H.D. Deve Gowda, a crusader for the cause of the farmers, the underprivileged and oppressed sections of the society, was sworn in as the country'seleventh Prime Minister on May 30, 1996. Known for his down to earth attitude and simplicity, the canny political pragmatist now as Janata Dal (Secular) President was initially opposed to the power-sharing arrangement entered into with BJP by his party legislators after parting ways with the Congress early last year. He has of late reconciled to the coalition in the face of what he calls the Congress party'sconspiracy to destroy him, his party and his family. In a free and frank interview with senior journalist K.G. Suresh for the Organiser, Shri Gowda dwelt at length on several issues including ties with the BJP, the Third Front and the challenges before the nation. Excerpts:
Will this BJP-JD(S) coalition complete its full term?
The coalition will certainly continue for the full term as per the understanding if they (BJP) sincerely adhere to the Karnataka Development Front (KDF) programme. There is no doubt in mind in this regard.
There are certain initial hiccups and naturally the coalition government is trying to solve them and trying to march forward.
Will the transfer of power to the BJP be a smooth affair?
There is no question of any hesitation (on our part) and in the next 10 months or so, if the BJP does not give scope for hiccups and strictly adhere to the agenda for governance, I don'tthink there will be any problem in transferring power to the BJP.
As a national party, the BJP is free to carry on its party programmes and policies at the national level, leaving Karnataka to march forward on the KDF agenda to which they themselves had agreed.
Any plans to go for a mid-term poll?
So far as Karnataka is concerned, we have no plans to go in for a mid-term poll unless it is forced by national political events.
The Congress party and some others have levelled serious corruption charges against you and your family members. Your comments.
The corruption charges against my family is not new. I have undergone this type of humiliation throughout my political career and I can give a number of instances wherein my family and I have faced such kind of corruption charges since 1985. I have been tortured by nine Public Interest Litigations, COD and Lok Ayukta inquiries since 1985 onwards. Ultimately, the Supreme Court has given some relief.
Ever since Kumaraswamy took oath in February, he has taken certain harsh decisions to curb illegal mining and exporting (iron ore) in the name of fraudulent companies and evading lot of custom duties, income tax and commercial tax. The corruption charges levelled against the Chief Minister by the BJP MLC Janardhan Reddy came after Kumaraswamy refused to transfer back an officer, who was cooperating with Reddy in such illegal activities. This was used by the Congress party, which could not tolerate the new coalition, and did everything possible to damage this government. They have not allowed the Assembly session to proceed smoothly, stalled it for over one month and used foul language.
When I became Prime Minister, a book was written calling me the King of Corruption. But I have taken all that philosophically and moved forward to fight the political detractors who are trying to destroy my family and me.
Is there a possibility of the JD (S) joining hands with the BJP in the future elections to the state Assembly or the Lok Sabha?
In 1999, when some of our friends went with the BJP-led NDA, the remaining people took a decision to protect the party'sidentity and keep both the BJP and the Congress at equal distance. My party'spolicies and programmes to protect farmers, minorities and the rural sector are of paramount importance.
I am prepared to extend cooperation as a regional party to any political party if they think these are the priorities to be adopted for the purpose of maintaining peace and harmony and also to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
You had recently appreciated the BJP'sgesture of not fielding a candidate in the Chamunde-shwari Assembly constituency.
It was a mature decision on the part of the alliance partner not to put up a candidate as it was a JD(S) constituency. For the last eight elections, the fight was only between the JD(S) and the Congress. The BJP has never won that seat.
Some of your party leaders have claimed that Siddaramiah'srecent victory in Chamundeshwari by a slender margin of 257 votes was in fact a victory for your party?
It is a JD(S) victory. Because this happened despite JD(U), Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress putting up their candidate and a splinter group of JD(S) campaigning for Siddaramiah.
You were also very critical of the role of the Election Observer Shri Raymond Peters in the run-up to the polls.
Siddaramiah won the elections also thanks to the role played by the Election Observer. Where was the need for calling para-military forces a week earlier, staging flag marches everyday in streets and villages, clamping prohibitory orders under Section 144 of IPC two days before the elections, reprimanding the Chief Minister and transferring six officials when there was no instance of violence, clash between two groups and looting? All these things created a fear psychosis among our supporters. It is only a technical victory for the Congress.
What difference do you find between the current coalition with the BJP and your earlier partnership with the Congress party?
From day one, local Congress leaders targeted me and made all kinds of baseless charges against me and sought to create an impression in public that I did not try to make Siddaramiah the Chief Minister, which was contrary to facts. They succeeded in breaking away Siddaramiah from us but BJP suspended its MLC when he fabricated charges against the Chief Minister and in collusion with Congress leaders tried to create misunderstanding in the smooth functioning of the coalition.
Any plans to be part of the NDA or any floor coordination with the NDA in Parliament?
The policies and programmes adopted by my party in 1999 shall be the basis of my extending cooperation. However, on the question of coordination, I have no reservations depending on the nature of issues.
Some of your party leaders had recently rebelled against you and claimed to be the real Janata Dal (Secular).
