It could be 124, 128 or 132 but we’ll definitely get a majority: Siddaramaiah

‘Thaatha, Thaatha…’ a young boy cried, chasing after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, as he emerged from the throng at a late night rally in Nanjangud where a 5,000 strong crowd had gathered on the main street to hear him tear into the JD(S) opponent. Siddaramaiah's clever one-liners as he blew a hole in the JD(S)' bogus claims of having spent Rs 500 crores since the JD(S) lost the seat to the Congress in recent bypolls had the overwhelmingly male crowd clapping and cheering.  "Look at this now, I'm seen as a grandfather," said the chief minister, chuckling ruefully as he settled into the car, gulping down a glass of cold water and a hot cup of tea in quick succession. Clearly exhausted at the end of the day's campaign that covered five constituencies including Chamarajnagar district and Nanjangud, it hasn’t however dimmed his fighting spirit or his confidence that he will win an absolute majority, he tells NEENA GOPAL and SHYAM SUNDAR VATTAM as he made tracks to his friend's home in Mysuru which has become his headquarters as the campaign heads into the critical final lap

What is your perception today of the elections, given the fact that Prime Minister Modi is making one attack after another on your government's performance, levelling charges of corruption against you personally as well as your government. Will people believe these charges? Will it affect you?
Who will believe him? People of Karnataka understand, they see through the hollow speeches of PM Modi. What evidence does he have? Being a prime minister, how can he make these charges, what kind of documentary proof does he have? I can also attack him like anything and I am doing it, but not on a personal level. Look what happened in the last by poll in Nanjnagud, when Srinivas Prasad and (B.S) Yeddyurappa attacked me personally. Did you see how it blew up in their faces. They lost miserably. Unless there is evidence, people will not believe. 

The charge that you have made about JD(S) being the ‘B’ Team of the BJP. How far is that true? 
It is a fact. Look at the candidates fielded in Mysore district, look at the candidates the BJP has put up in Chamundeswari, in K. R. Nagar, in Hunsur, in Periyapatna, in Varuna. In all these constituencies, the BJP has fielded weak candidates. The JD(S) candidate in Chamundeswari, G.T. Deve Gowda admitted it when he made a statement that wherever the BJP puts up a strong candidate, the JD(S) would field a weak candidate and wherever the JD(S) puts up a strong candidate, the BJP would do the same.”

The BJP and the JD(S) are working together to defeat you? 
Yes, I have completed five years, so they want to defeat me. They are jealous. They do not want me to come back again and continue as chief minister for another five years. That is why they are doing everything they can to stop me from coming back to power. They have come together, the JD(S) and the BJP.

Is this further indication that the BJP and JD(S) will come together if there is a hung assembly?
That will not happen. There will be no hung assembly. Congress will come back. There will be a clear majority. We have given a stable government. The BJP has given only unstable government. They had three chief ministers, one chief minister has gone to jail. They indulge in ‘resort politics’. People have seen, people will not trust them. 

What about the very strong reports of a group within the Congress party also trying to destroy you to stop you from becoming the chief minister again.
No no, not true. There may be chief minister aspirants also. It does not mean they are working against me, or that we are working against each other. That is not true.

Is that the sense you're getting in the North? According to the latest survey, in Hyderabad Karnataka, your numbers have gone up. Mumbai Karnataka seems to be holding on, however, in coastal Karnataka, there is a strong charge that with the BJP charging you with having links with the SDPI, which is accused of being behind the killings of BJP and RSS workers, it could affect your chances?
Nothing will happen.  They have tried this before. Mr Modi came to the area and made fierce speeches. They won only four out of the 19 seats available in Coastal Karnataka. We won 13!  The cycle will simply repeat itself this year. In coastal Karnataka, it will be a swing in favour of Congress. 

What about Hyderabad Karnataka? 
We will get more than 25 seats out of 40. We got about 23 last time. The number will go up. 

