax, Our Right”.

SB: Many popular Congress leaders have joined BJP. Why isn’t Congress able to retain its leaders?

DKS: BJP is misusing the central agencies. The party is like a washing machine where the leaders who jump parties are being cleaned up. Many leaders in Maharashtra — the Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister and former Chief Minister — jumped to BJP. Immediately, the Union cabinet closed all the cases against them. They are threatening every leader with central agencies and they are successful at that. Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal is put behind bars at a time when the nation is facing elections. Every day, my family and relatives and friends are getting nearly 20 notices from central agencies. We are harassed on a daily basis to kill me politically.

RP: Despite all the challenges you brought the Congress party to power in Karnataka. What needs to be done to the party in other states and at the national level to revive it?

DKS: I have not looked at the national level. There are leaders like Mallikarjuna Kharge and others, and I am just looking at the state level. I am too tied up here having two major portfolios. After the Lok Sabha elections, I am sure, we will have a clear road map on it.

RP: BJP and JDS leaders say that after the Lok Sabha polls, the Congress government in Karnataka will not be stable ? What is your response?

DKS: I think these two parties are daydreaming. Our government is safe. Why did JDS and BJP join hands? There were many JDS leaders who were ready to jump to BJP. To keep their flock together they have joined hands.

RP: What is your opinion on electoral bonds issue? Will it resonate with the voters or is it too technical for voters to understand?

DKS: The apex court of the country has given a judgement against the bonds. It clearly termed them illegal. After being slapped with notices from central agencies like ED and CBI, many companies have purchased bonds and this is one of the biggest corruption cases. Now the question is whether tax would be applicable or not on the money that has come to the political party. The Central Board of Direct Taxes has to reply.

SB: There was a parliamentary sovereign promise that the names of those giving money through electoral bonds would not be disclosed. Now, all that has been disclosed. As somebody who has been in political life for very long, how do you think it will impact political funding in the future?

DKS: It is very difficult for any political party now. No businessman will come forward to help any party, though we have provisions to issue cheques to political parties, they will be afraid of such types of governments in power. Definitely, there will be a lot of impact. But, the court has already given a judgment, let me not discuss much on that issue.

RP: You referred to the Mekedatu balancing reservoir project which your alliance partner DMK opposes. Will you convince them post LS polls?

DKS: Whether it is DMK or AIADMK, all are one in Tamil Nadu when it comes to their state’s interests. According to me, their interest also will be protected by implementing the project. The Supreme Court has ordered release of 177 tmcft of water to TN in its judgment. Abiding by it, Karnataka can build a reservoir. But they want the reservoir to be built in their territory… and we want to build in ours. The court will help us in this regard. The project area comes under my Kanakapura Assembly constituency. We implement the project and allocate water for Bengaluru and southern parts of the state.

SB: The opposition is raising the issue of EVMs. Rahul Gandhi made a statement which led to BJP making a complaint to ECI. The SC accepted the plea whereby 100% matching of VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) with EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) Data has been accepted. Do you think that is going to make a big difference?

DKS: Political parties should be cautious on this issue. In Madhya Pradesh when counting happened, 75 percent of the votes on ballot went for Congress and in EVMs the case was reversed, and even BJP themselves got shocked. Every vote should be looked into by our polling agents. I don’t understand the technology, but a lot of our other leaders are discussing the issue. There should be fair, free and transparent polls.

RP: You took the initiative of Brand Bengaluru to enhance the image of the city, but Bengaluru continues to face the basic issues like traffic congestion, waste management and other things. As Bengaluru development minister, where do you see this city in the next ten years or so?

DKS: I took water resources and Bengaluru development portfolios with a passion.Though I was not born here, I’ve been brought up here and have been living here for over fifty years. Since Bengaluru is not a planned city like New Delhi, Chandigarh and Mysuru, the roads here cannot be widened as the price of compensation will be huge. Twenty years ago, when I was urban development minister, the population of the city was 55-60 lakh. Now it is 1.4 crore. Some families own 4-5 cars, and we cannot impose extra tax on them like in some other countries. We look at alternatives such as Metro trains, ring roads etc. If there was no NICE road it would have been a big problem.

