Over the last few months, his party has been able to sustain a campaign against the alleged corruption of the incumbent BJP government in Karnataka. Yet, the Congress faces several challenges in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections.
Speaking exclusively to South First, Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar described the situation as “tricky”, while expressing confidence that a mandate for the Congress would be the result of people wanting change in Karnataka.
“We are in a tricky situation. It is not about the Congress’ performance but about the people’s mandate. It is the desire of people to change the most corrupt government of this country,” he said.
‘Karnataka is corruption capital under BJP’
“Karnataka has become the corruption capital under the BJP. People want change,” said Shivakumar, insisting that the party had been receiving an overwhelming response wherever its Praja Dhwani Yatra went.
Pointing to several sections of citizens staging protests on various issues, Shivakumar deemed it an “unprecedented” situation.
“From the village level to the Vidhana Soudha, whether it is an IAS officer or a peon in the state, everyone is fed up with this government,” said Shivakumar.
“Look at the records of the last year alone. Pontiffs of mathas are protesting; contractors associations, teachers’ associations, anganwadi workers, and pensioners have all gone on protest,” he noted. “Government employees also had called for a strike, but the government agreed to give them interim relief after our intervention.”
He continued: “At no point in time in the history of Karnataka politics have such demands and strikes been called at this scale. Even caste groups like Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes are on strike, and minorities have been neglected,” Shivakumar said.
Caution on communal issues
Even as he spoke about minorities, Shivakumar was reminded that his party refused to take a strong stand in communally sensitive issues like hijab row.
The Congress has been treading cautiously on issues concerning the Muslim community, with BJP often putting it in a spot with allegations of “appeasement politics”.
“It is not about being put in a spot. We believe in all sections of the society. We don’t want to see any community being singled out. Politics is full of sharing and caring. We have a democratic set up. We have a Constitution which we respect. Whether Hindus or minorities or anyone, we have to take everyone together. This is Congress’ basic ideology and I don’t want to shift from my ideology,” Shivakumar claimed.
South First‘s Tracker Poll-1 on the Karnataka Assembly elections as well as internal surveys of parties, including of the Congress, have shown that the party could emerge as the single-largest entity, but may fall short of a majority with its vote share only showing a slight change.
Congress’ vote share challenge
Congress’ vote share in Karnataka has not crossed the 40 percent mark since 1999, while the BJP’s has seen consistent rise with the exception of 2013 Assembly polls. DK Shivakumar insisted that new voters and undecided voters may hold the key to Congress’ vote share challenge.
“There is big change among new voters and undecided voters. Earlier, communities like Lingayats, Vokkaligas, sections of Backward Classes and SC communities had not fully backed the Congress. That has completely changed and they want to rectify mistakes that have happened,” Shivakumar said, adding that the reservation hike announcement by Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government hadn’t made communities happy.
“BJP announced a hike in SC/ST reservation, but what they couldn’t get it added to the 9th Scheduled of the Constitution. They claim they have a ‘double engine government’, then why have they not been able to do it?” Shivakumar asked.
On the vote share front, Congress is hopeful of benefiting from what it deems as “BJP’s mistakes”.
Where the votes will come from
“Take Mandya, Hassan, Mysuru, for example. The dominant community there — Vokkaligas — have not voted in a consolidated manner for the Congress so far, but there is a big change now. North Karnataka, where Veerashaiva Lingayats are a dominant group, feels let down by the BJP, especially after BS Yediyurappa’s exit.
“Also, they feel the BJP hasn’t fulfilled the promises made to them. They feel that they should change their vote,” Shivakumar opined on where Congress hopes to bring votes in its favour from.
The party chief is also confident on wooing farmers.
“Farmers are a huge bloc. BJP said they would double farmers’ income and waive off loans up to ₹1 lakh. They haven’t done either. The BJP government has taken no corrective measures to tackle inflation and price rise. Prices are sky-high and incomes are getting lower. You can’t expect any change from BJP. The only change possible is change of government,” DK Shivakumar told South First.
Stand on 2019’s turncoats
In 2019, when MLAs from the JD(S)-Congress coalition government huddled up at a hotel in Mumbai keen on jumping ship, Shivakumar sat outside the hotel in pouring rain demanding that he be allowed to speak to the MLAs.
As many as 17 MLAs quit the coalition and a majority of them joined the BJP, leading to the collapse of the then government. Four years down the line, all of that seems to have been forgotten and Shivakumar is open to welcoming them back into the party fold, albeit with conditions.
“Some of them feel they made a mistake. There are some who stand by the party loyally and have the commitment. Some have a good image in their constituency and the return of some of them (turncoats) are on the cards. I will disclose their names at the right time,” Shivakumar said.
While not all in the party are keen on welcoming those who quit the coalition back in 2019, that is not the only bone of contention in Karnataka Congress.
On factionalism in the Congress
From chief minister aspirants to candidate selection, Congress has multiple factions, but DK Shivakumar denied factionalim in the party. “In the Congress, there is no opportunity for factionalism. Whatever my party high command says, we will bow to them, we will respect the sentiments and follow it,” Shivakumar stated.
In 2014, the then president of Rajasthan Congress Sachin Pilot had vowed not to wear a “Rajasthani Safa” (turban) until Congress returned to power in the state. DK Shivakumar has a similar vow and it dates back to September 2019 when he was sent to Tihar jail.
“First, my bounden duty is to ensure that the Congress party comes to power. I started keeping this beard from Tihar jail. Let me see,” Shivakumar said when asked if his resolution was that the beard would go if Congress came to power or when he becomes chief minister.
Shivakumar said he is worried, naturally, about the cases against him by ED, IT and CBI.
“They (BJP) wanted to play with cases which are no way part of my life only because I didn’t support them. I kept our MLAs from Gujarat with me so they raided and filed a number of cases against me. I am fighting them in court. I believe that injustice will not flow from the seat of justice. I believe the courts will give me protection and respect the laws of this country,” DK Shivakumar said.