Are you missing Srinivas Prasad and H. Vishwanath, who sided with you in 2008 and 2013? This time, they're in other parties. 
What influence does H. Vishwanath have in Chamundeshwari? What about Prasad's influence in Nanjangud? What has he done for Chamundeshwari, for that matter? What have they done in that constituency? And Varuna? You see, we will win. Comfortably. 

So you don't  see a fight in Chamundeshwari? 
No. They are trying to fight – not Srinivas Prasad or Vishwanath, but the entire BJP cadre. They're trying hard to support the JD(S) candidate. In 2006, they joined together too, back when Kumaraswamy was CM and Yeddyurappa, his Deputy. They spent a lot of money, inspite of which I won.

What about the seven JD(S) candidates you brought in to the Congress, having a hard time at the hands of some Congress workers. Is there any truth to it? We heard the Congress was facing an uphill battle in  Srirangapatna, Magadi… And there is also the issue of Ambareesh.. he (Ambareesh) did go to Kumaraswamy's house… 
No, it's not correct. The JD(S) is putting in great efforts in Magadi, Srirangapatna and Nelamangala. They're spending a great deal of money there. As for Ambareesh, he told us he was not ready to contest, saying his health will not permit him to campaign. Going to the house. Ha! That's a political gimmick. He went to his house and had dinner or something. He is not going anywhere! 

What about your prospects in Badami? 
I will win quite easily. 

You're dependent again on a sitting MLA. He may not have the numbers but he is putting in a great deal of effort. And you have Janardhan Reddy behind the scenes. 
Oh. And what is Janardhan Reddy bringing?  Money? Money will not win you an election alone, if you don’t have the acceptance of your voters. Money is necessary but it will not work on its own. 

What do you have to say about the fact that Karnataka is being seen as pivotal for the 2019 election? 
The victory of the Congress in Karnataka will be a stepping stone for the coming Parliament election. Before that happens, elections are approaching in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The BJP will be defeated in both these places after the Karnataka election. According to me, it's a definite win for the Congress. 

What about the BJP's prospects in Karnataka?  
In eight districts, there is no BJP MLA. Chamarajnagar, Mandya, Hassan, Ramanagara, Bengaluru Rural, Kolar, Chikkaballapur – where are the BJP MLAs? How can they come to power when the BJP is absolutely zero in eight districts. The others districs won't make that much of a difference.  The JD(S) isn't too different: they don't have MLAs in Kalaburgi, Ballari, Vijayapura, Bagalkote, Belagavi, Udupi, Chitradurga, Davanagere – nearly a dozen constituencies. Where are the JD(S) MLAs? They have no presence here. 

NO DALIT CM
Why is there still a debate about the next CM? Kharge has been talking about it. 
Let me clarify to you that there is no race among the dalit Congress leaders in this regard. Our party leader in Lok Sabha is Mallikarjun Kharge, and he has already clarified that he is not a contender for the CM gaddi. Kharge himself made a statement in Afzalpur, where I was present on the dais. He said, "Siddaramaiah will be the next CM". The BJP which is raising the bogey of the dalit CM should declare its senior leader Govind Karjol as it's CM candidate. Since the assembly elections are being fought under my leadership, naturally I am the best choice for the CM post. 

Do you mean to say that dalits have to wait for another five years to become the CM?
Yes, if I am made the CM.

Will Congress make a Dalit as deputy chief minister??
I cant say anything about that. This decision has to be taken by the party high command and not me.  
Whatever is agreed on, I will support the 
decision. 

But Parameshwar says CLP?
That's the procedure! I talk of procedure too, someone has to be approved by the High Command. That's how things go. 

And what about the post of CM, sir? 
I'm not against it. It's up to the High Command. 

That's awfully big-hearted of you sir, isn't it? 
CM (Laughs): It's not a question of being big-hearted. It's about providing social justice. The Congress party has made dalits Chief Ministers in some states – Shinde was the CM of Maharashtra. You have Ajit Jogi who was the CM in Jharkhand. Congress is the only party that makes Scheduled Caste leaders CMs. 