Parallelly, we have planned the peripheral ring road at an estimated cost of Rs 26,000 crore to Rs 27,000 crore. Meanwhile, farmers have been protesting against it, but I don’t want to give it up. We have also planned for a tunnel road for which tenders have been called. We have received 70,000 suggestions for Brand Bengaluru including solid waste management. We are compiling them. We also want to tap the tourism potential of the city which is an IT hub and knowledge capital. Except for Vidhana Soudha there were no places of attraction for the commoners. In 3-4 months we will start working on our agenda.

SB: Predictions for BJP and NDA coming with 370-400 LS seats. If that kind of a scenario happens, Congress would be out of power for the longest time, almost 15 years. After Nehru, Modi would be the second PM to be in that post for the third time. How does it pan out for the Congress?

DKS: If BJP was strong, why would they have allied with JD(S) in Karnataka? Why would they need to induct leaders from Shiv Sena and NCP in Maharashtra, or (Naveen) Jindal? They feel that they will not cross even 200 seats. It is just for public consumption that they are projecting these numbers, but not with their inner strength.

RP: The BJP-JD(S) alliance has created a lot of buzz especially in Bengaluru Rural. Amit Shah launched his poll campaign from there. How is the scenario in the only LS seat that the Congress could win last time?

DKS: They admitted that they are weak and hence came to the Parliamentary constituency in Channapatna. If the JD(S) was strong, why did former PM H D Deve Gowda ask his son-in- law (Dr CN Manjunath) to contest on the BJP ticket? Take it from me on record: They will not win in any of the four seats including the three that the JD(S) took as part of its alliance with BJP.

RP: What about the socio-economic survey (Caste census) report by the backward classes commission. There was opposition from Veerashaiva Lingayats and also Vokkaligas?

DKS: As far as our party is concerned, we want the caste census, but it should be done in a systematic way by letting all the stakeholders give their opinions. We are not against it. The report came and after coming to know about the numbers (population of each caste) we should take an appropriate step.


Why did Congress field dynasts, the family members of leaders, in 15-16 LS seats, even as BJP constantly attacked you on the issue.

DKS: The BJP is also in the same boat as they also gave tickets to family members even at the instance of replacing the candidates. See, it has become inevitable for us. The leaders get groomed in leaders’ houses. My brother was not in public life, but used to help me. Meantime, when I was out of power, the bypolls for Bengaluru Rural were announced. Without consulting me, CM Siddaramaiah announced my brother DK Suresh as a candidate as HD Kumaraswamy declared his wife as JD(S) candidate. The BJP-JDS fought combined, and I had to show my political clout and eventually my brother won by 1.3 lakh votes. He won three consecutive polls. Taking the aspirations of the local leaders, including MLAs, a dozen of family members of leaders are being given tickets this time.

Was the decision based on a survey or ground reports?

DKS: Certainly we consider surveys. Personally, DK Shivakumar will not believe in the surveys unless the sample size is not less than 50,000 in every assembly constituency. Some surveys in the recent past predicted lesser seats for Congress in the assembly polls in the state.

You got it right when your predictions came right in assembly polls. What is your assessment of Mysuru-Kodagu?

DKS: It is too early to predict. We have fielded a man next door — M Lakshaman, a Vokkaliga — after several decades of hue and cry by the community. Myself and the CM decided to give it to a Vokkaliga against Yaduveer (scion of the royal Wadiyar family of Mysuru). Things are likely to take different shapes in the days to come.

But you being close to the royal family, you too might have approached them?

DKS: I had a message that the family member would take a political plunge, but BJP struck the deal.

Will you stake a claim for CM post, after LS polls if Congress performs well?

DKS: The matter is already settled between myself, Siddaramaiah, Mallikarjun Kharge and the party high command. But I don’t want to set the date.

(You can watch the full interview on TNIE Videos Youtube channel)

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