Bengaulru: Former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, also the national president of Karnataka-based Janata Dal (Secular), or JDS, has had a busy past few weeks, addressing a rash of public meetings and drafting a strategy to improve the party’s 2013 assembly election performance, where it bagged 40 seats.

Known as a “24x7 politician", Gowda, 84, shares details of his party’s campaign led by son and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and how he plans to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in the 12 May Karnataka elections.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

How is your campaign coming along?

We are working very hard. People have seen the administrations starting from B.S. Yeddyurappa, D.V. Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar. They have suffered. During the Congress period (2013 onwards) it has been just a one-man rule as the Congress high command has become weak. Even the opposition has not functioned properly because Yeddyurappa and Siddaramaiah have shared a very cordial relationship since the time the latter was leader of the opposition.

What about Siddaramaiah’s rule?

To be very plain and frank, I have never seen a government with this much corruption, maladministration and nepotism. What happened to the Lokayukta? It is almost defunct. He (Siddaramaiah) took all the powers in the name of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and any corruption charges against the government, the ACB gives a clean chit.

So many Bhagya (welfare) schemes. You cannot fool people in the name of Bhagya and loot in the name of these schemes. This is not a permanent solution to poverty or to make Karnataka “hunger free". They start one canteen in every taluka and say that they will be able to achieve hunger-free Karnataka.

Where is law and order? Officials are unable to function and say they have no protection to work freely. He has misused and broken government machinery, spent Rs650 crore on advertising. The loan burden on the people. Whoever comes to power next, how will they be able to improve the situation? It would take the next government a year to bring things back to track. That’s how much damage has been done. Never seen a government like this.

I can’t stoop to the level of Siddaramaiah to attack the PM. Let him attack the president of the BJP. Whether Congress PM or BJP, I have never attacked the office of the PM. As a former PM, I know my responsibility.

Was the decision to accord minority status to Lingayats a masterstroke or will it damage the Congress?

Siddaramaiah has damaged the Lingayat community as a whole. There is so much division which never even happened during the state’s reorganization in 1956. The state was ruled by Lingayats for 25 years and now they are fighting. Two cabinet ministers were exclusively working for splitting the community. How were they allowed to go to the extent of fighting everyday by sacrificing government work. The minority religion status was a calculated move by the chief minister to break the community’s unity. Call it a masterstroke, call it anything you want, it is done with elections in mind and it will rebound. The earlier Congress government (UPA) rejected this proposal in Parliament. This man has tried to demolish the unity of the community.

Why do you think Siddaramaiah and the Congress started attacking JDS?

Because he cannot tolerate the progress of Kumaraswamy. That is his weakness. Where is the Congress? Karnataka is the only state they have and the party has to depend on Siddaramaiah. The instruction by the high command is to follow Siddaramaiah. The Congress wants to break my party, which I have built with all my sweat. What is Siddaramaiah? What was he in 1983? I cultivated this man. All he ever wanted was to be chief minister, by any means and at any cost. In 2004, he again wanted to be CM whether by aligning with the BJP or anyone else. He doesn’t care. I said no because I had removed an earlier BJP government. I was forced to go with them in 2006 because of the Congress.

Did Siddaramaiah’s departure dent the party?

The Congress was so weak, they wanted to poach Siddaramaiah from me. That is a great service done to me, having supported them (Congress). They lifted M.P. Prakash along with three ministers. They thought I was going to be totally demolished. At the time, Kumaraswamy was forced to go with the BJP to save the party. It was one of the worst periods of my life. They called me an opportunist. From the day Siddaramaiah became chief minister, he started to demolish the JDS. His game plan is snatch the seven legislators (seven JD-S legislators joined the Congress last week). We will defeat all seven of them.

Will JDS join the movement to create a third front at the centre? Are your pre-poll alliances with BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) and NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) only the beginning?

I have not yet made up my mind on this issue because here, I want to fight both Congress and BJP. Till the election is over I can’t give you my reaction. I am not interested in national politics. I want to improve my numbers in Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Kumaraswamy is going to become the chief minister as things stand. I went and met Mayawati. She has accepted and is likely to win 4-5 assembly seats. I want to make an entry for the BSP into the assembly. The NCP is still confused but I have told them that if you want to have some seats, there must be no soft corner for the Congress. I have no proximity with the BJP nor the Congress.

Every party leader is visiting mathas for support? Your thoughts on this.

I don’t go anywhere. I respect them all. Sringeri Peetha, Siddaganga Matha, Suttur Matha, Sirigere, Murugha Matha and all Vokkaliga Mathas. I don’t want to go and pretend to be a person who has so much respect and regard. Whenever I go to a temple or matha, we pay our respects. But I do not want to discuss politics with them. I never did. I don’t know what they (BJP/Congress) are trying because the (political) atmosphere is so polluted.

What kind of challenges is JDS facing this time?

Both parties (BJP/Congress) have ample resources. We have no financial support. We are struggling, and how to move forward is an issue for us. Though we cannot compete with their financial power, I have confidence in people power.

By realising that the JDS is also in the race, we will get small financial help and support in the next 15 days. But we do not have the money like those two, who are distributing money, materials, cookers and other products lavishly.

In social media, we still have to improve. Some well-wishers of Kumaraswamy have also helped and are working very hard. Almost all media in last five months have been bought over by government lobbies.

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