What made you want to contest a second term? 
I was asked to do so. 

NOT DEVE GOWDA’s PROTEGE
You were groomed by H,D. Deve Gowda but appear to have several differences in opinion now. 
Who groomed me? Did you say Deve Gowda? Who told you this? 

He claims that he took you under his wing and made you the Deputy CM?
Deve Gowda was the person who prevented me from being CM in 1996. This happened in 2004, too. How can he say he has groomed me? As it happens, I was elected as an independent, who didn't know Deve Gowda. In 1995, I was re-elected. In 1994, we formed our own party, he was defeated. How can he say he has groomed me? Who said Deve Gowda is my mentor. I was never groomed by him and in fact he scuttled my chances of becoming chief minister and deputy chief minister. I was groomed by late Ramakrisna Hegde who made me chairman of Kannada watchdog committee and later a minister.  Even in JD(S) I was treated badly by Deve Gowda, who is always interested in grooming his family members. This forced me to quit JDS and join Congress. I have no regrets over quitting JDS.  

He does speak of you with affection. 
Affection is different. I have my own sense of Karnataka politics. Incidentally, it was Ramakrishna Hegde who made me Chairman of the Karnataka . In 1982, 84, he made me Minister again. Where does Deve Gowda fit in, exactly?  

But you are aware that the JD(S) and BJP have teamed up to defeat you in Chamundeshwari constituency. 
In the 2006 by- election, then CM H.D. Kumaraswamy and deputy chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa tried their best to defeat me..did they succeed?  People don't believe Kumaraswamy or Deve Gowda anymore. I am confident of winning from both Chamundeshwari and Badami assembly constituencies by a big margin. 

How do you grade your opponents? 
JDS is strong  in old Mysuru region where there is fight between Congress and JDS;  there is fight with BJP  in some constituencies in Mumbai- Karnataka and Hyderabad- Karnataka region. But the Congress has been strong across the state. We will win a majority of seats in Coastal districts. 

In case of a hung assembly, will Congress accept JD(S) help? 
That question does not arise as the situation will not. People have already decided how to vote.

You think? I was told people decide 24 hours before. Does it all depend now on Mr Modi and Sonia ji? 
Mr Modi is not magic! 

You're still optimistic about 120 plus seats? 
Yes. I totally believe the people of this state. I have been seeing them, campaigning, since 1994. I understand the pulse of the people. 

What will be the JD(S)’ fate after May 14?  
I can't say, but they may get around 25 seats. 

Do you reckon BJP or JD(S) to be a more likely opponent? 
JD(S) is the opponent in South Karnataka and BJP in the north. 

That's very honest of you, unlike Mr Modi who said the JD(S) is not worth voting for and will only come third!
One needs to know the ground realities! JD(S) is strong enough in about eight districts in the south. 

So they're not likely to open an account in Hyderabad Karnataka? 
As things stand, I don't think so. They may get a couple of seats. Last time, they won four seats across Hyderabad and Mumbai Karnataka. One in Navalgunda, one in Bidar and two in Raichur, that's four in all. 

So why is Kumaraswamy so confident that he will do well? 
It is just a strategy. 

Your final numbers are 124? 
120 plus, I think. It could be 124, 128 or 132!

There is also a strong rumour that the BJP is fielding independent candidates to eat into the Congress vote. 
I don't think it will help. You can't say for sure whether an independent will only take the Congress vote or the BJP vote. 

So there is no strategy? 
None. Take Amit Shah, who is being compared to Chanakya. What has he done in the last month? 

What about the Lingayat vote? 
Do you mean to say the Lingayats didn't vote for BJP in the last election? It is a divide.  

No, what about your own Lingayat gamble? I know you have said several times that the recommendations came from a Commission. But there is a strong feeling that it..
Well, to us, it's not a political issue! Have you heard me bring it up during my campaign? 

