Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah defends the controversial move to give the state a separate flag as well as the transfer of a “whistle-blower” DIG. He also rules out any political alliance ahead of state assembly elections due next year and accuses the Centre of trying to impose Hindi in Bengaluru Metro.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview to ThePrint Deputy Editor Anubhuti Vishnoi in Bengaluru:
Your government has just run into a controversy over the move to bring in a separate Karnataka flag. Why is such a move being made?
In our constitution there is no provision that prohibits a state flag. We have constituted a committee to look into the legal aspects and any other aspects involved. Also there are so many decisions by the Supreme Court to this effect but nowhere has the apex court or High Court said that the state should not have a flag.
But why does Karnataka need a separate flag at all?
Kannada activists and writers have been demanding that a separate flag is necessary for the state. Ours is a federal state. There is a national flag. It doesn’t mean that the state should not have a flag.
The BJP has termed it an anti-national move and pointed out that Jammu & Kashmir is the only state with a separate flag?
BJP sees everything from a political angle. We can’t help it. There is no problem. Constitutionally, as I know, there is no provision that prohibits that. Such being the case, why should the state not have one? For example, Karnataka state has its own state anthem, state emblem…but has any of that affected the sovereignty of the country?
Some may see this as the state government’s reaction to the recent ‘Namma Metro’ controversy over Hindi signage.
That has nothing to do with it. This Committee on the flag was constituted long back. It has to give its report. We will look into it. My personal views is, as an advocate, since there is no provision in the constitution that prohibits categorically that state should not have a flag, therefore if the state wishes so, it can have its flag. There is the national anthem and the state also has its own anthem. Does it affect the federal structure of the nation? This is just like that. Only thing is that the national flag is on the top always. Below that we can have state flags.
But why the controversy over use of Hindi at metro stations?
Government of India has written a letter like that because metro is in sharing pattern, but Karnataka contributes more. They have written asking us to use Hindi also along with Kannada and English. Now, there is the three language formula but Hindi is not a national language and it cannot be imposed. Yes, it is the official language. We accept the three language formula, it is there. But there is no necessity for the Centre to write a letter like this and impose Hindi. It cannot be imposed. In Tamil Nadu why is Hindi not imposed? Or in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra?
So you think there is a political design behind this move?
I don’t say there is a political design for everything but there is no need for this letter and to impose Hindi as a third language. We will probably put Hindi also after this letter but the people of Karnataka are opposing it. There is no compulsion in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra, Telangana, Maharashtra, why in Karnataka?
The Karnataka government has also been in the news over the transfer of the whistle-blower DIG of Prisons D. Roopa.
Transferring an officer is purely an administrative matter. Why are these people making such noise about this. BJP wants to make it a political issue. I have already ordered an inquiry on whatever she has alleged against the senior officer. We have appointed an officer to look into all these allegations. If the allegations made by the DIG are true, certainly we will take action against the person who has committed corruption.
The only other issue here is that she did not just give a report to a higher officer alleging corruption but she has also gone to the press and electronic media and is discussing it. This is against service conduct rules.
Are you satisfied yourself on the core issue of whether any VIP treatment was given to Sasikala?
I don’t want to discuss this at length because it is an administrative matter. It should not be discussed.
Are you considering any political alliance ahead of the assembly elections? Are there discussions with JD(S)?
There will be no political alliance in the coming elections. We will go on our own. I am fully confident, our party is fully confident that we will come back to power on our own. We don’t want any alliance. In the last election also we were on our own. In the coming election also we will go on our own. Our party leaders and myself, we all know the pulse of the people. The Congress party will come back. No doubt about that
With you as the CM candidate?
Congress party made it very clear that the coming assembly elections will be fought under the leadership of Siddaramaiah. Our agenda now is to bring back the party to power in 2018. That is the task before us now. After that we will see. The Congress government will complete the unfinished agenda if any. The new elected MLAs have to elect a leader, that is the law. It is for the high command to take a decision. I am not shirking my responsibility. It is a procedure.
What about the Modi wave?
Where is the Modi wave here in Karnataka? There is no Modi wave as such. Parliament elections are different, state elections are different. Uttar Pradesh they won because they played the communal card beautifully there. But they can’t repeat it in Karnataka because this is the land of Basavanna. 850 years ago the seeds of equity and social justice were sown in this land.
Your government is hosting the Quest for Equity conference this month. What is the idea behind it? Is this a political response?
It is not a political response. Karnataka government in commemoration of 126th birth anniversary of Baba Saheb Ambedkar is organising an international conference from 21 July to 23 July. Rahul-ji is coming to inaugurate. Martin Luther King III, an advocate and social activist is also coming. The main theme of this conference is reclaiming of social justice and revisiting India. How much we have achieved and how far ahead we need to travel to achieve the aspirations in the Constitution. That’s why the right thinking people and those committed to ideas of social justice and equity are coming together under one umbrella to review this situation. In the end we will have the Bengaluru Declaration. The main purpose of the declaration is the quest for equity across all fields – political, economic, social and inclusive growth. The declaration may suggest policy changes and how government can move forward for claiming social justice.
There has been a controversy around the state legislature ordering arrests of some journalists. Does it have implications for the freedom of media in Karnataka?
We are for freedom of expression. There is no compromise on that. Whatever is in the Constitution we are for that, our government and legislature is for that. Also no arrest has not been made, that was the decision of the legislature, not the government. Still I told the police not to arrest them despite the legislature’s decision. Now the court has directed the two editors to appear before the Speaker to look into it.
BJP has been alleging that the state Congress is stoking communal tension in Dakshina Kannada?
On the other hand, it is BJP that has communalised things. Congress never did it and we will not do it. It is BJP which is a divisive force, believes in dividing the people on caste and religious lines. Congress party never did it. We believe in secularism, social justice and a strong democracy.
Many argue that the recent farm loan waiver you announced is a highly populist measure.
That is what Venkaiah Naidu-ji is saying, that is the fashion of each government to give waivers. That is the statement made by him and Arun Jaitley made a statement that the Centre is not giving a single penny to the states for loan waiver. The RBI Governor also made a statement saying the RBI is against it. And while the national government is making such statements, here Mr Yeddyurappa is demanding waiver of loan in Karnataka. After I took a decision for waiver of loan, why is he keeping quiet?
What about the future leadership of the Congress and the public acceptability of Rahul Gandhi?
Our future leader is Rahul Gandhi-ji. There is public acceptability. If your party vice-president is accepted by the Congress party and also people of the country, that is what it means. In the coming assembly elections, Karnataka will give a lead for the parliamentary elections in 2019. Congress will come back again in the country.