You took the lead in the cabinet to push for minority status for the Lingayat religion. Why?
This is the land of Basaveshwara. So, naturally, it becomes my duty that I have to stand for the 12th-century reformer who forms the Lingayat religion. His ideas of kalyana kranti [revolution through inter-caste marriage] were too radical even for that time. And it had to disband. Otherwise, it would have been the greatest religion of the time. Buddha had found an Ashoka, Basava didn’t. Moreover, I am the head of the institution [Bijapur Lingayat Development Educational Society] founded by a man, Fa Gu Halakatti, who collected all the vachanas [sayings and poems of Basava and other poets] which had been scattered after the 12th century… The late M M Kalburgi and my institution together published 15 volumes of vachanas that Halakatti had collected. So this is the attachment I had to the cause.
On the ground, is a difference evident to the common Lingayat person?
In 900 years, all that has polluted the religion, imposed on it, cannot be negated in nine months. But this movement has led to the first step-a committee has said that this is a religion. It will take another nine years to see the results.
Hasn’t it angered the Lingayats more?
Who are Veerashaivas? They are not even 5% of the community. B S Yeddyurappa, Nijalingappa, Veerendra Patil, I, my father —we are all Lingayats. No one is a Veerashaiva here. This word Veerashaiva came from Andhra Pradesh. Kalburgi would say that accepting that word was the biggest blunder for the community, we destroyed ourselves.
What are the political ramifications of this move?
It may benefit us in certain areas like Belgaum, Dharwad, Hubli. Maybe I will face the wrath of the RSS, BJP and the pancha peethas [Maths opposed to the minority status]. But, by and large, the Lingayats, especially the youth, are happy with it. They are saying, this is our identity. It doesn’t mean we are against Hindus, we are just different —like Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs.
For many years, Lingayats have looked at Yedyurappa as their tallest leader. The BJP has backed him as its CM candidate.
Whatever goodwill he had earlier, today Lingayats do not follow him to that extent. His popularity has diminished by 60%. They realised that he was not like, say, Veerendra Patil. He was a true leader. We got 186 seats under him. He was honest, he had a vision, he was a great administrator. Yedyurappa has none of these qualities. He has used Lingayats. In 2013, he said Veerashaiva Lingayats was a separate religion and now he has backtracked. What if, at that time, that proposal was accepted? Would that not have led to a break in the Hindu religion? Why was it OK then?
Is PM Narendra Modi’s campaign making the Congress nervous?
No. Modi has been exposed. The hope he represented, his charisma, have now diminished to almost 25%. Because of his false promises… Second, the youth are also upset. He had promised 2 crore jobs every year.
There have been news reports that an internal survey says the Congress might lose in Bableshwar, your seat.
You’ll see on May 15. I have done so much work here. I will win hands down.
For farmers, water is an important issue.
As far as irrigation is concerned, Siddaramaiah saab [CM] has spent Rs 50,000 crore, the previous government spent Rs 18,000 crore. For North Karnataka, we spent Rs 26,000 crore, they spent Rs 12,000 crore. Even my enemies cannot talk about irrigation.
How many seats do you think the Congress will win?
We will win between 125 and 145 seats.