Former Karnataka chief minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah has been an outspoken critic of the BJP and RSS. Recently, the backward class leader sparked angry reactions when he implied that the Sangh Parivar’s ideological fount had Aryan origins compared to the Dravidian roots of people in southern India. Siddaramaiah spoke about the controversy and other issues as political heat rises in Karnataka ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. Excerpts:
The issue of reservations for Other Backward Classes in elections for local bodies has become a source of controversy in many states, with the Supreme Court mandating reservations only on the basis of new, ‘scientific’ data. The Court has also said that polls must be held soon for all local bodies whose five-year terms have ended. Maharashtra is going ahead without reservations now, while Madhya Pradesh has convinced the court for polls with what it claims are tweaked norms. Karnataka has sought time to come up with the data needed before the local polls, already due by over a year in Bengaluru. Is it a concern?
In Karnataka, the permanent backward classes commission had carried out a survey – a socio-economic survey and a caste census. The Karnataka government must convince the Supreme Court and the High Court to hold elections using this survey. The Karnataka government has not done anything on this despite the Supreme Court order (on empirical data regarding the need for reservations) coming in April 2021.
We prepared the report at a cost of Rs 162 crore. We got the survey conducted door-to-door… Now they have constituted the Bhaktavatsalam Commission…
If elections are held for local bodies without reservations for OBCs it would amount to stifling of the democratic and constitutional rights of OBCs… Now a hurried exercise is being done and I do not know if it is going to be a scientific exercise.
Karnataka was the first state to carry out a caste census and a socio-economic survey. Other states are doing it now. It was not possible to complete the survey report during the term of the Congress government, the elections came… A few months after the polls, the survey was completed. It was not accepted by the coalition government (Congress-JDS) and the present BJP government. If there are errors in the report or if it goes against the Constitution, it can be verified. If it is constitutional, then it can be accepted by the state.
How does it affect political parties which rely on OBC support for electoral success?
The SC says that if you cannot carry out a scientific survey, then hold elections by declaring all seats as general seats. If this is done, it will be a big injustice to the backward communities.
In recent days you have suggested that the members of the RSS are Aryans, and unlike the Dravidian inhabitants of India?
I was not talking about the origins of the RSS but was referring to the fact that Aryans have their origins outside India. Did I say anything wrong? This is what the history that I have studied says. Is the history wrong?… Now all those who are living in the land called Bharat are Indians. They are people of this country now. They asked me for my lineage and I said I am a Dravidian.
The Dravidian movement took place in Tamil Nadu, it did not take place in Karnataka. We are the original inhabitants of this land. The Scheduled Castes are the original inhabitants of this land, the backward communities are the original inhabitants of this land. All Shudras are the original inhabitants of this land… The Indus Valley civilization was a Dravidian civilization. It was not my intention to stoke any controversy. I just wanted to remind everyone that these facts are a part of history. They are all human beings, whether they are Aryans or Dravidians or Muslims or Christians… I do not want to make it an issue but this is a fact of history.
What will be the big issues for the Congress in the coming state elections?
Corruption is a major issue. This (the BJP) government has destroyed the economic situation in the state – this is the second issue. The third issue is the non-performance of the government. This government has an anti-people agenda, without doing any work, they have looted the exchequer. These are the main issues.
Several reputed writers have written to the state government withdrawing consent for use of their work in school textbooks, citing saffronisation of textbooks. What is your stand on the controversy?
They (the BJP government) have made Rohith Chakrathirtha the head of the textbook review committee. He is from a particular ideological stream… a right-wing ideology. He is seeking to get lessons on Bhagat Singh, Narayan Guru removed, and has been disrespectful to the state poet Kuvempu. There is a demand for his removal as head of the textbook committee… Why are they making it a prestige issue? Children should be taught the principles of the Constitution. They should be taught lessons about social reformers, major literary figures, and people of great character. (But) They are introducing lessons on controversial persons.
I remember all that I have learned in high school but I cannot remember things I learned after school.
When Rahul Gandhi came to Bengaluru recently, he called for unity among Congress leaders in Karnataka ahead of the state elections. There still seem to be simmering differences between the Karnataka Congress president (D K Shivakumar) and Leader of the Opposition (Siddaramaiah)…
There is unity in the party, talk of differences is speculation. All the talk about D K Shivakumar and me not getting along is only speculation. We have no differences and there are no rival camps in our party. There are no differences to the extent that it can cause serious damage to the party. In a democracy, there are bound to be differences of opinion. Only in an organisation like the RSS, there can be no differences of opinion. In democratic institutions, there will be differences.