Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah | @siddaramaiah
Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah | @siddaramaiah
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Karnataka CM believes Congress will get a majority on its own in upcoming polls, says people won’t trust Yeddyurappa, Amit Shah or Narendra Modi again.

Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is a much-relieved and confident man after the Supreme Court verdict on the Cauvery water-sharing dispute. The court tried to find a balance between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, granting 14.75 TMCft extra water to the former.

The favourable verdict a few months before the assembly elections is a stroke of luck for Siddaramaiah, which could help him safeguarding one of the Congress party’s last bastions.

In a freewheeling interview with ThePrint, Siddaramaiah opened up about what will set the tone for these elections, and how he is ready to take the bull by the horns. Excerpts:

On the Cauvery verdict

“Our forceful argument on the injustice caused to Karnataka convinced the Supreme Court. The court delivered its decision based on the facts that we presented. We are happy as the court partially accepted our demands,” Siddaramaiah said.

He also gave credit to previous governments which had worked towards realising the Cauvery dream. “I don’t say that the Congress alone is responsible for the Cauvery verdict, but I will emphasise that our party does not believe in playing politics with water disputes,” he said.

Karnataka also has a water-sharing dispute over the river Mahadayi with the state of Goa. Siddaramaiah said he feels that the Mahadayi dispute can be resolved amicably and out of court, “but the BJP does not want to do so. I have made several attempts to try to call for a meeting of chief ministers. I have asked the Prime Minister to intervene, but he is not interested. I don’t find fault with (Goa CM Manohar) Parrikar, but I find fault with Modi. He does not want a solution”.

On ‘Modicare’

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been critical of the Centre’s ambitious health insurance scheme, popularly known as ‘Modicare’, saying she will not “waste” her state’s hard-earned resources on its implementation.

Siddaramaiah agrees with his eastern counterpart. In his budget speech on Friday, he announced his own Rs 6,645 crore universal health coverage scheme. The ‘Arogya Karnataka Yojana’, which is to be launched this month, is expected to be implemented across the state by the end of year.

Dismissing the central health care scheme, Siddaramaiah said there was no need for it. “What is Modicare? There is no money allocation for that scheme. The state of Karnataka is the first to bring about a universal health care programme. Modi’s scheme is irrelevant in our state,” he said.

On communalism and Hindutva

The BJP in Karnataka has lost no opportunity to highlight that there are “communal forces” at work, and that the Congress has been fanning an anti-Hindu sentiment. The BJP has whipped up communal emotions each time a murder has been reported in the state. From PM Modi to BJP national president Amit Shah to Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, all have called tagged the Congress as “anti-Hindu” during their public meetings. The BJP has also accused the Congress of playing “soft Hindutva” politics.

“There is nothing called soft or hard Hindutva. Those who are communal will continue to do this, and they are using such issues for political gain,” asserted Siddaramaiah, who says he’s agnostic but added that he does believe in Hinduism. He joked that he has “Ram” in his name but does not believe in political gimmicks in the name of religion, adding that that Hindutva does not work in Karnataka and that he sees no polarisation of votes.

Speaking about Rahul Gandhi’s temple and dargah run, he said that the Congress leader’s visits had nothing to do with elections, and the BJP is making much ado about nothing.

Coming down strongly on the statements made by BJP leaders such as B.S. Yeddyurappa, Shobha Karandlaje and Ananth Kumar Hegde, Siddaramaiah says Yeddyurappa is irrelevant and the people will not trust him, Amit Shah or Modi again.

On Congress’s chances and aligning with the JD(S)

The question of an understanding with the JD(S) evokes irritation from Siddaramaiah. “I will never align with the JD(S),” said the man who stuck by JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda even during the peak of his epic battle with Ramakrishna Hegde.

Today, there’s no love lost between Siddaramaiah and the former prime minister. Deve Gowda recently criticised Siddaramaiah for the out-of-turn transfer of an IAS officer in Hassan, and even called him “neech” (lowly), which did not sit well with Siddaramaiah.

However, both Siddaramaiah and the Congress are confident that they will be able to get a majority on their own, and will not need the support of any other party to reach the magic figure of 113 in the 224-seat assembly.

On the deteriorating state of Bengaluru

Bengaluru has gone from being nicknamed ‘garden city’ to earning the tags of ‘garbage city’, ‘potholes city’ and ‘unsafe’. Siddaramaiah, though, blames the BJP for it. “The BJP turned it into ‘garbage city’. They spoilt it by pledging acres of land to banks. We are only trying to course-correct. We are trying to improve Bengaluru and we will do better,” he said.

He does, however, accept that his government could have delivered better in the urban areas. He is confident that his schemes would make an impression and change the mind of the urban voter.

On Kannada pride

Born in the Kuruba (shepherd) community, Siddaramaiah entered school late. He had learnt Kannada alphabets during his early years through folk art, and later joined school in the fifth standard.

Today, he feels that every school-going child and person living in Karnataka should speak Kannada, and defends his government’s stand on Kannada Asmita (pride). “My government is committed to Kannada having supremacy. We are not imposing it on people; it is their duty to learn Kannada to live with those from the state. The cabinet has passed the Kannada flag, and I will discuss it with Kannada organisations soon,” he said.

On the Gauri Lankesh murder case

Siddaramaiah said the investigation into journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder was in an advanced stage, and expressed confidence that the authorities would be able to close the case, unlike the murder cases of M.M. Kalburgi in Karnataka and Narendra Dabholkar in Maharashtra, whose killers are still at large.

“I have full faith in my department. We will crack the case,” he said.

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