Siddaramaiah, 69, the chief minister of Karnataka, is fighting the 12th and probably most important election of his career in a state that rarely votes the incumbent back to power.
He is expecting this election, on 12 May, to be one of those rare occasions.
Supporters’ demands at various villages that he stop his convoy and meet them meant that the CM was running nearly four-and-a-half hours behind schedule on Wednesday. The delay was such that Siddaramaiah finished his afternoon meal of ragi ball and country chicken curry at 6.24 pm in the evening, at a supporter’s modest home in Sindavalli village.
The CM has been crisscrossing the state addressing innumerable rallies. Later, the visibly tired Siddaramaiah, who was set to visit seven more villages before 10 pm in the night, spoke to HT’s Venkatesha Babu and Vikram Gopal, predicting a clear majority for his Congress party. Edited excerpts:
Q: The campaign is coming to a close. How do you see the situation?
A: I am confident that the Congress party will get a full, clear majority. This is based on the work we have done over the last 5 years. We have fulfilled 95% of the promises made in our manifesto.
Q: Several opinion polls have predicted a hung house. Will you take the help of the Janata Dal (Secular) if required?
A: That situation will not arise. We will get a majority of our own.
Q: You are spending the last few days of the campaign in your constituency of Chamundeshwari and also contesting from Badami? Is it because the contest in Chamundeshwari has become challenging? Which will you retain, if you win both?
A: No challenge. I will win both constituencies, easily. Will take a call on what constituency (to retain) after elections. Badami, I decided to contest as our workers from Northern Karnataka repeatedly requested me to. I think that will also have a ripple effect on other seats in the area helping us to win even more.
Q: Will the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah magic work in Karnataka?
A: What magic? Karnataka’s voters are very intelligent and mature. They will not get swayed by empty speeches. They have seen our work.
Q: Why has the level of discourse become coarse in this election? For the first time, a sitting CM has served a defamation notice of Rs 100 crore on the PM?
A: Who started it? When somebody repeatedly tells lies, can we keep quiet? People will start believing a lie if it is not refuted. Modi compared us to dogs. We don’t have to learn lessons about loyalty or love for the country from the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). It is Narendra Modi who has created this (bad) atmosphere. The Congress party did not start this. I have never attacked anybody personally. Also, I have never seen a PM who lies so much and who indulges in character assassination. What recourse did we have, except to place the truth in front of people?
Q: Will a victory in Karnataka lead to a Congress revival across the country?
A: The victory in Karnataka will be a stepping stone to several forthcoming victories including the general election in 2019.
Q: Your AHINDA (the Kannada acronym for Dalits, backward classes and minorities) base has delivered an OBC (other backward classes) CM. But even within the Congress there is a clamour by a section for a Dalit CM. Mallikarjuna Kharge has said the CM will be decided by the high command after elections?
A: (Gets visibly irritated)..Did you hear him in full? Later on didn’t you see that he said only Siddaramaiah will be our CM this time. If there is any party capable of providing a Dalit or a minority as CM, it is only the Congress. But this time I will be the CM.
Q: But this time you have hardly given 17 seats to Muslims and 15 seats to women?
A: I agree last time we had given 19 (seats to Muslims). But how many has the BJP given? Only the Congress takes along all sections of society together.
Q: Will your son Yatindra be in your cabinet?
A: (Smiles) No, no. (Though) he will win easily (on his seat from Varuna).
Q: What has been the impact of the decision to give Lingayats a minority religion status? Has that gambit paid off ?
A: It never was a political issue for us. There was the Nagamohan Das committee (report, which was based on representations) of the community. The government just acted on it, based on the community’s request.
Q: Your Bhagya schemes (populist measures) specially Anna Bhagya (rice at Rs 1 per kg) seem to have struck a chord in your first term. Any signature scheme you plan for the second if you win?
A: We have released a full manifesto and will implement the schemes in it. Nowadays though, the number of voters who look at a manifesto and vote on that basis are very less. Other factors play a role (smiles).
Q: Have you become bigger than the party in Karnataka? Are you interested in a national role?
A: Absolutely not. I will only be in Karnataka.
Q: Your opponent BS Yeddyurappa (who is the BJP’s CM face) has already declared that he will take the oath on May 17th. JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy had indicated he will do so on May 18th (to coincide with his father’s birthday). So have you already decided on a date too?
A: Let them first get a majority, then Yeddyurappa can daydream about (taking the oath). Under no circumstances will the BJP get power in the state. I will be the next CM.