Two weeks ago, when there were clear indications of a Congress victory in Karnataka, senior party leaders were not sure about how the state’s chief minister was going to be chosen. Many told the media that the ‘High Command’ in New Delhi would decide.
Siddaramaiah Siddarame Gowda, 65, better known only by his first name, must have been considering his chances against veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, currently a minister in the UPA government, and select others.
The ‘High Command’ then sprang a surprise. Instead of ‘selection’ which everyone with an opinion was conjecturing wildly about, New Delhi surprisingly chose election. A secret ballot was held. Siddaramaiah, a veteran of the Janata parties who has been in Congress only for seven-years, emerged triumphant, indicating he had broad support across the state’s party MLAs for his leadership. He was sworn in as chief minister on Monday, May 13th, and straightaway went on to pronounce into policy some of the promises made in the Congress manifesto.
How well do Bangaloreans know the new head of our state? What kind of person is the chief minister? Survarna News 24×7 interviewed him on Monday night, the day he took oath of office. “I am neither an atheist nor a theist”, he said in the interview, as if to indicate that he cannot be characterised in wordy boxes, and that he should be judged by his actions.
Siddaramaiah is certainly more left-leaning than some of his counterparts in the Congress party at the Centre. He has a long history, particularly one of being finance minister several times around, and indicates his comfort with the topic by readily reeling out numbers on everything from milk production to electricity shortage to number of pumpsets in Karnataka. He also missed becoming chief minister twice. Despite winning the secret ballot, he still says that he was also the High Command’s choice.
We translated the conversation for Citizen Matters readers with permission. The interviewers were Vishweshwar Bhat of Suvarna News and Kannada Prabha, programme host Ranganath Bharadwaj, columnist-editor Thyagaraj, news anchor Jayaprakash Shetty and journalist K V Prabhakar. The programme also received several questions from callers.
Vishweshwar Bhat: You come from Janata Party. After joining Congress, you have become the CM in a short span of time. But others who have put in 40-45 years of work in Congress are still dreaming of becoming the CM. How do you analyse yourself as the person from Janata Party and as a person from Congress who became CM?
Siddaramaiah: I have got the post because of the blessings of Sonia Gandhi and the unanimous choice of all the legislators. I had expected this outcome because Kharge has been in Congress party for a long time, has been elected to Vidhana Sabha nine times and is already a minister at the Centre. Our Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) President, G Parameshwar unfortunately lost in the elections. So naturally I was the High Command’s choice.
Vishweswar Bhat: Your political life has been very long. People of Karnataka had believed that you had almost become the CM. Later you become Deputy CM twice and provided the budget seven times. Now that you are the CM, there are a lot of expectations from you. How have you thought CM Siddaramaiah should be?
Siddaramaiah: I will continue to be the same way I am as CM. Power and position are not permanent. Every politician in a democracy should understand this. When we get power , we should use it for the welfare of the people. Then people will also appreciate it and we also will get a good name. Hence all our programs and agendas should be for the benefit of the society, especially the deprived section.
“If you have clarity in your thoughts and actions it will not be difficult to adjust in a new system”.
Thyagaraj: You said you cannot give up your toughness, and that is your core nature. In Congress, High Command leaders expect politeness and loyalty. How will you balance you tough temperament with their expectations?
Siddaramaiah: I am not always very tough and angry. It happens only when someone talks or makes absurd remarks. Otherwise I am also a human being. I may appear very tough externally but am not so internally. I have all the qualities of a normal human being, be it responding to the difficulties of the people, respecting others’ feelings, etc.
Thyagaraj: In 1996 and 2004, you came close to CM’s post but lost it narrowly. Hopefully all that pain has gone away now.
Siddaramaiah: Naturally in 1996 I should have been CM but Ramakrishna Hegde, Bommai and others made J H Patel the CM. In 2004, Devegowda denied me the chance. Thus I lost two chances to be CM. But this time I am happy.
Ranganath Bharadwaj: A year back the leaders in Congress had said that a post befitting you would come before you soon.
Siddaramaiah: They had told that you have opportunities, so build the party. Congress has not been in power in Karnataka since many years. BJP has been planting the seeds of communalism among the people. Karnataka has always been a peace-loving State. So the High Command wanted to bring back Congress in Karnataka.
Ranganath Bharadwaj: Is forming the cabinet a big challenge? There are a lot of ministerial aspirants in Congress.
Siddaramaiah: There are a lot of people who are eligible to become Ministers and have leadership qualities. Yes, it is a difficult task to please all of those people. There are only 33 positions, including me, 34. There are about 50-60 people wanting to be ministers. Hence I will make a balanced decision in consultation with the High Command and also taking into account region, caste, and other aspects.
Thyagraj: Lok Sabha elections are very close. Will all the dissatisfaction have any impact? What will you do about it?
Siddaramaiah: Such feelings don’t exist, not in Kharge or Parameshwar. They are happy with me and all of them have made the decision together. Maybe some people have got the wrong information about this dissatisfaction. Soon it will go away.
Ranganath Bharadwaj: Soon after becoming CM, you called a press conference and announced your plans and a six point program. You became ‘Sixer Siddhu’ in cricket style !
Siddaramaiah: These programs have to be implemented immediately. In our election manifesto we had said that we will provide rice at the rate of Re 1 per kg, 30 kgs per month for the poor. Milk producers will get a subsidy of Rs 4. We don’t have to wait till the budget to implement it. Hence it will come into effect from today. We have waived off loans given by SC/ST and minorities’ corporations. For house construction we have increased the subsidy from Rs 75,000 to Rs 1,20,000 taking into account the increased costs of construction. Poor people will atleast have quality houses. This year we are planning to build 3 lakh houses and this subsidy will apply to those houses. Totally there will be a burden of Rs.1960 crores on the state government.
