“Where was Modi Saheb when Karnataka was in distress? When BJP’s own party members, contractors’ association, and private schools’ association were pleading for the prime minister to address the issue of 40% corruption, where was Modi Saheb? And where was Modi Saheb when the people of Karnataka suffered the worst floods, and Bengaluru, the Silicon City, became the Drowning City?”
These are the questions that senior Congress leader and former minister Krishna Byre Gowda — who is contesting the upcoming 10 May Assembly election from the Byatarayanapura constituency — has for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the lead campaigner for the BJP, overshadowing the party’s state leaders.
In an exclusive interview with South First, Krishna Byre Gowda emphasised that Modi’s multiple campaign visits to Karnataka would not work in the BJP’s favour this time. Instead, he confidently predicted a Congress win, as the people of Karnataka are seeking a stable government.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
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Q. Most pre-poll surveys indicate that Congress is leading, but it may not secure a majority. What are the party’s challenges despite the anti-incumbency against the BJP?
A. These surveys were conducted before the official announcement of the elections, and now the voters have to make their decision. Recent trends show a significant shift in favour of the Congress, and we are confident that we will win a simple majority.
The challenge for the Congress is that there are multiple issues in the state, and it’s hard to build a campaign around one or two specific problems. We have corruption, price rise, and maladministration issues, among others, and it’s difficult to address all of them adequately in our campaign.
Q. Your thoughts on the BJP’s New Generation politics? Does it worry you as a party? Has the Congress fielded the right candidates?
A. The Congress party has made mistakes in candidate selection, but the BJP has made more significant blunders in choosing its candidates.
The BJP’s decisions are being made by those in Delhi rather than in the state, and even (former chief minister BS) Yediyurappaji is sort of being sidelined. They are using (Chief Minister) Basavaraj Bommai as a mere puppet, and other experienced leaders like (Jagadish) Shettar and (Laxman) Savadi have also been sidelined.
The BJP and RSS are attempting to gain control over Karnataka, at the expense of a strong state leadership. They want to dictate everything from Delhi, and, therefore, don’t want a strong local leader. Instead, they are systematically wiping out strong leadership and choosing leaders who will serve the high command rather than the state.
There have been strong reactions to the decisions made by the BJP high command, which will ultimately cost them. There is no reason for us to worry about the BJP’s New Generation politics.
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Q. Do you think there is some kind of Modi wave? Will his name help the BJP?
A. Is Modi going to be the chief minister of Karnataka? What are we talking about? Is he going to resign his post as the prime minister and come and run the Karnataka government as the chief minister? Then let’s talk about it.
Nobody seems to matter. No regional leader seems to matter. They just want an iron fist control over Karnataka so that we can serve their own interests.
The BJP doesn’t seem to care about regional leaders and the issues facing Karnataka. Despite the widespread corruption in the state, Modi Saheb has been absent and has not addressed these problems.
Where was Modi Saheb when their own party member spoke about corruption and died by suicide? Contractors association and schools’ associations have been writing to him about 40% corruption, where was Modi Saheb then? Even during a national crisis like the Covid pandemic, the BJP has been accused of profiting from people’s deaths, and there was no news of Modi Saheb then! Karnataka faced the worst floods in the last three years, farmers’ livelihoods lost… where was Modi Saheb?
In contrast, during catastrophic floods in 2009, prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Karnataka and provided relief funds of ₹1,000 crore even before leaving the state.
Q. Do you think there is merit in BJP’s “double-engine government claim”?
A. Since the BJP came to power in Karnataka, the state’s share of central government taxes has decreased, and grants have been cut. The BJP is taking money from the state but not investing in its development. Additionally, the BJP wants to take away the state’s banks and farmers’ organisations like the Karnataka Milk Federation, and they are trying to impose a puppet chief minister.
If the BJP comes back to power, there will be even more corruption and the state will become a puppet in the BJP’s grand national show.
Today, he is coming to the state for what? These visits won’t win the party any votes. People are clear. They want a stable government and only the Congress can provide that.
Q. There has been criticism that the Congress manifesto is not economically prudent.
A. Is the issue of prudence only raised when the Congress promises to help people? When the BJP grants loan waivers to the richest people in India, worth ₹2 -2.5 lakh crore annually, or when they announce various freebies, no one raises questions about prudence.
Under the BJP government, taxes on petrol, diesel, and essential items have increased, while the common people struggle to make ends meet. The corporate income tax, which was at 30 percent before BJP came to power, has been reduced to 22 percent and 15 percent now. The loss to the national exchequer due to this is about ₹2 lakh crore per year. Why don’t we question prudency then?
The Congress’s benefits to the poor, on the other hand, will be immediately spent and create a demand for goods and services, leading to economic rejuvenation, as per the tried and tested Keynesian model.
Q. Has your approach to elections changed this time?
A. The Byataryanapura constituency is densely populated and consists of the poorest of the poor, a significant middle class, and some upper-middle-class residents. To reach out to people, this time, I am utilising technology such as Zoom campaigns with apartment residents, which has received an encouraging response.
We are also using a combination of physical and online events to reach out to first-time voters, using visual communication, and also digging deeper into utilising traditional campaign methods by meeting as many people in as many localities as possible.
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Q. You have complained that the Election Commission is not being fair to the Congress party…
A. We have come to accept that there is a certain level of discrimination present in all institutions. The Congress party and the Opposition have developed a resilience to this discrimination, meaning that there is no level playing field. However, we have evolved to a tougher level to combat this discrimination.
From the media houses, and judiciary to the administration and Election Commission… we have been discriminated against by everyone. But we have developed resilience and we are ready to fight.
Q. Do you expect a change in the voting pattern in Karnataka? What support does the Congress expect from the Lingayats and Vokkaligas?
A. In every election, voters consider the incumbent government and changes in voting patterns occur across all castes. The current government has been disastrous in the last four years, causing voters in major communities to turn against the BJP.
While caste is a dominant factor, it is not the only determinant of voter behaviour. The BJP’s mistreatment of Lingayat leaders has upset voters in that community. This time, people want a stable government and have learned from the consequences of a hung Assembly.
Karnataka has suffered greatly from the instability of a hung Assembly, and voters want a clear majority. The Congress party has a history of providing stable governments, and in the last five years, governance and administration in Karnataka have been derailed. Only the Congress party can get things back on track. Both major communities understand their responsibility and are willing to rise above their individual caste affiliations to support the Congress party.
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Q. What do you say about Congress infighting over the chief minister’s chair? Is the party its own enemy?
A. The media has created a false narrative that the Congress is going to fall apart due to infighting, but that is far from the reality. You always hear this statement that “Congress’ cart is going to fall apart”. If you think of Congress as a cart and the two leaders as two wheels, the media has made it seem like each wheel is going to spin off in the opposite direction, causing the Congress cart to collapse. However, the truth is that Congress leaders are still chugging along.
While there may be differences between leaders, the reality is that Congress is still functioning, and the real problem lies with BJP, whose wheels have already fallen off. It’s not Congress but BJP that is facing distrust. They are falling apart, and it will be shown in this election. Congress party will emerge as the winner.