Bengaluru: It’s been a busy day for former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. The state president of the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) has held back-to-back meetings with hundreds of people from different constituencies at his Bengaluru home. A lot of complaints made to the 58-year-old are about candidate selection—for which Kumaraswamy’s father and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda is the final authority.
With barely two months to go for the Karnataka assembly elections, Kumaraswamy and JD(S) are preparing to fight heavyweights, Siddaramaiah-led Congress and Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Unlike the BJP and Congress, who have spent their campaigns targeting each other, the JD(S) strategy is to ask people for an opportunity to govern the state. Known to have a reputation as “Kingmakers" for having allied with both the Congress and the BJP in the past when there have been fractured verdicts, the party is now seeking a majority on its own.
In an hour-long interview with Mint, Kumaraswamy takes the two national parties and their top leadership head on, explains his plans for the state (if voted to power) and how he plans to get there. Edited excerpts.
What is your poll platform?
Primarily, the issue of loan waiver for farmers. The Congress and BJP both have refused to waive off farm loans from nationalised banks. I have shared that our party will do this if voted to power. But the waiver can happen just once. In the last four years, farmers across our state have lost crops worth Rs58,000 crore. The state government announced waiving off Rs8,165 crore worth of loans from cooperative banks on 28 June last year. We are now in March 2018 and barely Rs1,300-1,400 crore has been released so far. The government says the money will be released in June but elections will be over in May. That means the next government has to decide. This was an election gimmick.
What are your plans for the farmers?
My program is to ensure that the farmer doesn’t become a debtor once the loans are waived off by bringing changes in farming policies, marketing techniques and agriculture systems. I had visited Israel to observe the agriculture system there. If our government comes to power, I will invite some 200 researchers and experts on agriculture to stay here for five years. I have prepared my own concepts for things like cold storage, food processing etc at an investment of Rs25,000 crore.
Apart from this, I want to introduce a scheme that allocates Rs6,000 per month for every pregnancy—three months prior to childbirth and three months postnatal—that would cost Rs3,000 crore. I intend to bring a scheme that gives Rs5,000 per month to senior citizens above the age of 68 years till death.
What else will you focus on?
The second issue is employment. (We) have a plan that would provide jobs to 5-10 lakh uneducated youths in rural areas to stop them from migrating to urban areas. Take our forest department where we claim to plant about 10-20 crore saplings. My program intends to outsource tree plantation to uneducated rural men and women with a monthly salary of Rs5,000 for barely an hour’s work. I intend to start a skilled university where car drivers, nannies, domestic helps are taught about public behaviour. English knowledge is mandatory these days and I will give top priority to it.
From Mangaluru to Karwar, we have a 300-km stretch of sea. Tourism fuels Goa’s economy and job creation. If they can do it, why can’t we do it here? As per my calculations, we can create 50 lakh jobs.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has called you BJP’s ‘B’ team. Your comments.
Poor Rahul Gandhi doesn’t know the ABCD of Karnataka politics. They (Congress) use us when required and are now calling us the BJP’s ‘B’ team. Who is the reason for me joining hands with the BJP earlier (in 2008)? Before criticizing us let Rahul Gandhi go to his mother and ask what was promised and why people rejected their party which was ruling (at the centre).
I have said this many times, in the democratic set-up of this country, they (Congress) are more dangerous than the BJP. Today if we stand next to the BJP and just cough, the Congress will be washed out of Karnataka. Whatever little dignity the Congress party has is thanks to the JD(S). The Congress led by Siddaramaiah should be the Z or Y team of the BJP. By discussing about the JD(S) time and again, you (Congress) are inviting your own ouster, as predicted by the BJP, from Karnataka.
Did Siddaramaiah’s departure impact the JD(S)?
Siddaramaiah barely built the party here. Even when he was here, we had to invest the money, gather people and he would come once the stage was ready to make a speech. Even after Siddaramaiah left, I won 28 seats in 2008 and crossed 40 in 2013 and this time I will touch 113 and I am confident.
How will the elections play out according to you?
The Congress will get 50-70 seats. Congress high command has no power to give tickets other than those suggested by Siddaramaiah. He is the high command in the Congress party today, not Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. If Siddaramaiah gets a fractured verdict, he will join hands with the BJP to form the government. Siddaramaiah is someone who initiated opportunistic politics in Karnataka.
Do you agree that Siddaramaiah’s popularity has risen since his departure from JD(S)?
We presumed that only Narendra Modi could do marketing but Siddaramaiah has overtaken Modi in marketing. They are marketing an empty box that has no material. They give advertisements about irrigation in newspapers but in the same paper, a news article speaks about a farmer who committed suicide.
What challenges does the JD(S) face?
Both the national parties have their own cadre base to fight the elections, money might, star campaigners etc. I do not have any of this and will have to overcome it. Both Congress and BJP do not have candidates in 80-90 constituencies and neither do we. Ours is a mass base. We gather crowds at places and the people there have to translate to votes.
People have experienced the governance of two national parties for five years each. Their experiences have led to an impression that Kumaraswamy needs to be given a chance.
How about criticisms that yours is a family-run party? Will you wife and nephew contest this election?
There seems to be more competition on this from Congress and BJP on this front. There are many leaders whose children are entering. Yeddyurappa and his son. If given a chance, another son will also enter. Siddaramaiah has already prepared his son. They accuse our party of being a father-son party or family-oriented party but the parties that criticise us need introspection on where they stand.
Are these preparations also for 2019?
I have been saying that there are two stages here. In the first stage, we should get a clear majority in the assembly elections. If I give a good administration within months, winning 20 Parliament seats will be no surprise. We will then play a major role in 2019 as well. I will have some stake.
Your party has long been considered pro-rural? What about your urban programmes?
That is a systematic misrepresentation by some people that JD(S) is a rural base party that has no vision for the cities. But JD(S) has made the biggest contributions to cities. We brought Cauvery water to Bengaluru, approved the metro. JNNURM scheme came during my time. I tried to bring all city civic corporations together to build huge infrastructure for Bengaluru to form Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike. The intention was to use Rs25,000 crore to build brand Bengaluru. But both parties have failed in that.
Are regional parties gaining more significance nationally?
If the JD(S) gets 100 seats (in Karnataka) and our party forms the government this time around, there will be an impact on Parliament elections as well, in my opinion. Uttar Pradesh bypoll was one experiment. If regional parties come together, national parties won’t take off in the next elections.