Bangalore: On Monday, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda announced at a rally in Bangalore that he would “step back" and let the younger generation of Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), led by his son and former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, take over the reins of the party. The JD(S) national president, who appealed to the people of the state to elect 20 JD(S) lawmakers in the Lok Sabha elections due next year, said his party will fight both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party. In an interview, Gowda spoke of reviving the fortunes of the JD(S), which won only 28 of 224 seats in the assembly elections held this year in which the BJP rode to power on its own for the first time in Karnataka. The JD(S) had won 58 seats in the 2004 assembly polls. Edited excerpts:

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The JD(S) held a massive rally in Bangalore yesterday (Monday). Does this show of strength mean the party is gearing up for parliamentary polls?

No..unfortunately, our political opponents tried to send a message across the state that the JD(S) is almost finished. This is not to demonstrate a trial of strength. This a rally which is to create self confidence for the workers, create (a sense) that this party will rise to face any eventuality. And a resolution was also adopted yesterday.. (to) keep both BJP and Congress at equal distance and fight.

You say the rally showed the face of the youth of JD(S). But over last two years, so many front ranking leaders of the party have left the party. Do you have the leaders to replace them?

See, I’m not going to say front ranking leaders have no strength of their own. They also have their own area of strength, but it is unfortunate (that) they went. Why they went, what for, is it any mistake of mine I’m not going to describe. I don’t want to cast aspersions on Congress leaders who wanted to destabilise this party, thereby losing the Dharam Singh government (in 2006).

In the 2004 election also, the party was not cohesive. Now, an atmosphere was created that JD(S) is dead. So, the intention of the new president Kumaraswamy is to have an acid test (as to) whether his 20 months’ administration has been forgotten or is remembered.

Keeping the faith: Former prime minister and Janata Dal (Secular) chief H.D. Deve Gowda. Hemant Mishra / Mint

I’m not going to intervene. The team is going to be selected by him and all the candidates for the eight assembly seats and 28 parliament seats are going to be selected by him. My interference may not be taken in a right spirit. Let the younger generation manage.

Earlier this month, the Kerala unit of the JD(S) which had broken away in 2006 because of some differences, re-joined the party. There is also talk that leaders who had left the party like P.G.R.Sindhia would join the party again. Have any of these leaders approached the JD(S) and is the party considering taking them back?

No. You’re putting a specific question about Sindhia. I’d like to make myself clear. Some of our friends who left us...the way in which they tried to attack me, hitting below the belt....such attitude is not there for him (Sindhia). That is why if he is going to take the decision, I will welcome him. It is only in the condition of Sindhia....and other three (or) four friends.

The BJP successfully wooed four sitting legislators from JD(S)...

Why only four sir, our party is four. They have gone further with the so called ‘Operation Kamal’. When MLAs are themselves sold for (Rs)10 crore, (Rs)50 crore where is the question of zilla panchayat and taluk panchayat. It’s very difficult temptation (to resist).

Only the worst possible political culture...(it is the) first time it is happening. One month they have been elected, and went for money and power. Within one or two days they were made ministers or board chairmen. With what face they can justify that?

You said the rally was an acid test to gauge the strength of the party. Have these defections made any impact on the party’s base?

No, because of the vindictive attitude of the present administration....transferring more than 8,000 to 9,000 officers and not providing places to several officers though it is six months, and especially...a lot of money has been transacted. It has really. spoiled the expectation and confidence which was imposed during elections. Now people are thinking what he (Karnataka Chief Minister B.S.Yeddyurappa) is doing... mere talking, talking talking.

At a time the BJP is trying to create a base in the Old Mysore region which is Vokkaliga dominated, certain ministers such as B.N.Bachche Gowda are accusing you of dividing Vokkaligas. How much of impact will this have on your stronghold?

In 2004, how many leaders went. Are they all Vokkaligas? While going they have made several allegations against me. Did I react? No. My culture is I do not, on these issues. Whatever they want they are free to say. Who am I to prevent it.

There will not be an impact on your strength in the Old Mysore region because of this?

(Laughs) Yesterday, the massive rally which you have seen, unprecedented in the (state’s) history of four and half decades. You yourself can judge. Truth cannot be suppressed.

JD(S) has positioned itself as a regional party that would help develop Karnataka which national parties failed to do. But in Karnataka so far, most of the regional parties have not done well..

...I know which are all the regional parties. Starting from Kengal Hanumanthaiah, I’ll give you the answer. He was the tallest leader. But this {JD(S)} is a party which has come from a movement.

The younger generation want to cross the boundaries of caste politics. Kumaraswamy in his 20 month rule has made some impact...he has removed arrack (country liqour), and online lottery. Added to this, the vindictive attitude of this present government, (and the) failure of (the) opposition.

In 2004, you won 2 parliamentary seats in Karnataka. Yesterday you were appealing for people to win for the party at least 20 seats. Are you confident of winning so many seats?

It is because all those projects we initiated are now kept in cold storage. What is the package given to Andhra, what is the package given to Tamil Nadu, under each category. Are we not entitled as one of the states which comes within the ambit of the federal character of our democratic system. So, they are feeling so hurt. That is why, (though) once 27 people (Congressmen) were elected for parliament, what is their contribution? And, 18 BJP leaders were elected (in 2004), NDA government was there (in Delhi). Except a change of railway zone to satisfy one MLA, what is the other contribution?

Byelections to eight assembly constituencies would be due in a couple of months..

It can’t be said, if the parliamentary elections are to be held in February or March. In May the new house is to be constituted. So election process must start by March. Whether in that three months they are going to hold this election, I don’t know what exactly is in the mind of the election commission.

When it comes I want to make it clear, we have shown our gesture when (elections for the post of ) Legislative Council chairman took place. In their party (Congress) there are lot of conflicts, why should I try to fish in troubled waters?

The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president last week said that unless the JD(S) makes it clear whether it is with Third Front or with UPA, there cannot be an alliance.

Which are all the people who are going to stay in UPA, can he answer today? After the election, which are all those people which are now in UPA. The Communists have gone, Vaiko has gone. The people who are with you, the sizable section of the people is gone. So the question of those secular leaders who have supported you, whether all of them are going to stay with you, can anybody say today?

The BJP government in Karnataka has been investigating decisions taken by Kumaraswamy when he was chief minister...

He has welcomed it, what more do you want.

Is it a personal attack?

That is for people to judge. What happened to (then) finance minister (Yeddyurappa)...what happened to deputy chief minister, was not the finance cleared?

JD(S) is confident on winning back all its five seats in the byelections?

In my humble opinion, yesterday’s meeting has given a good message. I’m not going to say what the final verdict of the electorate is, but yesterday’s meeting created some confidence to fight vigourously by our party workers. We are going with this atmosphere to the electorate, and we can’t be a match on money business... (of) both BJP and Congress. So, that type of money, i’m not in a position to compete (with).

So the JD(S) is going to make a comeback?

That is our effort, that’s our aim. My life’s ambition is not to allow JD(S) to diminish. I know my struggle in this party. Now, I have got some confidence in Kumaraswamy and his colleagues. Now they have realised (the need) to fight and save the party.

Now while they will run the party, you will take on the role of mentor?

Only whenever I can give advice. Every final decision is left to them.