Janata Dal (Secular) national general secretary Kunwar Danish Ali tells Archis Mohan that his Party Chief H D Deve Gowda and Congress President Rahul Gandhi share a good rapport, which would help them overcome any obstacle local Congress leaders in Karnataka might put up in the way of a pre-poll alliance of the two parties for the Lok Sabha polls. Edited excerpts:
You are part of the five-member coordination committee between Congress and JD (S). How has it managed to overcome the bad blood of the Karnataka Assembly poll campaign where the Congress leadership had accused your party of being the ‘B’ team of the BJP?
I agree there was bitterness between the two parties during the election campaign. However, as the general secretary of my party I had during that time also tried to defuse that sort of name-calling. On Wednesday when Congress President Rahul Gandhi and my leader H D Deve Gowda met in New Delhi, to discuss the alliance for the Lok Sabha polls, the reference came up during the discussions. It was pointed out that the Congress campaign during the Assembly polls hurt the JD (S), particularly in the old Mysuru region, which is a stronghold of my party and Deve Gowda’s Hassan seat.
I had said immediately, after Gandhi’s statement in Hassan during the election campaign (of JD (S) being BJP’s ‘B’ team) that these were not the words of the Congress president, but that a local Congress leader had forced him to say this, and he should have avoided this.
As for my role as the convener of the five member coordination committee, I have not found any difficulty. H D Kumaraswamy, the chief minister of the state, is my party leader. On the other side, the only person to contend with is former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who was earlier with the JD(S). My personal equation and rapport with him is good, as I have known him well.
What would be the alliance formula between the Congress and JD (S) for the Lok Sabha polls?
When we formed the coalition government in May last year, we decided that the chief minister would be from the JD (S) and deputy chief minister from the Congress. Apart from that, all other appointments, whether to the state cabinet and ministerial portfolios, or to government run boards and corporations, a “one third two third” formula would be followed — one-third for the JD (S) and two-thirds for the Congress. We will follow the same formula for the 28 Lok Sabha seats of Karnataka, with the JD(S) getting 9-10 seats. Our primary objective is to ensure how best we can reduce the strength of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the new Lok Sabha from Karnataka.
There are those in the Karnataka unit of the Congress who believe their party should not surrender as many as 9-10 seats to the JD(S).
I do not know which leader is saying this. There is a very good understanding between the national leadership of both the parties. Whatever any JD(S) leader says on this, or whatever any Congress leader says... I do not wish to comment.
Isn’t your party worried that rebel candidates of the Congress could impair the chances of JD(S) candidates in some of the seats?
You need to appreciate that when such pre-poll alliances take place, such situations crop up in some constituencies with leaders trying to exploit the circumstance for their benefit. We are ready to tackle this and we will. We are fully aware of this. The national leadership of the two parties has discussed this. The alliance will run smoothly.
Much has been said about the coalition government failing to deliver on its promises, particularly on farm loan waiver. What bearing would that have on the Lok Sabha polls?
This is nothing but misinformation and propaganda. It is unfortunate that the prime minister of this country indulges in spreading such misinformation that farm loan waiver did not happen in Karnataka. I respect my PM and compliment him for uttering lies with complete confidence. However, the situation is different on the ground. Farm loan waiver has taken place despite the financial crunch. Our Chief Minister (Kumaraswamy) is a simple man, not so articulate that he can repackage, as Narendra Modi has done at the Centre, old schemes into new ones. The Karnataka government has performed well, given the constraints.
For example, look at the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the Modi government. In Karnataka, we have implemented a much better scheme. The Centre, meanwhile, has allocated a measly sum of ~200 crore under Ayushman Bharat for the entire state of Karnataka. Take any other of the Modi government’s schemes, whether “Make in India”, “Start Up India”, or others. They have failed. The Modi government is busy fooling people and indulging in diversionary politics because it does not want people to start asking for its report card of the last five years.
What about the contradictions in the overall Congress strategy as regards to pre-poll alliances, particularly the example of Delhi?
The formula for opposition unity is that we all will contest as far as possible as part of pre-poll alliances, but state-specific alliances. The party that is strong in a particular state will lead the alliance in that state, while the other significant party would be the junior partner in the alliance. We will sit together after the elections to decide the shape of the government and its leadership.
As for the Congress, it is the only prominent national party among the opposition parties, while most of the others, like the JD (S), are regional parties. As a regional party, we can take a decision quickly but the Congress as a big party has its own processes in place. However, at least now the Congress has realised that without alliance politics you cannot move forward. The same Congress had a resolution in its CWC (Congress Working Committee) some years back that it would go alone. I hope the Congress would have a more flexible strategy in other states as well. I am confident that in Karnataka we will announce a pre-poll alliance in a day or two.
As for Delhi, I am not part of that mediation, but if the need arises, I might reach out because we want alliances throughout the country to defeat the BJP. My wish is that the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party should have an alliance in Delhi.
You attended the meeting of the opposition parties in New Delhi on February 27. The Opposition has until now baulked at challenging the discourse of the BJP after the Pulwama terror attack and surgical strike. Is it nervous in countering the BJP on these issues?
The Opposition is working on a careful strategy. We do not want to rush into something to allow Modi to play the victim card. He is very good at that. It is like a street fight where a local toughie beats up a law-abiding citizen of the locality, but when others intervene, the toughie accuses the other man of having hurled abuses at him. Let things settle down a bit. We are going to change this narrative and bring it to issues that affect the people, of no jobs and farm distress. The government should give its report card to the people of the country. We will not allow the BJP and Modi government to usurp the credit due to our armed forces. This government has been instrumental in destroying all the institutions and now they are trying to do the same with the institution of the armed forces.
You have spent well over 20 years in the JD (S). Why is it that the party is unfair to you when it comes to sending people to the Rajya Sabha?
Not at all. What I am today is because of my party and leader Deve Gowda. The space provided to me is because of the confidence my party leader Deve Gowda has in me. Entering Parliament is not at all my concern. The country is today faced with a challenge to its democracy.