With just a week to go for the 10 May Karnataka Assembly polls, all political parties and their leaders have intensified campaigning across the state.
Even senior Lingayat leader and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar, who recently ended his over-four-decade-long affiliation with the BJP and pledged allegiance to Congress, is campaigning around the clock in his Hubballi-Dharwad Central Assembly constituency.
Shettar, in a free-wheeling conversation with the South First, spoke of his reason for leaving the BJP and affiliating with Congress instead of the JD(S), of how BJP leaders had been conspiring to sideline him in the party — and how the saffron party’s hidden agenda is to end the dominance of Lingayats in Karnataka’s politics.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q. It’s been over two weeks since you joined Congress. How is the party treating you? How is the response from voters when you go out to campaign?
A. The Congress is treating me well… with respect and honour. They are treating me equivalent to other leaders of the party. There is a good atmosphere in the party.
I am also receiving good response from the people. When I explained to the voters of my segment about me quitting the BJP and pledging allegiance to the Congress, they understood my reasons. They also know very well how the BJP ill-treated me. I have done good work and am well-connected to people at the grassroots. I am confident that people will vote for me in the 10 May Karnataka Assembly polls.
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Q. Your decision to join the Congress shocked not only your followers but also many senior BJP leaders. Why did you choose the Congress over the JD(S)?
A. On the advice of my well-wishers, I have joined the national party, Congress. The combined strength of a national party and Jagadish Shettar can do wonders. Even when I was with BJP, I won six consecutive elections. Shettar and Congress joining hands will be a winning force in this election.
Q. You are a senior Lingayat leader and a former chief minister. Yet there is talk that the BJP humiliated you on many occasions. Why was this kind of ill-treatment meted out to you in the last one year?
A. There was a conspiracy against me in the BJP for the last one year. There was also a whisper campaign that I would be denied a ticket and some other person would be given the ticket from Hubballi-Dharwad Central Assembly segment. Because of the self-interest of some people in Karnataka, an atmosphere was created against me.
I am the senior-most the Lingayat leader in Karnataka. There was apprehension among some people that I might get the top position (chief minister’s post). I assured every leader of the party that I will work only as an MLA, I will work for the development of the region, I don’t need any power or position, including the chief minister’s post.
I don’t want to name any of the leaders who conspired against me. But it centered around one person — BJP National General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santhosh.
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Q. There is talk that the BJP is sidelining Lingayat leaders. Is this true? How do you react to this?
A. It is true that Lingayat leaders are being sidelined in the BJP. Lingayat leaders, including former MLA Yogi Banakar from Hirekerur, VS Patil from Yellapur, Laxman Savadi from Athani, and Mohan Limbikai from Dharwad, have left the party. Lingayats have been dominating Karnataka politics. Sidelining the Lingayats is part of the BJP’s hidden agenda to end the dominance of our community in Karnataka.
Q. What will your role be in the Congress? Has the party entrusted responsibility for any constituency to you?
A. I have no task or aim. I joined the Congress because my self-respect was hurt in the BJP. Without putting any conditions on the party, I will be there as an ordinary party worker. I want only respect.
I have given two days’ time to the party to utilise me for campaigning in other seats. I will campaign in all those constituencies that the party insists on. I have given only two days because I have to work in my own segment.
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Q. Hubballi-Dharwad Central Assembly seat has become a prestige seat for the party and also for you. From former chief minister BS Yediyurappa to all the star campaigners of the BJP — everyone has been campaigning extensively in the constituency. What is your strategy against this?
A. I have no strategy against the BJP. Even in the last six Assembly elections, I had no special strategy. I am with the people. I am in the heart of the people in this segment. People have seen me working to find solutions to their problems in the last five years. They are with me.
Whether I am in the Congress or the BJP, people prefer me. The BJP national leaders’ extensive campaigning and their efforts to ‘teach a lesson to Shettar’, will not work here. I have the support and blessings of the people. I will win with a thumping majority.
Q. Will Rahul Gandhi be campaigning for you?
A. It is not yet fixed, but there is a possibility of him campaigning for me.