Bengaluru: D.K. Shivakumar, who will formally take over as president of the Karnataka Congress on 7 June, said he won’t shy away from taking a leaf out of the RSS-BJP playbook to ensure electoral success for his party.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Shivakumar said the party needs to project itself differently, not just to voters, but to workers as well.
He added that the RSS and BJP’s cadre-based training has helped them gain political momentum, and that the RSS’ strategy of identifying young minds, grooming cadres and initiating them into politics by inducting them into the BJP has yielded good results.
“We can take a leaf out of their book. The Congress, until now, has been a mass-based party. We should now look at converting it into a cadre-based one,” Shivakumar said.
“I have my own model for Karnataka, and I have convinced senior leaders. The Congress has its own base and history, and it will now on be about collective leadership and boosting the morale of the cadre,” he said.
Marketing the Congress
Shivakumar is also determined to “market” his party just like the BJP does.
“The Congress always went by past performance and our history. Now, people are concerned only about the present. One of our biggest mistakes is that we did not market ourselves well. The BJP, without doing much, has managed to market itself brilliantly,” he added.
“We have failed in marketing ourselves at the national level. We believed that the people of the country would assess us by seeing what we did. But we now realise only marketing has played a major role in the success of our opposition. We will adapt this to showcase our work,” said Shivakumar.
He gave the example of the Pavagada Solar Park in Tumakuru, the biggest of its kind in the world. Shivakumar said it was his brainchild, but neither his party nor he took credit for it.
“Fifteen thousand acres of land has been converted into a solar park. The farmer himself is a partner in this venture. He earns Rs 25,000 per acre for his barren land, and today, the solar park produces 2,000 megawatts of power. World leaders have come down to see it. BJP leaders also visited the place to see how wonderfully it functions,” Shivakumar said, lamenting: “We did not market it. That was our mistake.”
‘Will bring Congress back to power’
The Karnataka Congress had remained headless for nearly three months after Dinesh Gundu Rao resigned, taking moral responsibility for the party’s massive defeat during the December by-elections — it won just two seats out of 15.
But the post did not come easily to six-time legislator Shivakumar — he had to overcome internal fights and heavy lobbying by senior Congressmen for their candidates. His name was finally announced on 11 March, but his anointment has been delayed due to the coronavirus crisis in the country.
Known to be the Congress’ troubleshooter, Shivakumar has made a promise to the party high command — to bring it back into power in Karnataka.
“I don’t want to be the chief ministerial face. I am least bothered. If I am destined, my party will decide. My aim is to work collectively and bring the Congress back to power in Karnataka,” he said.
‘Senior leaders should have helped Rahul Gandhi’
Shivakumar attributes the slide of the Congress party to senior leaders who did not share the responsibility with its former president Rahul Gandhi.
Without naming anyone, Shivakumar said he felt there were many who should have stepped in and taken up responsibility of states, rather than concentrate on their own constituencies.
“In my opinion, another weakness of our party was that many leaders who were ministers did not share responsibility. Many enjoyed power for years. They owed it to the party. They could have joined hands with Rahul Gandhi and taken up responsibility of a few constituencies and states as well,” he said.
Shivakumar said he felt Rahul Gandhi’s biggest weakness is his “straightforwardness”, which resulted in the party’s Lok Sabha poll defeat.
“His sincerity and commitment cannot be questioned. He does not try to politicise issues like other parties do. Being straightforward and matter-of-fact is his weakness. As the Congress president, he toured the entire country. What more could he have done,” the new KPCC chief asked.
Speaking about the Gandhi family’s leadership of the party, Shivakumar insisted: “The strength and legacy of the Congress party is the Gandhi family and we do not need any more leaders at this point of time to lead the party.”
Beard a reminder of jail time due to ‘vendetta’
In the last few months, Shivakumar has been sporting a beard, which he said he grew deliberately in Tihar jail to “remember all those who sent him to jail”.
Arrested by the Enforcement Directorate on 3 September 2019, Shivakumar spent 50 days in jail for alleged offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) before being granted bail.
Each time he strokes his beard, Shivakumar said, it reminds him of the mental trauma his family had to undergo while he was being questioned by ED and Income Tax department officials. It also reminds him that he should be indebted to the lakhs of supporters who stood by him and protested against his arrest.
Shivakumar said he was aware that the ED and IT raids could happen again, but alleged that they were a result of political vendetta.
“It is vendetta politics. They still have a lot of options before them. Yediyurappa has given permission to the CBI to investigate into my ‘disproportionate’ assets. With the IT department, ED and CBI, they are trying their best, but I am ready to face it all,” he said.
‘Yediyurappa govt doesn’t have eyes, ears or heart’
Shivakumar has been extremely active throughout the lockdown period, and pushed B.S. Yediyurappa’s BJP government on the back foot when he offered a cheque of Rs 1 crore to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation for the ferry migrant workers to their home states, amid reports that they were being charged exorbitant fares. An embarrassed BJP then announced three days of free bus travel for the migrants.
“This government does not have eyes to see the plight of our nation builders (migrant labourers). They don’t have ears to hear their cries for help. They don’t have a heart as well,” Shivakumar remarked.