Visweshwar Bhat: Many BJP leaders were involved in many scams. Your party leaders and legislators were also involved in mining scams. Some of them have been re-elected. What actions will you take against them?
Siddaramaiah: We will examine whether they have a direct involvement in the scams and then take necessary actions. We will take a decision after seeing the Lokayukta report and Supreme court verdicts.
Thyagaraj: Land allottments and de-notifications led to the fall of BJP. Will you bring any new rules and regulations?
Siddaramaiah: There should be transparency in land acquisition proceedings. Government should be carefulwhile buying land. Using agricultural land for other purposes causes more harm than the good. Land will become scarce, food production will become less and bribery will increase. We will make an honest effort to increase transparency in land allotments and denotification.
Ranganath Bharadwaj: How will you handle the electricity crisis?
Siddaramaiah: We cannot suddenly rectify the electricity deficit unless we generate power or purchase power. We have a 30% shortage. We can improve electricity production in the state. There is an electricity corridor (pathway) problem to purchase power from other states. Hence this problem cannot be solved immediately. We have to work in the existing framework to provide quality power to farmers and irrigation.
Right now farmers are getting power for only 3-4 hrs per day for their pumpsets. It has to be raised to 5-6 hours during the day. There are about 20 lakh pumpsets in Karnataka. Minimum three acres of land is dependent on one pumpset, so approximately 60 lakh acres will get water if we provide electricity. Lift irrigation doesn’t work without electricity.
Most importantly there will be no drinking water without electricity. We will try our best in this direction to provide electricity to the farmers.
Vishveshwar Bhat: Bangalore has become a garbage city. What are your plans to change the image of Bangalore?
Siddaramaiah: I had a talk with BBMP Commissioner today to take steps in this direction immediately. I am ready to give all the support and assistance to BBMP. But the actions have to be time-bound to erase the garbage city tag. Lot of corporates set up shop in Bangalore because of the silicon valley image. Because of the instability and constant infighting in the BJP government, the investors lost confidence in the city. No infrastructure development happened in Bangalore. We will work to reverse this image.
Thyagraj: The past three CMs gave a lot of aids and grants to Matts and religious Institutions to please different communities. What are your thoughts on this?
Siddaramaiah: No Swamijis or Matts asked for aids. The past governments started this trend. In my opinion it is not a good practice in financial terms. We should be accountable to every paisa paid by tax-payers.
Thyagraj: Are you an atheist or theist? Earlier CMs used to visit temples before taking oath, but you have visited writers.
Siddaramaiah: I am not against Matts. I felt like taking advice from eminent writers hence I visited them. I will also visit Matts. I am neither an atheist nor a theist. I believe in thinking and doing good to others. My family and relatives will not interfere in my administration.
Vishweshwar Bhat: What kind of status or heights will Kannada Language have in your administration? What will be the future of Kannada? What will be your policy?
Siddaramaiah: I was the first President of Kannada Kaavalu Samithi (Kannada Watchdog Committee). Our government will continue pro-Kannada policy. We will make an effort to make Kannada the administrative language at all levels. We will provide financial assistance to Kannada Academies and Universities. Kannada Software will be improved.
Thyagaraj: Every year Cauvery issue is a controversial matter. How will you handle this issue as you come from the same area (Mysore)?
Siddaramaiah: It is in front of Supreme Court and Tribunal Court and not yet concluded. Tribunal has given the final award. We have questioned the final award and gone to supreme court. We have come a long way from where we can sit across the table and discuss. It should have happened before. Tamilnadu is in an advantageous position. Karnataka has been wronged. So we do not know whether they will come for talks at this stage. I will consult legal and technical experts and chart the action.
For a detailed story on why Tamilnadu prefers the verdict and Karnataka does not, click here)
Jayaprakash Shetty: When you were deputy CM twice, you were in Janata Party. How difficult it has been for you to accustom yourself with Congress in the past seven years?
Siddaramaiah: If you have clarity in your thoughts and actions it will not be difficult to adjust in a new system.
Prabhakar: You are a man not known for compromise. How will you be able to administrate without compromising with others?
Siddaramaiah: One cannot be in politics without compromising. I am not a stubborn person. But if I am right in all respects then I believe in insisting and not compromising.
Prabhakar: Officials are a bit afraid of you, why?
Siddaramaiah: They may be afraid of me but love me at the same time. I am of the opinion that all of them should do their work properly. At that time I am tough but otherwise I encourage them.
Jayaprakash Shetty: Will your Budget have a separate Agriculture Budget?
Siddaramaiah: No, there is no need for two budgets with separate names to mislead the farmers.
Vishweshwar Bhat: How is the financial condition of Karnataka?
Siddaramaiah: It is not very good. No fiscal discipline. Debt burden is increasing. It needs to improve.
Meera (Housewife): What facilities will your government provide for women?
Siddaramaiah: We would like to revive the self help groups for women. They will be provided equal opportunities in all areas, reservation in politics at assembly and parliament level.
Sadananda Maiya (Hotelier): While starting a new industry, we put an application in Udyoga Mitra and take a sanction. Though Udyoga Mitra is a single window agency, we need to go separately to various departments like water, etc to take sanction and this causes lot of delay. My request is to sanction all orders once for all as it is a single window agency.
Siddaramaiah: It is a good suggestion to have everything sanctioned in a single window. We will look into the matter and take necessary action.
Master Hirannayya: Theatre artisists are in a very bad condition today. Please take measures to improve their condition. Provide 1% reservation to their children, provide a place for them to stay in their oldage. I would like to talk to you in detail regarding all this.
Siddaramaiah: Will meet you and discuss all the options for the betterment of theatre artists.⊕