Former Karnataka Home Minister G Parameshwara maintains a stoic silence on whether he will be the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress in Karnataka.
“My priority is to bring the Congress back to power,” the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief tells TNM in an exclusive interview.
“There is no question of an alliance with anyone. We are confident of getting a simple majority,” he says.
According to Parameshwara, the government has succeeded in delivering on its promises of “development and social justice” and efforts are on to communicate the same to the electorate.
Dismissing the anti-incumbency factor, he says, “We have done fairly well. Out of the 165 promises we have made, 155 have already been implemented. That is why in every speech the CM and I say that we have delivered on what we promised.”
Elections are scheduled in less than a year’s time as the current CM Siddaramaiah-led government will finish its tenure next May.
Playing down the buzz in the media on friction between the CM and himself, he said, “On some issues, we may have different points of view but we come together in the interest of the party and the government. In fact, the other day, when the media asked us this question, we were together. We told them that we have no differences,” he says.
In the extensive interview, the 66-year-old seasoned politician touched on various issues including Bengaluru’s infrastructure mess, Lingayat separate religion demand and farmer suicides in the state.
Here are the edited excerpts of the interview:
Do you regret losing out on your ministerial berth?
Home ministry is a very sensitive department. The high command offered me a choice – whether I wanted to keep the Home portfolio or remain the KPCC president. The party is supreme, especially in an election year. I couldn’t handle both. It is a challenge for me. No one else in the country has been given the opportunity to spearhead two elections consecutively.
Which community will be the prime target for the party’s campaign this time around?
We never encourage caste-based politics, Congress is an inclusive party, and we will take everybody together. We do have a concern for the poor, irrespective of any caste, any religion. Our Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya scheme is not for one community.
Then why did the government commission a caste census and why is it not made public? And why is the government calling for more reservations?
There was a need to see the status of the people from different communities. That information will be useful. The government will release it as soon as possible, maybe there are some technical issues.
Reservation brings in social justice. This is not only in Karnataka, TN has brought in 69%. We want 70% because the population of these categories is more here.
Why has the Congress taken up the Lingayat issue?
We are out of it. Political parties cannot decide on religion. Historians, swamijis and people who belong to that category should take a decision. I am the KPCC president, my stand is official. Minister MB Patil has spoken in his individual capacity, he is not representing the Congress on the issue.
Why has the government lately been taking pro-Kannada stand? Why do we need a flag?
This has been going on for years. And we had to take the decision at some point. Previous governments just sat on the fence and did nothing. The Kannada Sanghas have been working towards this for so long. That Kannada pride must be there.
The flag is a recognition of the same that does not mean we insult the national flag. Many other states also have their own flags.
What have been the major achievements of the current government?
Agriculture, irrigation has been one of the major achievements. We have also improved on other areas like water conservation. We are also the first state to introduce online marketplace for farmers and provided farmers with increased minimum support prices.
Why have so many farmers committed suicides if the state government has done well?
Farmer suicides are not today's issue, it has been happening for a long time. It is only now that we are quantifying them and the issue is being politicised. The numbers are high due to successive drought years.
Why can’t the state government waive off farm loans?
In Karnataka, farmer loans amounted to Rs 42,000 crore out of which close to only Rs 10 lakh crore was from state co-operative institutions. The PM said he will look into it. Later the Finance Minister said that they cannot waive off the loans. The state government has waived off all loans upto Rs 50, 000 which has benefitted 22.5 lakh farmers. The Manmohan Singh government had done so much more, though the current government has collected more tax benefitting from low oil prices internationally.
The activists who opposed said there needs to be more public transport. Why is the government not doing that?
Tomorrow the government can buy 10,000 buses. But where are the roads? If you want a rail system, how many years will it take to put the system in place?
Do you think that the poor civic amenities in Bengaluru will affect the party’s chances?
Bangalore is in a mess. But it is not that we have not spent money, but still it is not enough. But how much can we widen the roads? It is only due to the rains there are potholes. Don’t think of short-term benefits. The state government is gradually increasing the number of TenderSURE roads. It takes time. Any infrastructure overhaul takes time. Cities of similar nature are in the same condition or even worse.
BJP’s national president Amit Shah is bound to lead the party’s campaign. Are you worried?
Why should we worry? What is so great about him? What has he done for Karnataka? We are also a national party; we bring our Vice President for delivering speeches and speaking to the electorate. We are the local leaders; we will face the local BJP. We are the ones who have performed. It is Siddaramaiah, me and other leaders who will face them.
Will corruption allegations against Energy Minister DK Shivakumar hurt the Congress?
These are allegations. They have not been proved anywhere. It is an open challenge. Prove that a minister has taken so much money. When Congress was in Opposition, we produced a cheque and questioned Yeddyurappa with proof. So far, they have not answered.
How different is the Congress from BJP?
Their agenda seems to be oriented towards only a few. Congress is an inclusive party. BJP, on the face of it, plays the Hindutva card. There are 18% minorities in this country. Do you want to isolate these Indians? Let them spell it out and say that Muslims are second grade citizens.