As Karnataka's ruling coalition constituents Congress and JD(S) get down to brass tacks for the Lok Sabha polls, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy said his party should not be treated as "third grade citizens" and that both the partners adopt a "give and take policy" to put up a united fight against the BJP.
With the coalition partners expected to hold talks on the tricky seat-sharing issue amid pressure within the Congress not to cede much to Janata Dal (Secular), Kumaraswamy stressed there should not be any "pettiness" on both sides.
In an interview to PTI, the chief minister said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charisma was "fading" with growing anti-incumbency, and pitched for Congress president Rahul Gandhi for the top job while also admitting that there was a lack of consensus among anti-BJP parties on choosing Gandhi.
As his government completed seven months in office, the JD(S) leader downplayed reports of contradictions within the coalition and said he would overcome all the "bitterness" smoothly.
"Both of us (Congress-JD(S)) should go together (in Lok Sabha polls) is our opinion. Because the reason behind forming this government (in Karnataka) is to stop the BJP from coming to power and improve the atmosphere in the country..." Kumaraswamy said when asked whether the JD(S) would go it alone if seat-sharing talks fail.
He said after the formation of the coalition government in the southern state, a lot of changes had taken place in the country's political landscape, including BJP's downslide and Congress victory in some bypolls and assembly elections in three states.
"...in my opinion if Congress loses its way and tries to move with overconfidence, what will happen they will understand, with their past political experience, I do not think they will forget them.
"They should treat us respectfully. They should not treat us as third grade citizens. There should be give and take policy," Kumaraswamy said.
The JD(S) has demanded 12 out of 28 seats for the Lok Sabha polls, to which the Congress has expressed its reservations.
In the 2014 polls, BJP had won 17 seats in the state, Congress 9 and JD(S) 2 seats.
Seat-sharing is expected to be a litmus test for the Congress-JD(S) combine, mostly in the old Mysuru region constituencies, where the JD(S) is a dominant force in the Vokkaliga heartland and the Congress has its sitting MPs.
Reiterating that the coalition intend to face the Lok Sabha polls together, the Karnataka chief minister said leaders of both the parties are expected to discuss and come to a final decision later this month.
"Our national president (H D Deve Gowda) feels that after the government formation, for everything two-third (for Congress) and one-third (for JD(S)) concept was adopted like in the ministry or board corporation appointments.
"There are 28 seats...they (Congress) should take two- thirds and give us one-third, this is what his feeling is, and mostly, I feel they will also agree," he said.
Asked whether his party's demand for 12 seats was negotiable, Kumaraswamy did not give a direct response. He, however, said the two-third and one-third was the Congress' formula for the coalition.
Congress and JD(S) had bitterly fought the May 2018 assembly polls, but joined hands as the polls threw up a hung verdict.
"Some may say that it (coalition) may survive only till parliament elections. I want to say that after the parliamentary election also the government that will be formed in Delhi and the environment that will be created will lead to a situation where the Karnataka government continues to work safely," the chief minister said.
Meanwhile, Kumaraswamy accused the BJP of attempting to destabilise his government by trying to poach coalition MLAs.
"I know who they (BJP) are approaching, what they are offered to MLAs. I am collecting all the news and doing whatever (possible) from my side to see to that BJP does not disturb the government..." he said.
Kumaraswamy said the coming together of BSP's Mayawati and SP's Akhilesh Yadav was a "strong combination" and it may scuttle and slow the BJP's speed in Uttar Pradesh.
He also claimed that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's image has "diminished", while Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD was getting sympathy, and in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP did not perform well as it did the last time.
Asked about possible cracks in the anti-Modi front, the chief minister said, "I feel a strong combination may emerge against the BJP. I also feel that the 'mahagatbandhan' may emerge as an alternative to national parties".
Regarding projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial face of the anti-BJP combine, Kumaraswamy said Deve Gowda had announced JD(S) support to the Gandhi scion and that "others will also come on board".
"I feel after the results, everyone will agree on a common leadership despite differences," he said.
Kumaraswamy also termed the Centre's latest move of providing reservation to economically backward among the general category as a "desperate" step ahead of polls.