Updated: April 19, 2022 6:44:00 pm
Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar is among the 36 party leaders booked for protesting near Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s residence last week over the party’s demand for KS Eshwarappa’s resignation in connection with the death of a government contractor. Eshwarappa resigned on Friday, but the Congress leader says this is not enough.
Shivakumar talks to The Indian Express about the Eshwarappa episode, his party’s credibility on the issue of corruption, and religious polarisation in the state.
Minister KS Eshwarappa has resigned. Will the issue of corruption be the focus of the Congress’s messaging in Karnataka?
DK Shivakumar: Resignation is only one part of the issue. The main one is 40 per cent commission. In the note left behind by Santhosh Patil (the contractor who died in Udupi on April 12) and in the complaint filed by his brother, it is stated that the minister asked for a 40 per cent commission to clear bills. The president of the contractors’ association has written letters to the prime minister and the chief minister. But no action has been taken. We tried to raise the issue in the Assembly as well but we were not permitted to discuss it. A case has not been registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act. They are just calling it a suicide case and they are saying his (Eshwarappa’s) name is there in the FIR as per the complaint. But (relevant) sections have not been added. Karnataka has become the capital of corruption. This issue is important for us. The entire government is sinking because of corruption. Be it a panchayat office, a taluk office or a municipality, everywhere this 40 per cent is there.
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So, we want to bring in a corruption-free government and give good governance. Moreover, no investor is coming to Karnataka because of polarisation. It is an Information Technology, start-up, and medical hub. But when these types of issues are there why will people come to Karnataka to pursue education? In Shivamogga, where an airport is being constructed, Section 144 is always in place. They do not allow minorities to travel with Hindus, they say no one should buy anything from Muslim shops. Bengaluru is a cosmopolitan city, our people are working all over the world. The image of Karnataka has been dented.
How can people take the Congress’s anti-corruption message seriously when you too are facing cases? There was a raid at your premises by the CBI some time back.
DK Shivakumar: In my case, there was a raid. What corruption charges are there against me? Please tell me. At the time of the Rajya Sabha election, they raided me. Whatever cases are against me are political (in nature). At the time of Ahmed Patel’s Rajya Sabha election, they raided me, only about Rs 40 lakh was found in my house. I am an agriculturist owning more than 100 acres of land and I have given everything. Some of my friends had some money. They (CBI) said that money also belongs to me. Was there an inquiry against me, any corruption charge, any commission? When I was a minister, nothing was there, no one opened their mouth. During the Rajya Sabha election, I was in charge. They asked me to leave the MLAs, I did not allow it. I was doing my political duty. They did this as part of a vendetta.
The CBI had then claimed that you acquired disproportionate assets worth Rs 74 crore.
Okay, let them file the chargesheet. The government itself has said that it was not a big case for them. But still, they filed it. I have given my reply. But they are still not acting on it.
How does the Congress plan to approach issues of communal nature? For instance, the hijab controversy.
DK Shivakumar: Because they are losing the elections one after another. Even in the local body elections…the BJP lost in the chief minister’s constituency. They are losing ground. That is why they are trying to polarise. By polarising, they are losing out on investments and job opportunities, unemployment is rising and there is unrest. No one will come to the state. Already states such as Kerala and Telangana are making offers to people to invest in their state. People such as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw have spoken about the communal divide and asked the chief minister to sort out the issue. But the chief minister himself is encouraging moral policing.
My question is how will the Congress approach this politics of polarisation?
DK Shivakumar: We will definitely convince people, give strength to all sections of society and stand by them, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, or Christians. We will protect them. We will go by the Constitution. If the Congress is there, Karnataka is safe. Karnataka is not like Uttar Bharat (north India) or Uttar Pradesh. People are highly educated and sensitive, they know their moral values and ethics. They know we have to live together. It is a very progressive and educated state. They will understand the situation.
Rahul Gandhi has told Karnataka leaders ‘unity is important, you have to be united’. So why is there a lack of unity?
DK Shivakumar: It is totally wrong. All of us are united. Only the media is trying to create an impression that there is no unity. BJP is trying to focus on that. Who said there is no unity? From every angle, there is unity…
Rahul himself advised you…
DK Shivakumar: He advised us not to fight. We don’t have any fights. I do not have differences with anyone. Being the party president, I am taking everyone together. It is my duty and I am doing that.
When Rahul says don’t fight, it means there is infighting.
DK Shivakumar: In what way or sense he has spoken, I do not know. We all are united and we are working unitedly.
Who will be the party’s chief ministerial face in the Assembly elections?
DK Shivakumar: We have collective leadership. The party will decide, the high command will decide. None of us will decide.
The party has appointed MB Patil, a Lingayat, as the campaign committee chief. The Lingayats had moved away from the Congress. You are a Vokkaliga, Siddaramaiah is from the Kuruba community, Mallikarjun Kharge is the Dalit face. So it is an interesting caste combination.
DK Shivakumar: We proposed Patil’s name since we want all the faces to be seen. We want everyone to be there. I am trying to reach out to them (the Lingayat community). Whatever has happened has happened. I have asked them to forgive us for the division issue that we had taken up. So, we are sorting it out. So, they are on their way to us. They are helping us. We stand by them. Earlier, they have helped us. In the time of SM Krishna, in the time of Veerendra Patil, they helped us. So, I think they will help us now also.
The Mekedatu Yatra that you had undertaken, how will it impact the electorate?
DK Shivakumar: In Bengaluru, there is an almost 1.5 crore population and 1.5 crore people are there in the rural sector. The Mekedatu project will help entire southern Karnataka, including Bengaluru. All the formalities are done. Now the Central government has to give the opportunity to build it. Even the state government has understood its importance. They have earmarked some money in the Budget. It is their duty to get it approved by the Central government.
The DMK is the Congress’s steadfast ally at the national level but opposing the project. How will it affect the Congress’s ties with the DMK?
DK Shivakumar: It is their government and state, and they have to protect it. But they also know that it will not affect them. There is politics between the DMK and the AIADMK. We do not want to interfere. We are asking for our rights and our water.
Will the Congress ally with the JD(S) again?
DK Shivakumar: We will go it alone. We want to keep the BJP out of power. The question (of joining hands) does not arise.
To keep the BJP out of power, don’t you think Opposition votes should not get divided?
DK Shivakumar: This time Karnataka will give us a clear mandate.
Do you think the Congress made a mistake by making HD Kumaraswamy the chief minister?
DK Shivakumar: Whatever our high command has done, we have gone by that. Though we have a lot of differences with Kumaraswamy and we have been fighting a long battle, but still whatever the high command decided we agreed to it.
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