He joined the Congress just six years ago, and now K. Siddaramaiah is Karnataka’s 22nd chief minister, a mantle he had twice before come close to wearing as a Janata Dal leader. The socialist lawyer-turned-politician, who pointedly called on the state’s leading writers and intellectuals before taking oath of office, spoke to Gauri Lankesh, soon after. Excerpts:
Although you are CM now, some Congressmen and sections of the media still call you an ‘outsider’?
That is a meaningless statement. Once anybody joins the Congress, he is a Congressman. Where is the question of someone being a newcomer or an outsider?
Will you hit back at H.D. Deve Gowda and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy who had twice deprived you of the CM’s post?
No, I don’t indulge in revenge politics, and won’t.
The previous BJP government’s amended bill to prevent cattle slaughter is awaiting presidential approval. Do you plan to implement that bill?
Certainly not. If it gets presidential approval, we will rescind it. Instead, we will continue with the Prevention of Cattle Slaughter Bill of 1964 which had faced no opposition.
The BJP had also started cow protection committees and organic farming commissions.
Those commissions and committees had become rehabilitation centres for the Sangh parivar. We need to promote organic farming, but not in the way the BJP did. I will disband all such outfits.
If the BJP government’s amended bill on cow slaughter gets presidential approval, we will rescind it. We’ll continue with the 1964 bill.”
People in the coastal districts—the erstwhile Hindutva laboratory of the Sangh parivar—have after a long time ditched the BJP and supported the Congress in these elections. How do you plan to return the favour?
In those districts, the Sangh parivar had taken the law into its hands. The police and the district administration too had become totally inactive. DCs and SPs would follow the orders of the Sangh parivar chieftains. We will not allow such a situation to continue any more. We need to restore law and order in those areas. The atmosphere of fear that is prevalent there needs to be eradicated. We will take all measures to instil confidence in the people of those areas.
What do you plan to do with fascist outfits like the Sri Rama Sene, which had flown a Pakistani flag in Sindgi in Bijapur district, with the intention to cause communal disturbance, or the members of the Bajrang Dal who have attacked churches in many districts in the past? Will you ban them?
I am aware that people like these, whenever thrown out of power, indulge in such activities. We will do whatever we can to keep them under control.
As opposition leader, you objected to then CM S.M. Krishna’s move to cede state control and hand over the Udupi Krishna temple to the powerful Ashta mathas. The Yediyurappa government too had handed over the Gokarna temple to the Ramachandra matha. What do you plan to do with these two temples now?
I believe that both the temples should belong to the public and hence be a part of the muzrai department. I will take steps to get them back under government control.
All three CMs of the BJP had allocated large amounts of public money into various caste mathas. Do you plan to do the same?
None of the mathas had asked for money from the government. The BJP CMs gave money of their own volition. Some mathas had even refused to receive such dole. I don’t see any need to continue.
In the last five years, denotification of land had been the root cause of many scams. What is your stand on denotification?
I will not say that there will not be even a single case of denotification of land during my regime. However, when there is a genuine need for denotification, we have to ensure it is done in a transparent manner.
The Karnataka Congress is riddled with factions that could lead to dissidence in the future. Are you confident of lasting the full term?
Definitely. It is only in the Congress party that a chief minister has lasted his entire term in office.
Given the Congress’s performance in these elections, how many seats do you think the party will win in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections?
I think we should get 25 seats. If we provide good governance, our voteshare will definitely go up and better our chances.
What is your vision for the state?
To make Karnataka the No. 1 state in the country, both in terms of infrastructure and in human development indices.