Karnataka chief minister H.D.Kumaraswamy spoke about the misinformation about his government, 2019 Lok Sabha election and his ambitious waiver schemes
Bengaluru: Six months since the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), and Congress formed a coalition to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power in Karnataka, chief minister H. D. Kumaraswamy continues to fight off reports of instability in his government. So much so that his administration has been unable to capitalize on its ₹ 49,000-crore farm loan waiver, interest-free loans to street vendors and decision to restart some big-ticket stalled projects.
Kumaraswamy, however, is not discouraged by the developments, calling them “bumps" that are slowing him down but not stopping his drive to clean up the bureaucratic system and find long-term solutions for farming in the state.
In an interview, Kumaraswamy spoke about misinformation about his government, 2019 Lok Sabha election and his ambitious waiver schemes. Edited excerpts:
Nearly six months on, there is still talk that this government has not settled down. How would you rate your performance?
We have settled down and are moving positively. The farm loan waiver (FLW) guidelines are almost ready and is in a stage of implementation. Several infrastructure projects are coming up like Peripheral Ring Road (PRR), elevated road, three of the eight proposed industrial clusters are in take-off stage. But this has not gotten any attention.
From the day this government was formed, there has been an attack with a steady and systematic flow of misinformation that has had an impact on the attitude of officials and sends the wrong message to the people. The entire system has been spoilt and it takes time to set these things right. No other coalition government in the history of this state has gone through such a situation from the very beginning. Even though my coalition partners have given me full support, I have to clean up this system. I think even the media has been unfair to us.
There is criticism that you haven’t done anything beyond announcing the FLW?
We have not stalled or stopped any scheme of the previous government. The PRR, elevated corridor projects, providing tap water to all villages within the next five years, etc., are all in the pipeline. We have tried to give direction to several of the infrastructure hurdles that plague the city and other parts of the state.
How is this government trying to balance capital and revenue expenditure as most of the schemes so far fall into the latter category?
We are not putting in ₹ 45,000 crore in one year alone for FLW. I expanded the previous Siddaramaiah government’s budget by ₹ 10,000 crore to ₹ 2.18 lakh crore. Of this, ₹ 6,500 crore will go towards FLW and ₹ 3,500 crore will go towards capital expenditure. PRR, elevated corridors, college buildings, irrigation projects are all capital expenditure. FLW and sixth pay commission ( ₹ 16000 crore) will come in revenue expenditure. We are keeping capital expenditure in mind when announcing new schemes and taking both together.
If we create confidence in the minds of people that we are an alternative to NDA and can fix issues, 1996 could happen again-
Aren’t you at risk of setting up a populist culture with these waiver schemes?
Think of it more as a saving the farmer than a populist programme. There have been three severe droughts and floods in Karnataka in as many years and even though dams are full, farmers are not getting the right price for their produce. I agree FLW is not capital expenditure but it is a social aspect and the responsibility of the government. There will be more damage if the farmers move away from agriculture. These schemes are on long-term basis and in a positive direction. If we can bail them out once and ensure they do not fall into the debt trap again by making them economically more resilient, it won’t become a problem. Even the proposed student loan waiver scheme is because the government has fallen back in creating new employment. Until we can fix this, the government has to save the younger generations and their families.
Do we have enough funds for schemes like these?
We have already reached 56% of revenue receipts and it is likely to be around 106-107% by March-end. Karnataka has a good environment for revenue and it’s unlikely that I will be forced to violate the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Is there a risk of the JD(S) losing ground to the Congress or vice versa? Or, as you say, can both parties grow in a coalition?
There have been two elections right after assembly elections in May and five bypolls after. No truth in talk that JD(S) will finish off the Congress. Congress has benefited more than the JD(S) since the time the coalition was formed. There is nothing to prove that Congress-JD(S) alliance equals advantage BJP. This is an error in analysis.
Has your equation with Siddaramaiah changed since the time this coalition came into being?
There could be small differences but not things that cannot be resolved.
No truth in the talk that JD(S) will finish off Congress as it has benefited more than us since the time the coalition was formed-
Will Mysuru become the hurdle when 2019 seat-sharing discussions come up?
When time comes, we will decide as it is also part of our give and take. They gave us Shivamogga earlier. There shouldn’t be too many problems.
Do you think 1996 will be repeated in 2019? Hasn’t the political climate changed?
In 1996, there was no majority for any party and then came the united front with H.D. Deve Gowda as prime minister. Political analysts are predicting the same situation in 2019. If we create confidence in the minds of the people that we are an alternative to NDA and that we can fix many of the problems this country is facing and get this message across, 1996 could happen again.
But many parties who attended your swearing-in-ceremony fight each other in their respective states?
There are problems in some states. There may not be a pre-poll alliance but there will be a post-poll alliance. We may have a friendly fight but after elections, in order to save the country, to bring a change in the regime, everyone is thinking along these lines. The centre has been anxious ever since the JD(S)-Congress alliance was formed in Karnataka.
In May, you had told Mint that in the democratic set-up, Congress is more dangerous than the BJP. Do you still think so?
When you look at five years of BJP’s rule, the misuse of constitutional institutions like CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), RBI (Reserve Bank of India), etc... Such institutions being misused by the centre is another issue but the developments in recent weeks has raised suspicion. The BJP seems more dangerous than all other parties.