Among India’s political stalwarts, few can claim to have achieved as much as H.D. Deve Gowda. The 86-year old, who started his political career in the early 1960s, has gone on to occupy the highest offices in the country and remains one of the biggest forces that can upset the plans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Gowda, who appears only to have aged in numbers and not in spirit, has been relentlessly campaigning for himself, his two grandsons and even other candidates of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), coalition across several parts of southern Karnataka that went to the polls on 18 April. Mint spoke to the former Prime Minister and JD(S) chief in Tumakuru. Edited excerpts:
What is the political environment in Karnataka and rest of India?
There is a lot of talk about Modi and his speeches where he does not talk about things he did not do. About 70% of the assurances made in 2014 remain unfulfilled. He could not make India corruption-free and there has been no skill development either. Unemployment is really high and farmers across states are protesting. Why didn’t the BJP think of putting ₹6,000 into farmers’ accounts earlier? The price of gas cylinders is more than ₹1,000. Eating a dosa in a small hotel also attracts goods and services tax. Yet, he criticizes Kumaraswamy’s farm loan waiver without thinking.
You changed your constituency in what could be your last elections.
I had declared three years ago that I will not contest from Hassan and that my grandson (Prajwal Revanna) will take over. However, I was asked to remain in Parliament by senior leaders of other parties, including Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mamata Banerjee and N. Chandrababu Naidu. I will be 91 by the time of the next elections and age may not give me another chance.
There is some anger against you in Tumakuru for allegedly denying them water in favour of Hassan. How do you respond?
This is far from the truth. I have clarified that every single village will get drinking water facility. I will be 91 by next elections, so I want to repay the people of this district during these five years in an honest manner.
Is the nationalism debate being used to sideline other issues such as jobs and agrarian distress?
There is a propaganda and I really don’t know why he (Modi) uses national security. Our defence forces are really strong and we are not a weak country. Modi speaks as though he is the only one who made India strong. Does he mean to say that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh did not do anything? Though it is his first time in Parliament, he behaves in a very rude manner.
Speaking on issues is the right way for democracy. My honest opinion is that this government should go. He has destabilized several institutions. The Reserve Bank of India has become like a department in this government. Raids are being conducted only in Mandya and Hassan. What kind of politics is this? He speaks of finishing off the Congress and destroying the opposition. Is this the right way for democracy?
The BJP was looking to exploit the discord between the Congress and JD(S) workers. Have they managed to do this?
There were problems when this coalition was formed but 90% of this has been sorted out and our workers are doing their job sincerely. We want to reduce the BJP to single digits. In the five years of the BJP government in Karnataka, there were three chief ministers. It is an indication that even if they get a majority, they cannot give a stable government.
Your family appears to be the biggest target for Modi and the BJP?
He has been attacking regional parties. Has he not taken the help of Akalis? He wants to go to their doors but is attacking me here. How many father/sons are contesting polls from their party? No one believes what Modi says any more. He has lost relevance.
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