It is again an evil design hatched by the ABJD led by Siddaramiah and C.M. Ibrahim who postured that they would keep equidistance from BJP and Congress and subsequently merged with the Congress. Few people tried to pose themselves as the real JD(S) and worked for the Congress candidate in the recent Chamundeshwari elections. We have taken steps as per the party constitution and referred the matter to the Disciplinary Action Committee.
You were initially opposed to the JD(S)-BJP coalition in Karnataka. What prompted your recent change of heart and revocation of suspension of the Chief Minister and other legislators at the party'snational executive meeting here on December 25?
This coalition was formed without my consent. The first of course was at the invitation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The local Congress leaders wanted to scuttle this arrangement and they succeeded in distancing me from Smt Gandhi and in destabilising my party by taking away Siddaramiah. Though I made sincere efforts in six rounds of discussions with the Congress President to make Siddaramiah the Chief Minister on the Jammu and Kashmir pattern of sharing power, they did not yield results and finally when Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ahmed Patel said they will impose President'sRule in the state, I took Siddaramiah along to 10, Janpath and a final decision was arrived at. Even then, for 20-22 months, the power-sharing agreement was not implemented in letter and spirit.
They (Congress) poisoned Siddaramiah'smind that I did not make any effort to make him Chief Minister and used him during the Panchayat elections to erode the base of JD(S) and improve their prospects. That was the final stage when the JD(S) MLAs, without even bringing to the knowledge of the party'scentral leadership, made a second coalition arrangement with BJP on sharing power for 20 months each.
This extreme step was taken by the JD(S) MLAs after the Congress succeeded in taking away Siddaramiah and almost succeeded in wooing substantial number of MLAs from our party by giving all types of false assurances. When these things came to the notice of Shri H.D. Kumaraswamy, the Working President of the state unit, this new arrangement was made with BJP with a common agenda under the banner of Karnataka Development Front (KDF) wherein it was agreed to keep all controversial issues aside and run the government protecting the interests of the farmers, SCs, STs, poor people and minorities.
Nevertheless, the party central leadership initiated disciplinary action against the MLAs including the Chief Minister. After closely watching the functioning of the government within the ambit of the KDF and also the MLAs not approaching the Election Commission for the recognition of their group as the real JD(S), both me and the party'sDisciplinary Action Committee were totally convinced. The party'srecent national executive in Delhi unanimously revoked the suspension and dropped further proceedings against the MLAs including the Chief Minister.
The 10 months of administration run by Kumaraswamy as the captain of the team has convinced me that they are trying their best to adhere to the KDF programme and that is why I reconciled myself to the coalition.
Any plans to revive your party at the national level? Will you be contesting the forthcoming Assembly elections?
There are about 18 state units of the party solidly behind us. In Maharashtra, the party is very strong. Some other states are also doing well. I want to tour all states and strengthen the base of our party. We are also contesting few seats in the forthcoming Assembly elections.
There are speculations about the revival of the Third Front ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections?
The national events will overtake all political predictions whether you call it the Third Front or polarization or a new political platform.
As a former Prime Minister, how do you look at the state of the nation? Are you optimistic about the nation'sfuture?
I have never been a pessimist. The country is passing through several problems. I do not want to pin down any one political party for this situation. After economic reforms were introduced, we have gained some thing and lost something. With our bitter experience of the past, everyone has to sit across the table and work out a national consensus on certain major issues like unemployment, the imbalance and widening gap between rural and urban, total negligence on the part of policy-makers towards agricultural sector which has led to mass suicides and confrontation on the issue of acquiring land, inviting investors for various development purposes and internal security, etc.
National consensus should be arrived by discussions to find solutions to burning problems. Keeping the country'sinterests as paramount, senior leaders and mature people in various organisations should sit across the table with an open mind.
In this regard, I still recall the massive rally addressed by Shri Dattopant Thengadi on labour suffering after the closure of several PSUs without providing sufficient VRS, without bothering about his political affiliations. There are such people in all political parties who are concerned about the suffering of the masses.
How do you look at the Indo-US nuclear deal?
It is difficult to know the mind of the US till the final shape is given to the treaty. Only the Prime Minister has fond hope of safeguarding the nation'sinterests.
How do you view the role of Left parties at the Centre?
The Left parties are trying to strengthen their base by making adjustments with other political parties. On issues such as FDI and liberalisation, which they had vehemently opposed in the past, they have today come nearer to the same Congress policies.
Your critics say you are still nurturing ambitions of becoming the country'sPrime Minister again.
If I wanted to be in Delhi, I would not have rubbed on the wrong side of national parties on issues such as economic policies, anti-farmer policies and the deal given to minorities.
You are known to be a great believer in God and astrology. Your critics call you even irrational and superstitious.
I am a believer in God. My family background has been of an ordinary agricultural family who were devotees of Lord Shiva for the past five generations. If I blindly believed in astrology, where is the need for me to work for 18-19 hours a day? For me, work is God. I don'tuse God or religion for political purposes.