Bengaluru: Ahead of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting Saturday, senior party leader and former Karnataka chief minister, Siddaramaiah, Friday insisted that there cannot be unity in the Congress without the Nehru-Gandhi family at the helm.
“This is the truth — the Nehru-Gandhi family alone can keep the Congress together. It doesn’t mean that, in my opinion, dynasty politics must continue but people want the Nehru-family to lead the party,” Siddaramaiah, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka assembly, told ThePrint in an interview.
“Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are the popular choice and, just like in a democratic process, they must lead the party,” he added.
The former chief minister said he is of the firm opinion that Rahul Gandhi must take charge as Congress president.
“I don’t think it is possible for anyone other than those from the Nehru-Gandhi family to lead the party at this juncture. There have been other AICC (All India Congress Committee) presidents, from Nijalingappa to Narasimha Rao, but the Nehru family being presidents is the right thing to do for now,” Siddaramaiah added.
At his meeting with Sonia Gandhi this month, he said, he endorsed Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.
“Priyanka Gandhi too wishes for Rahul to be president. She is very active. She is the strongest among all Opposition party leaders in Uttar Pradesh today. She is more vocal about people’s issues than Akhilesh Yadav or Mayawati are,” Siddaramaiah said, adding in the same breath that Rahul Gandhi was the popular choice within the party.
His remarks come amid turmoil in the Congress, with many party veterans demanding an organisational overhaul, which includes calls for a “full time and effective leadership” and elections to be conducted for CWC membership, among others.
These leaders include Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manish Tewari and Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
‘Modi’s popularity has declined’
Speaking to ThePrint, Siddaramaiah said the BJP’s performance at the state and national level will ensure the party’s loss in the next elections.
“Narendra Modi’s popularity has declined. Compared to his popularity in 2019, his image has taken a hit, but I wouldn’t want to talk about it now,” Siddaramaiah said before quickly proceeding to state that “inflation, unemployment rates, and Covid-19 mismanagement” have left citizens angry.
“People have started realising the BJP’s lies. Narendra Modi, with the help of media and social media, had created a delusion of grandeur in the country to posture the BJP as an alternative to the Congress that had been in power for a long time. People have now started to see the reality that nobody lies as much as Modi,” Siddaramaiah added.
“All we need to do is effectively highlight the failures of this government — from Covid-19 to corruption. Farmers, youths, women, labourers are all fed up with this government,” Siddaramaiah said when asked what the Congress’ strategy is as an Opposition party.
When asked why the Congress was fast losing ground in many states across the country, Siddaramaiah denied the party was weakening. “In many states, our party leaders split to form regional parties. Whether it is YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh, TMC in West Bengal or NCP in Maharashtra, they were all in the Congress,” he said. “For various reasons, they have split ways but they still uphold the Congress’ values and ideology.”
Asked about the electoral dent the same parties are making on the Congress, Siddaramaiah insisted that his party was the only one with a base in all states.
“Our leaders have split and formed regional parties, yes, but that does not mean that the Congress is weak everywhere,” he said. “The Congress is the only party that has a base all over the country. We will come back. Things won’t remain the same. In a democracy, no one party will remain in power forever. There will be change.”
‘Nothing wrong in aspiring to be CM’
Earlier this month, Siddaramaiah made a short trip to New Delhi after being summoned by interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The trip had created a buzz about his possible exit from state politics for a national role.
The former chief minister, however, said all of it is just speculation. “There was neither any such offer nor am I interested in a national role,” he added. “My political career has been in Karnataka and will continue to remain so.”
The interest in Karnataka stems from his nursing ambitions of becoming chief minister again.
Siddaramaiah makes no secrets of being in the running for the top post. “The high command will decide on the chief minister but, first, we need to win with a majority. MLAs then have to decide on their choice,” he said. “Nobody can claim that they will be the next chief minister. I do not know if I will become chief minister or not, but the Congress party has to come to power. It is important to defeat the BJP that is ravaging the state.”
He added that there is nothing wrong in aspiring to be the chief minister.
“I will not deny that there are aspirations to become chief minister. There is nothing wrong in wanting to be chief minister but aspiring to become one doesn’t mean there are differences among leaders in the party,” he said. “G. Parameshwara (former deputy CM) wants to be chief minister, so does D.K. Shivakumar (state Congress president) and so does M.B. Patil (former home minister) but, ultimately, everybody will listen to what the high command says.”
“I too will listen to what the high command says,” he said.
Siddaramaiah also insists that there are no differences between him and state Congress president D.K. Shivakumar.
“There are no internal issues in Karnataka Congress. We are united and will fight united,” Siddaramaiah said when asked about the controversy involving allegations of corruption against Shivakumar by fellow Congress leaders.
A viral video of two leaders, party media coordinator M.A. Saleem and former Lok Sabha member V.S. Ugrappa, discussing Shivakumar allegedly taking bribes, led to rumblings of factionalism in the party this week. “Ugrappa is not someone who will work against the party or the leadership. He is a loyal party worker. It was a private discussion and not a public allegation unlike the ones made against B.S. Yediyurappa by his party colleagues,” Siddaramaiah said in defence of Ugrappa, who has been issued a show cause notice by the party’s disciplinary action committee.
‘What has Bommai done for Karnataka?’
Siddaramaiah and BJP Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who share their roots with the Janata parivar, have been engaged in a Twitter war that began Wednesday over the latter’s statement on moral policing in the state.
Siddaramaiah told ThePrint that Bommai, sworn in as CM in July, had now become an RSS man.
“Whether it is Basavaraj Bommai or B.S. Yediyurappa, the government is the BJP’s. The RSS is doing the backseat driving,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. Only the chief minister has changed. Bommai is now a BJP man and is under the total control of the RSS.”
He added that Bommai has done little as chief minister.
“What has Bommai done as chief minister other than continuing in the path of his predecessor? Has he taken steps to reduce petrol and diesel prices? No. It is a matter of shame that the BJP government in its two-plus years of governance hasn’t provided a single house to the homeless in the state,” Siddaramaiah alleged.
“We didn’t have to speak about it but BJP’s own leaders like Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, C.P. Yogeshwara, H. Vishwanath, and Arvind Bellad publicly levelled corruption allegations against B.S. Yediyurappa’s government. Bommai was very much part of that government. He didn’t come from outside. The BJP has taken a man who was part of the corrupt system and replaced another. What is the difference?”
The leader of the Congress’ Legislature Party is also confident that his party will win both bypoll-bound seats of Sindgi and Hanagal. “Apart from the fact that our candidates are very popular and strong, we will win because people are fed up with the BJP government,” Siddaramaiah said. “Both the Union government and the state government are financially bankrupt. The Union government is not able to pay Karnataka its share of GST compensation and our state is suffering because of this injustice.”
He added that Karnataka’s share in central taxes has gradually declined — a trend also acknowledged by B.S. Yediyurappa during his 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 budget speeches.
“Karnataka’s share in taxes used to be Rs 38,000 crore but now it is Rs 20,000 crore. Grants-in-aids have been reduced by 50 per cent. A state that used to get around Rs 79,000-80,000 crore in central taxes and grant-in-aid, Karnataka now gets just about Rs 40,000- 41,000 crore. Because of this, our developmental work is being hampered,” Siddaramaiah said, alleging that the BJP government was doing away with his flagship schemes such as Indira Canteen, Krushi Bhagya, Anna Bhagya, Vidyashree, and Anugraha.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
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