Really? 
Yes! I haven't touched it! They are saying Siddaramaiah has created a religious divide. What divide have I created? It was established 850 years ago by Basavanna. Not me. Yeddyurappa doesn't know anything, he has not read anything. 

What about the charge that you met a tainted businessman named Eshwar in China and accepted gifts? 
I don't know who he is. I went to China to attend the Global Investors Meet. Many people met me, I don't know who they are. They were people from various countries. I went there as Chief Minister, where people came up to me. 

The story is that you were gifted an expensive watch? 
Some people say Champaiah gave it to me. Other said it was a Dubai man. Others said I had bought it in a market. Now who is to be believed? It was given to me by Dr Varma. He has filed an affidavit and furnished documents saying the watch was purchased in Dubai. What more is needed now? 

Is it just another jumla to tarnish your image? Justice Santosh Hegde has specifically brought up the mining scam and the lack of action that followed the Lokayukta report.
My image cannot be tarnished. Anyway, this issue goes back to 2014. Why raise it now? It's just a political gimmick. As for the mining scam, the matter was referred to the CBI, who delayed their report. Now, they produce one saying there is no case. We discussed it in the cabinet and have referred it to the SIT for a secondary investigation. All this was done as a response to the original report.

Why was there no action taken against officers involved in the scam? 
When there is no case, what action will we take? There was a case against Janardhan Reddy, so what's the point of prosecuting officers? 

Justice Hegde says JD(S) and BJP have made a blunder by taking Reddy in and the Congress' blunder is in giving tickets to Nagendra and Ananth Singh. 
The charges against them are less serious. Mining, illegal export of iron ore: You will be surprised to know that the Reddy brothers' income at that point was `10 crore a day. 30% to 50% had to be given to the Reddy brothers like a hafta.  There were serious differences between Janardhan Reddy and Yeddyurappa. Reddy instructed the DC and SP not to receive Yeddyurappa even though he was the Chief Minister. Reddy was a very powerful man. In 2008, he bankrolled the BJP, he gave them Rs 200 crores. That's when the iron ore boom happened with China and they were making quite a bit of money. 

Why aren't you going after Sriramulu, his wealth? What kind of threat does he pose to you in Badami?
100% I will win. Sriramulu is not a threat. There are still 25,000 STs in the area. And more than 50,000 Kurubas! Before delimitation there were more than 70,000 Kurubas in Badami.

Is this according to your secret census!
No no, there are now 50,000 of them. There were 70,000 before the de-limitation. There are also about 70,000 votes from the Lingayat community and its many sub sects like Panchamashalis, Ganiga Lingayats, Reddy Lingayats, Banagigas etc. I am confident of getting Lingayat votes too. There are nearly 2,10,000 votes of which I am expecting 70-75 percent votes.  We’re looking at a tally of some 2 lakh-odd votes and I'm expecting between 70 and 75 percent of these. 

How will that happen. Will you split the Panchamshali, Lingayat vote?
There is a Panchamshali candidate, yes, from JD(S). Since S.R. Patil is with me, I will get the Lingayat vote. Jharkiholi has the ST population, they will counter Sriramulu. 

So, you don't see the Reddys as a threat at all? 
Not at all. 

Even in Ballari city? 
Why did he leave Ballari and contest elsewhere? He knew he wasn’t going to win after his inflammatory speech. Even in Molakalamuru it is a tough election for him. Only with money they are aiming to win elections in both the constituencies. Janardana Reddy is camping in Molakalamuru and Sriramulu is spending time in Badami.

So when will the CM be nominated? 16th or 17th? 
I don't say. I'm not a fool like Yeddyurappa. No politician talks like that! 

Is Yeddyurappa  overconfident? 
Again, it is just a strategy. Still, sending his son to stand from Varuna without the party's backing makes no sense. His son was campaigning in Varuna for about a month. He went to all the villages in the constituency, at the behest of Yeddyurappa, who told his son to go without the approval of the High Command. It looks like the RSS came in the way of his plans. Or Ananth Kumar and Amit Shah. 

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