How is the Congress placed in the coming assembly election?
The Congress is placed comfortably in Karnataka. We have a fair chance of coming back to power. The main issues are the non-performance of the BJP government and corruption. Almost all government functionaries, including the chief minister and his ministers, are facing corruption charges. There is strong anti-incumbency against the government. People want the Congress to come back because now they are remembering our administration and our schemes for the poor, farmers, youth and women.
Is corruption as an election issue resonating with the people at the grassroots?
It is not that corruption exists only at the higher levels in the government. It has percolated to the grassroots. People have to deal with it on a daily basis.
Will polarisation be a factor? For example, we have a war of words over Tipu Sultan now.
The people of Karnataka are politically mature. They understand what the real issues are. The BJP is trying to drum up hatred. But the people understand the games they are playing.
There was a furore when you said that you are not anti-Hindu but anti-hindutva.
Hindutva means manuvada (following the Manusmriti). Hindu dharma is different. I am a Hindu. It does not mean that I should not love people belonging to other religions. Does Hindu dharma say that? No religion in the world preaches hatred or encourages hate politics.
Your political opponents question your adherence to Hinduism and say you are an atheist.
I am not an atheist. I believe in God. But you should not suppress the truth. What is the truth? It is that one must be humane and not hate others. Which God says one should hate others?
Our Constitution talks about tolerance. Any government has to run according to the provisions of the Constitution.
How do you view the challenge posed by the JD(S) in a triangular contest in the state?
It looks like there is a triangular contest. But the BJP has no base in Old Karnataka. The fight is between the Congress and the JD(S) in Old Karnataka. As far as north Karnataka is concerned, the fight would be between the BJP and the Congress.
What is the significance of the Karnataka elections in terms of national politics?
The result of the assembly elections will definitely have an impact on national politics. This election is very, very crucial not only for Karnataka but for the entire country as we head towards the Lok Sabha polls.
What is the reason behind your declaration that this will be your last election?
This decision was made by me considering the age factor. But I want to make it clear that I am only retiring from electoral politics, not politics.
It is felt that the declaration was meant to put pressure on the party to allow you to become chief minister.
The newly elected MLAs elect the leader of the legislature party. It goes to the high command. The high command then takes a decision.
You moved out of Old Mysuru in 2018. This time, you have said you want to contest from Kolar.
I am a sitting MLA from Badami. But it is a far off place. I can't go there every week. I can't meet the people there. I am the leader of the opposition and party work is also there. That is why I am looking at a nearby place. The people of Kolar are requesting me to contest from there. All sitting MLAs, ex-MLAs, Parliament members, ex-Parliament members are asking me to contest from Kolar. It is a one-hour journey from Bengaluru. That is why I have decided to shift from Badami to Kolar. But this is subject to approval by the high command.
But your political opponents say that you are hunting for a safe seat.
Badami is also a safe seat for me. There are more than 20 constituencies that are safe for me. Varuna is a safe constituency, so is Koppal or Chamrajpet or Ulsoor. Everybody is requesting me to contest from their constituency. Some days ago, over 2,000 people came from Badami came here requesting me to stay on in Badami.
JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda has also been making an appeal to voters that they should vote for his party since this is his last election.
H.D. Deve Gowda is a senior politician. I don't want to comment on him.
What was the impact of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Karnataka?
It was only because of his willpower that Rahul ji walked from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. This kind of a padayatra has not taken place before. It had a specific purpose, which was to repair the damage to social harmony done by the BJP. Definitely, it made an impact on the people of Karnataka. It has energised and enthused the party cadre, too.
How do you view Rahul Gandhi's leadership post the yatra?
Definitely, his image has enhanced because of the yatra. The BJP ran a vicious campaign against him. Now, they can't do it. Actually, as I have seen him, he is the most simple, straightforward, honest politician in the country.
It is still believed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is without a challenge at the national level.
I don't share that view. Is the BJP there in all the states? No. Why was the BJP defeated in Himachal Pradesh or in Delhi or Punjab or in Chhattisgarh or many other states?
Modi is a popular leader, no doubt. It does not mean that he will win again in 2024. Nitish Kumar rightly said that if non-BJP, secular parties come together, they can defeat the BJP.
Would the Modi factor be important in Karnataka?
Modi factor will not make any impact in Karnataka. There is a strong anti-incumbency against the state government. Modi can't stop the defeat of the BJP government in the state.
It is felt that the Congress in Karnataka is a divided house on account of the rivalry between you and state unit chief D.K. Shivakumar.
No, there is nothing like that. We have been working together. He is the head of the Pradesh Congress Committee. I am the leader of the opposition. I have my own role; he has his role. With mutual understanding only, we are working together. It is only a creation of the press that there are strong differences between Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah and both of them are after the chief minister's post. No doubt, we are aspirants. In a democracy, anybody can become the chief minister. Recently, G. Parameshwara also said that he is an aspirant. Nothing wrong in it. If Shivakumar wants to become the chief minister, there is nothing wrong in it. If I want to become the chief minister, there is nothing wrong in it. Finally, it is up to the elected MLAs to choose their leader and the decision taken by the high command.
Your grand birthday celebrations were seen as a show of strength.
I have never celebrated my birthday because I don't know the correct date. My parents were illiterate. They did not know my date of birth. When I joined school, the headmaster wrote down my date of birth. This time, my friends and well-wishers demanded that since I am completing 75 years, they want to celebrate it.
What are the issues with which you are going to the people?
We are focusing on real problems, such as unemployment, which is affecting the youth, or inflation, which is acutely felt by every household. Our farmers are facing problems. So are the backward communities. The government stopped the scholarship that was being given to the backward communities. My government was giving 7kg of rice free of cost to poor families. Now, they have reduced it to 5kg. We are promising that if we come to power, we will give 10kg of rice to every family that has a below poverty line card.
We have also pledged 200 units of electricity free of cost to every household and also Rs2,000 to the female head of every family.
What will be the focus of the Congress government if the party wins?
We have promised that we will complete all the pending irrigation projects in five years by spending Rs2 lakh crore. We will concentrate on the development of the state, give more sops to the IT and BT companies, encourage the aerospace and pharma sectors. There is the issue of the pathetic state of infrastructure in the state capital. Also, our special focus will be on the needs of the farmers.
How do you look at plans for a biopic being made on you?
Some well-wishers have requested that they want to make a film about my life. So far, I have not given my consent.