With the crucial Assembly election in Karnataka less than a year away, the Congress is slowly getting battle-ready and its senior leadership seems to have decided to focus on the invocation of Kannada pride as a political antidote to the BJP’s Hindutva push.
Over the last two days, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the central leadership, including All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of the state Randeep Surjewala and AICC general secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal, spent several hours discussing the political situation with former chief minister Siddaramaiah and state Congress president D K Shivakumar.
There was clarity that the party should go it alone and not align with the Janata Dal (Secular) — the two parties formed the government in 2018 and fought the Lok Sabha elections together the following year — and also that it should go into the elections projecting a collective leadership model.
Siddaramaiah is clear that the party should not dabble in soft Hindutva and should take strong positions against attempts to attack the Constitutional rights of minorities. He is learnt to have told the leadership that the party should have taken strong positions on the hijab row.
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Sources in the Congress said its internal surveys show that Islamist outfits, including the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), are slowly making inroads into the Muslim community, a reverse polarisation that is not good news for the party.
Given that the Congress leadership feels the invocation of Kannada pride can be an antidote to Hindutva, asked about the adoption of soft Hindutva as a tactic, Siddaramaiah, during an interaction with a select group of journalists here, shot back, “What is soft Hindutva? There is nothing like soft Hindutva. Can there be diluted secularism? We believe in secularism and protecting the Constitutional rights of everyone. They (BJP) believe in Hindutva.”
The former Karnataka CM alleged that the BJP government in the state does not have programmes for downtrodden people. “They are making these Hindutva issues, they are projecting Hindutva issues … polarisation of votes. With these, they are trying to win over the voters. We will go to people with definite programmes, alternative programmes. Last time, we failed to market or reach out to people with our programmes. This time, we will amend our approach. For example, say this polarisation of votes they are projecting, we will say that Kannada, our language, is our pride. They are trying to bring Hindi indirectly in place of Kannada. We are going to highlight that.”
Elaborating, Siddarammaiah said, “There was a Mysore bank (established) during (the regime of) Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar. Similarly Corporation Bank, Vijaya Bank, and Syndicate Bank. All these banks have been merged with other banks. About 75,000 employees were there. Now they are merged with other banks. Kannadigas are not getting jobs. Narendra Modi did this. Kannadigas were getting jobs in these banks. Now, the majority of Kannadigas are not getting jobs, only Hindi-speaking people are getting (jobs) and these banks were built by Kannadigas.”
At the same time, the Congress leader maintained that his party was not against Hindi. Referring to the decades-old Sarojini Mahishi report, which had recommended a certain percentage of jobs to Kannadigas in jobs in all sectors, he said the report had not been implemented fully.
“We are committed to full implementation of the Mahishi report. That is number one. Secondly, in Karnataka Kannada is paramount. We will give Class 2, 3 and 4 posts only to Kannadigas,” he added.
The Congress will also make public the socioeconomic survey report, or the caste census, of the Kantharaj Commission if voted to power. “100 per cent,” Siddaramaiah replied when asked whether the report would be made public. Siddaramaiah belongs to the backward class Kuruba community and is among the foremost BC leaders in Karnataka.
Interestingly, just a few days ago, he said that the caste system in India had been a form of reservation system where only people belonging to some castes could get an education and enjoy wealth and that reservations were needed to overcome the social inequalities caused by the caste system.
Siddaramaiah played down differences between him and Shivakumar and claimed they were on good terms. “There are no differences between me and Shivakumar. All senior leaders are united. And we want to face the election unitedly.”
Asked if he would be the party’s chief ministerial face, the former CM sounded cautious. “The MLAs and the high command will decide the chief minister after the elections.”
On the discussions with Rahul and the central leadership, he said, “The discussion was on how to get back to power. Because elections are due in nine months. We have discussed so many strategies. What is the political situation in Karnataka today? What are the issues? What are the failures of this government? Why did we lose the election in 2018? How we should rectify all those mistakes that we have done and how to bring the party to power in the next elections. Because the political situation in Karnataka is in favour of the Congress.”
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