We will win Karnataka polls due to our rural focus: State Congress chief

Dr G Parameshwara
Karnataka is set to attract national attention when it goes for assembly elections next year. While the BJP plans an attempt to return to power, the Congress government expects to run a second term in the state. 

Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President Dr G Parameshwara in an interview with Raghu Krishnan says that the party will return to power under Siddaramaiah, due to his government's track record in delivering its promises to voters, largely in rural Karnataka.

"At this moment, BJP is on the back foot. They have done nothing to help people in Karnataka," says Parameshwara. Edited Excerpts:

What is Congress' strategy for the next elections?

We should come back because we have given a stable, peaceful and development-oriented government focused on poverty alleviation.  

On the contrary, during the previous BJP government in the state, we have seen unstable governments, corruption, multiple chief ministers during the same period with no specific developmental agenda.

We have delivered what we promised in our manifesto. Rice is being given free, milk is being distributed in schools, we are giving an additional subsidy of Rs 5 per litre of milk. There is no fertiliser or seed shortage and thereby, no agitation or protests by farmers. We have tried to improve the lives of the rural people.

Are you betting on the rural population to elect the government back?

That is one thing. Over 2.2 million people have benefited due to farm loan waiver, over 1.7 million people have been rid of their interest liabilities worth Rs 50,000-75,000 each. We had promised Rs 10,000-crore spending on irrigation projects every year, and have already spent Rs 42,000 crore so far. Around 600,000 hectares of additional land have been added to irrigation. This will give a boost to employment, agriculture production and other allied activities. 

During former chief minister S M Krishna's tenure, there were comments that he concentrated on urban areas, so we took care of that because a large number of people live in rural area. (Krishna lost elections in 2004). For urban areas, we have given all municipal bodies additional grants and have spent on basic amenities. There may be some shortcoming in the implementation of projects but we have allocated money for the same.

But the implementation of projects is not being reflected in Bengaluru...

I am not going to talk about the current situation because of rains. However, five years ago, the situation on clearing garbage was terrible. We started garbage clearance units, which cleaned the roads by 60-70 a  and we will continue working towards it.

But the roads are a mess, traffic has worsened in Bengaluru... 

See, Bengaluru is growing without any proper urban planning. It is growing like nobody's business.

But you had four years to solve this...

You can reissue guidelines, build roads, fix bridges and the drainage. However, the problems we are facing are not outside (of the city), but in the developed areas, which are already crowded. Every day we see a floating population of two million in addition to the 130 million people in the city. Bengaluru cannot take it. We have 65,00,000 vehicles in the city but the roads are not equipped to take the load. How much can we widen the roads and how much can we demolish?

But is there no investment in public transport? The BMTC  fleet has not expanded in the last few years.

The problem is not buses. We can buy buses but where are you going to run them. We need roads. We completed the first phase of metro work, which was lingering because the BJP did not push for it. Now, 500,000 people are travelling every day on the 42-km route. We have started work on the second phase, which once completed, will aid 2.5 million commuters. If they shift to the metro, the pressure on roads will reduce. These are the long-term plans. Another alternative was steel bridge but there were protests, so we have to understand the sentiment of people.

Have you lost the perception battle in Bengaluru and ignored the city?

People should also cooperate. I lived abroad for five years and after a one-year gap, when I went back to Adelaide, there were flyovers everywhere in the main city. People accepted as this is a  developing city situation. The steel flyover was suggested because Hebbal flyover was a bottleneck. 

Did you fail to communicate to the people?

I think so. We should have involved public participation right from the conception of the project and kept the outlay transparent, even the monetary part. There, I think, the government failed.

Would that hurt you in the elections?

We have made up for it partly in terms of political (adjustments), such as the Indira Canteen (modelled on Amma canteen, to provide subsidised cooked food), 

What about politically. At the end of the day, it is a perception battle?

The people appreciate Indira Canteen. The working class, as well as, people from the unorganised sector go there.  So, you lose some, you gain some. The percentage that you have gained is what matters. I feel we have gained more and won the hearts of the younger generation by giving them 1,70,000 government jobs. 

When I was the home minister, we recruited 23,000 people (in the police). In the previous BJP regime, not one constable was recruited. Why? Every year 3,000 people are retiring, you could have substituted that. It is a continuous process. In the private sector, there has been a lot of employment generation. In the IT sector, the issues are due to international challenges but Bengaluru continues to be an attractive destination as an  IT hub.

This protectionism cry for Kannada, is it to whip up the passion of Kannadigas ahead of the election? Is it also due to the industry that has not grown outside of Bengaluru?

Even though Bengaluru is a cosmopolitan city, there are a large number of outsiders. Just go to a restaurant and you will see people talking in Hindi or English, but barely in Kannada. Forget about five-star hotels, there is no Kannada being spoken at all there. You see in Tamil Nadu, even in a five-star hotel, they speak Tamil. Go to Maharashtra, even in five-star hotels, they speak Marathi, why not in Bengaluru? So Kannada people have realised that we have to do something (to ensure Kannada is spoken). Naturally, any government has to go with the general masses. It has so happened that we are going for elections next year. Definitely, the language has to be protected.

In the previous elections, did you want to be the chief minister?

Every politician has an aspiration or else he wouldn't in politics. When you become a party head in Congress, it is a convention, not mandatory, that the president will become the chief minister. It just so happened that I was the president but unfortunately, I lost the election. Since Siddaramaiah was the Congress Legislative Party leader, he was the automatic choice.

Is Siddaramaiah projected as the leader in the elections?

The high command says that you (Siddaramaiah) have been the leader of the government, it is you who has to bring back the government along with the party leader. If we get the majority, the CLP meets and decide the chief minister in consultation with the high command. If they say Siddaramaiah will continue, I don't have an objection.

What gives you the confidence of winning?

In the last six months, the BJP has protested for cow slaughter, communal clashes and murders. Have they ever protested for development, social justice, infrastructure or have they projected an agenda for Karnataka?

BJP is a national party, they can do wonders but nothing is forthcoming. On the other hand, Janata Dal (Secular), has nothing to say and because they cannot come to power on their own.

Are investments not going beyond Bengaluru?

Definitely, it is. We want to develop Mangaluru, Hubbali and Belagavi as second cities. Tumakuru has got the HAL helicopter factory, we have started a food park and a Japanese township is also coming. In Challakere, there is huge investment in defence with the DRDO campus. We have seven months to go and we will try to market ourselves.

But the BJP is aggressive on Karnataka?

At this moment, BJP is on the back foot. They have done nothing to offer to Karnataka people. They have no agenda and I am saying this because they have not said so. True, they may be hoping that  Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and a whole lot of ministers will come and campaign. My question is what is that they have done for Karnataka in the last three years apart from the regular programmes?

Is there anything that they have given extra to the state? Anything to substantiate over and above the Rs 10,000-crore planned allocation for irrigation or infrastructure. They have done nothing. Even nationally, they have failed utterly. The prices of essential commodities have gone up, petrol and diesel prices have gone up. The demonetisation demolished the economy. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh had projected that the demonetisation will reduce GDP by 2 per cent. His prediction has come true.

BJP has been successful in the past in using social media to influence voters. What will you do?

We have understood that later than sooner. Uttar Pradesh was a debacle (for us). We are also up and running on social media.  We are going house-to-house and giving them a list of our achievements. This is what our cadre are doing. We will reach out to voters to counter whatever BJP is doing on social media.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel