In an exclusive interview to CNN-News18’s Akshata Kumbar, Karnataka’s Large & Medium Industries & Infrastructure Development Minister RV Deshpande said Congress party needs a healthy blend of old and new. Much like a pickle only gets better with time, explained the minister highlighting the importance of old leaders in the party, Congress needs experienced hands. The minister also said that PM Narendra Modi is not likely to campaign in the same manner in Karnataka as he did in Himachal and Gujarat. For Deshpande, the party election manifesto is like Geeta, Bible, and Quran. Here is the edited transcript of the interview.
Ahead of Karnataka Assembly Election, how is Congress preparing for the big fight?
Congress has already begun its work at the grassroots level. I think it is happening for the first time in the party that booth committees have been formed, panchayat ward committees have been formed, where our volunteers go door-to-door and check whether the government programmes are reaching the people or not and take feedback. So, grassroot level work has started for the first time in the party. I think this is going to help us in fighting these elections.
We have seen Congress is very active on social media. Whether it’s attacking the rival party or spreading messages and agenda of the party. How is social media responding to the party?
Social media has become a weapon for all parties. Congress party is making the best use of social media, be it at the national level or state. We are using it in a democratic way. The chief minister has been touring the northern parts of Karnataka now and will move on to southern part of the state. The state party president also started his tour with his team and he is also doing a good job. I should give compliments to the General Secretary Shri Venugopal, and the other four secretaries who have been nominated. They have done a really great job and are all good taskmasters. They are getting the work executed and that is very important.
Social media is handled by actress turned politician Ramya, do you think she has been able to effect a change in the perspective of youth towards Congress?
Ramya has played an important role. The way youth is responding to Rahul ji and the party, I compliment her for that. We find support from youth in a big way now.
After Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, BJP seems unstoppable at the moment. What is your strategy for countering them in Karnataka?
In Himachal, yes, in a way they have won the elections. But when you come to Gujarat, they did not win the election. They, in fact, lost the election. They were dreaming 140-146 seats and they could barely manage to get to 100. It is the home state of the Prime Minister but they have lost miserably. I think Congress or Rahul Gandhi have not lost, we have won.
Modi and his party leaders will campaign and they have already started. I don’t think the Prime Minister will be touring Karnataka the way he did in Himachal and Gujarat. We have plans to counter BJP in a democratic way and the team we have, I don’t think any other political party in the state has, forget about the state. The Congress has experienced leaders from all sections of the society. I don't think any other party has this sort of calibre or seniority.
Congress lost its ground in many states, do you think Rahul’s leadership will be able to revive the ‘Grand old party’?
I know Rahul very well, he has the commitment and is willing to take on challenges. He has a lot of affection for the poor, the farmers, and he is determined to do something. At the same time, he has become the national president of the Congress so his responsibility has also gone up. He has a good team but again, he has to now select whatever faces he wants, and I am told that it is going to a mix of old and new.
Youth has to be encouraged. Youth should campaign, but you cannot forget the senior people. They are very experienced people. You’ve heard about pickles? Pickles become tastier when they are stored for some time. Likewise, there has to be a mix of old and new in the party. I am sure Rahul Gandhi will definitely go by that.
BJP is going all out in the Karnataka Assembly elections. They have star campaigners like Yogi Adityanath, Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley and Modi himself. Do you think Congress lacks in star campaigners compared with BJP?
BJP will not leave any stone unturned to come to power in Karnataka. They will do everything they can, but today what they are doing is they are trying to polarise. They are trying to fetch communal feelings and that is not good. Don’t think that these tricks by BJP will succeed.
Talking about star campaigners, we also have many names, like, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Sachin Pilot.
And Mani Shankar Aiyar? Will he campaign this time?
I don’t know, he may come but I don’t know. This depends on the high command.
Our CM, no matter what anyone says, is the most popular leader in Karnataka. I think he (Siddaramaiah) along with Rahul ji and some other leaders of the state government should be able to manage the affairs extremely well.
Will Sonia Gandhi campaign?
She might have stepped down from the party president’s post, but she will definitely campaign. We will request her to campaign, she is very popular in Karnataka.
If you come to power, what will be your priority areas of work?
The manifesto has been prepared, so this manifesto will be our Geeta, Bible, and Quran. I am proud to say that 99% of the promises and commitments made in the 2013 manifesto were kept and more than 155 have been implemented. As far as implementation of the decisions and manifesto is concerned, I think the Siddaramaiah government has done a really good job.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister recently took a dig at the Karnataka CM when he said “farmers committing suicide in Karnataka was the highest in your regime” and he also mentioned honest officers being transferred. What do you have to say about farmers’ suicide in the state?
First of all, saying farmers’ suicide has been highest in this regime is wrong. It is unfortunate that some farmers have committed suicide. This government has taken a lot of initiatives to see no more farmers commit suicides. Siddharamiah government is the only government in the country, which started giving loans of up to Rs 3 lakh to farmers without interest. Between Rs 3–10 lakh a 3 percent interest was charged and just recently Gujarat adopted it. Don’t know if they implemented it, but in the rally, the CM and the PM were there, they were mentioning the scheme which we introduced four years back.
The Karnataka CM also made statements like he will make Lingayat a religion and he was demanding a state flag. The opposition has alleged that Congress is indulging in vote bank and promoting separatism what do you have to say to that?
As far as Lingayat issue is concerned, it is not the CM’s move. There have been some differences among our Lingayat leaders, and some feel that “Lingayat in itself is a religion”. But ultimately the state government has no powers. It is only a recommendation, and CM has not intervened into the matter nor has he instigated anybody to do that. He only said that if consensus arrives he will look into it. I don’t think CM has any motive to bring division among communities. As far as state flag is concerned, the Constitution does not bar it. I don’t think there is anything wrong in that. A national flag is a national flag, we all are proud of it, we salute it.
Recently the Supreme Court modified its order on National Anthem by not making it mandatory to sing the anthem in movie halls. What do you have to say on that?
We should sing and respect the national anthem, but is it necessary that it should be sung in cinema theatres? No. Singing the anthem in theatres will water down its importance. In that sense, what the Supreme Court has done is the right decision.
Today Bengaluru is being considered as the Silicon Valley of India. You played a key role in bringing out one of the best Industrial policies in the country. We recently did a story decoding BDA’s master plan for Bengaluru, where they will add 1 crore more people to the city by 2031. This obviously requires a huge capital investment but we’ll see a decrease in the forest area as well. It also means they need to create extra space for households, water demands will go up and the list is endless. What are the government and BDA’s plan regarding that?
Prosperity to a nation or to a state can only come with investments. Younger generation want jobs. Also, the state requires revenue. We are getting the investment not because I am the minister. It is Karnataka’s strength and successive governments had a foresight. Karnataka is a visionary state, we have brought the first industrial policy, first IT policy, first start-up policy, first automobile policy, first infrastructure policy. Bangalore is not just the city of Karnataka but has got the attention of the world. The only problem is that the vehicle population has increased, it has not kept pace with the issue of traffic. But what Siddaramaiah government has done, I don’t think anyone has been able to do that. The amount of money that has been released for drains, roads, developments, it is something unimaginable and it has never been done before. The only problem is, the government has not taken the publicity for that. My friend said Bangalore roads are very nice.
But people are complaining about potholes.
People were complaining about potholes two months back. You ask today, no one will complain about potholes. But the quality of roads has to improve. I think the Bangalore city corporation should take up this matter on priority. Why do roads go bad? We have to find an answer to do that. We are coming up with a convention centre near the International airport, we have called for a business park which the cabinet has already approved and we have called for tenders. The first phase of metro work has been completed, and the second phase has started. Government is not doing a formality. Sometimes tenders with higher premiums are approved only to see that public at large in Bangalore gets peace of mind.