Ankola: Union minister for skill development and entrepreneurship Anant Kumar Hegde is every bit the controversy associated with him and unabashed about it. One of the firebrand Hindutva voices in Karnataka, his controversial statements about the Constitution and Islam have been in news. Kumar is also being seen as a contender for the chief minister’s post if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins. He is busy mobilising masses in Uttara Kannada district, part of the communally sensitive coastal belt of Karnataka, in the run-up to the assembly elections scheduled to be held later this year.

In an interview with Mint, Hegde, currently on “Karnataka Suraksha Yatre" or Hindutva Padayatre, talks about why the Congress needs to be replaced with the BJP in Karnataka in 2018. Edited excerpts:

What is the Karnataka Suraksha Yatre about?

Twenty-three of our karyakartas have been brutally murdered by this Congress government, particularly in coastal Karnataka. There were about 1,000-1,500 murders during our government (2008-2013), but the number has crossed 7,700 everywhere under Siddaramaiah government. People of Karnataka are totally fed up. People feel insecure and that’s why we have taken the initiative.

You have a graphic tableau which shows killing, cow slaughter and a mannequin with a Siddaramaiah face mask showing him laughing?

Yes, absolutely. More than 23 Hindu karyakartas have been targeted and killed brutally. We didn’t see this type of criminal attitude during the previous government. Earlier, we have seen Congress, Janata government and other leaders, but this (alleged crimes under Siddaramaiah government) is totally unseen.

You are trying different caste combinations in Karnataka. But in coastal Karnataka, is it majority versus minority (Muslims)?

No, it is Congress versus BJP. Congress doesn’t mean the party cadre but it means Congress culture. The BJP culture is on one side and Congress culture on another. The war between the Congress and the BJP culture has started.

Does BJP care only about Hindu interests?

Yes, of course, it is our duty. Since the Congress has been ignoring our interests for a long time, BJP cares about Hindu interests.

Will the 2018 Karnataka assembly elections be the most polarized in recent times?

I hope it is. Our Hindu masses are fed up with this kind of appeasement policy. For example, a few days ago, they (Congress government in Karnataka) have withdrawn cases on Muslims, saying they are innocent, but at the same time thousands of Hindu karyakartas have been arrested. There is no word from our chief minister that they (Hindus) are also innocent. If only Muslims are innocent, then what are Hindus? Polarising is real democracy. Polarising people for the right cause is democracy. That is politics.

In coastal Karnataka, is development not a platform?

It is a general task. This yatra is particularly meant for murders, which have been continuing for the last 4-5 years. There are developmental issues, and also issues against the government, including corruption. The thrust is on murders by the Karnataka government. This will be highlighted in other parts of the state as well.

You speak about killings of right-wing workers. What about retaliatory attacks on minority groups?

Such incidents are state-sponsored terrorism and this is not from innocent minorities. They (Congress) have sponsored PFI (Popular Front of India) and various organisations. Criminals associated with PFI and other organisations are coming into the state through Kerala, and killing our people.

Congress alleges that you only speak on communally inciting topics and not of skill development or jobs?

We have been talking about developmental issues and skill development. If you go through my speech history in chronology, you will notice that 90% of my speeches concentrate on skill development. Of course, the media will focus on sensitive issues. How can I comment on that?

Do you stand by your controversial remark on changing the Constitution?

I respect my Constitution, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, my culture and tradition. I have not said anything controversial but the media has taken it upon themselves to focus on such statements. Then there is also the Congress that has been artificially framing charges against my character and trying to paint me as anti-Dalit, anti-Constitution and anti-Ambedkar. This is totally false and I respect the Constitution, Ambedkar and harmony between communities.