At 4 pm on Wednesday, 3 May, two earth movers trundled past crowds of people gathered around the Srirangapatna bus stand, their buckets filled with flower petals. Local Congress leaders highlighting the party’s poll promises to the crowds were abruptly interrupted with the loud noise of fire-crackers. As a cavalcade of cars approached, a sudden change of mood was palpable, with the crowd hailing the leader they had come to see that evening.
Former chief minister and the Congress’ mass leader Siddaramaiah had arrived to campaign for the party candidate in Srirangapatna. From the moment his car stopped at the location, throughout his speech, and till the time he went back to his car, the sloganeering hailing Siddaramaiah didn’t take a break.
South First caught up with the leader in between campaign runs for an interview. Edited excerpts.
Q. You have promised to ban outfits like Bajrang Dal in your manifesto. Do you think Congress has made a mistake in giving the BJP an opportunity right before elections to turn this into a communal issue?
A. No, not at all. We are going to ban organisations that have indulged in hate politics and create unhappiness among all sections of society. They are setting up one community against another. Such organisations will be banned, or we will take action against them. The BJP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Mahasabha, Hindu Jagarana Vedike are all sub-organs of the RSS and that is why we call them Sangha Parivar. Bajrang Dal is always involved in hate politics. That is why we said we will take action. If they do not indulge in hate politics, then we aren’t going to take any action against them.
Q. You say you will ensure reservation is hiked to 75% so that all deserving communities get representation. Is this your rebuttal of the 10 percent EWS quota and the Basavaraj Bommai government’s decision to hike reservation?
A. The government of India has given reservation to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) by amending the Constitution. In the Constitution, there was no provision for EWS reservation. Article 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution are very clear that those who are “socially and educationally backward” are eligible for reservation. There is no point mentioned in these articles that economically weaker sections are also entitled for reservation. That is the law. That is the Constitution.
But union government has amended the Constitution and inserted a clause into Article 15 and 16 to allow 10 percent quota to EWS. We will increase quota to SC, STs, OBCs, Vokkaligas, and Lingayats. The BJP government in Karnataka, while re-categorising reservation, has abolished four percent reservation to Muslims on flimsy grounds. We are going to restore that by amending the Constitution and increasing the ceiling limit of reservation from 50 percent to 75 percent.
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Q. Don’t you think this 75 percent reservation will take away from the concept of equal opportunity for all stressed by Dr BR Ambedkar?
A. But Dr Ambedkar drafted the Constitution. Is there any provision under Articles 15 and 16 for EWS quota? Then why have they (Union government led by BJP) brought an amendment to the Constitution and created reservation for EWS?
Also, the ceiling limit which has been fixed by Supreme Court is not mandatory. Under special circumstances, if established with empirical data, the reservation quantum can be increased. That is why we will bring an amendment to the Constitution and request the government of India to include the amendment in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution. We have to give it protection. In the recent announcement, the state government has either not requested government of India to do so or GOI has rejected the proposal of Karnataka.
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Q. Has the Basavaraj Bommai government’s decision on reservation set the Congress campaign back this election?
A. No. We are not making it a very serious issue; it is one of the issues in this poll campaign. But it is a political gimmick. The BJP government is totally against reservation and social justice. They have done this amendment without any commitment. That is our allegation against the BJP.
Q. Voting is barely a few days away. How do you see the campaign so far by Congress, JD(S) and BJP?
A. This time the people are showing a lot of interest and enthusiasm and there is a wave in favour of the Congress throughout Karnataka. I think the Congress party will come back to power with a comfortable majority.
Q. Despite your campaign being centred around corruption, anti-incumbency, etc, pre-poll surveys show that BJP is in a close contest and the Congress is only likely to be the single-largest party and be short of a majority. How do you see it?
A. There will be no fractured verdict this time. The people of Karnataka have experienced that a coalition government does not do justice to people. Therefore, they want to bless the Congress party and give us a comfortable majority.
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Q. Pre-poll surveys also show that you are the top choice for chief minister. Do you expect the same from your party?
A. It is the opinion of the people. Ultimately, these survey reports won’t be taken into consideration while electing the leader of the legislature party. Newly-elected MLAs will have to elect the new leader of the legislative party. On the basis of the opinion expressed by newly-elected MLAs, the high command will take a decision.
Q. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies in Karnataka have boosted the BJP’s campaign. Does it worry you?
A. This is an election to the state legislature; not an election to Parliament. Modi didn’t come to Karnataka during floods or during the Covid-19 pandemic when people died. Modi could not also supply oxygen properly to Karnataka. But now he is coming here. People can understand why Modi is coming now and why he didn’t come during the crisis. Karnataka’s voters are mature people and they know how to vote for which party. According to me, even if Modi comes a hundred times, it won’t make any impact.
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Q. You speak of repealing laws passed by BJP government when Congress comes to power. But your own initiatives like the caste census never saw the light of day. What about them?
A. The government of India passed three laws which were against farmers. Farmers agitated and protested against these laws and, ultimately, the government of India withdrew these laws. But Karnataka hasn’t withdrawn the amendment brought to the APMC [Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee]. If we come to power, we will immediately repeal the Act and restore the original Act.
During our tenure, I conducted the caste survey in Karnataka for the first time after the 1932 census. There was no caste census since then. In order to give preferential treatment to vulnerable sections of the society, there must be empirical data. That data isn’t there. That is why I conducted the survey and spent ₹262 crore on it.
That survey is pending with the permanent Backward Classes Commission. When HD Kumaraswamy was chief minister, then backward classes minister Puttaranga Shetty decided to receive the report, but HD Kumaraswamy asked him not to receive it. So the HD Kumaraswamy government didn’t receive it. Neither did the BS Yediyurappa government nor did the Basavaraj Bommai government. It is still pending with Backward Classes Commission.
When we come to power, we will immediately receive the report and we will take action as per the empirical data available in the report.
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Q. Your direct rival in old Mysuru region is the JD(S). You have no MLAs in Mandya or Hassan. Is the party doing anything differently this time to take on the JD(S) in its bastion?
A. In Mandya particulary, our performance was bad in the last election, but this time things have changed. We are hopeful of winning at least four-five constituencies. We will win Nagamangala, KR Pete, Srirangapatna, and Maddur. In Mandya, too, we have a 50-50 chance. We will win there too.
Q. Why was there so much delay and confusion over which seat you would contest from and what happened in Kolar?
A. Since Badami was far off, I didn’t want to contest from there. People of Badami wanted me to contest from there and I could have easily won, but since it is far off, it is very difficult for me to go to the constituency every week and address the grievances of the people. That is why I decided to contest from Varuna.
My son (Dr Yathindra Siddaramaiah) is the sitting MLA and he also suggested that I contest from Varuna. People of Varuna, too, are very particular that I contest from here. What happened in Kolar was that people wanted me to contest but ultimately high command took a decision and selected me to contest from Varuna only.