Octogenarian former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) national president H.D. Deve Gowda surprised many when he visited the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat and later appreciated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for plogging at a beach in Mamallapuram. This triggered speculation over changing alignments in Karnataka politics, months after the fall of the CongressJD(S) coalition government and subsequent war of words between leaders of the two parties. In an interview, Mr. Gowda clarified his stand on the Prime Minister and the BJP, and spoke about the political situation in the State. Excerpts:
There is a feeling now that you are going soft on Prime Minister Modi.
I do not criticise unnecessarily. I have the habit of appreciating good work and I will not hesitate to talk when he slips. Also, I am not ready to accept that Mr. Modi has not done anything at all. It is not about being soft or hard. I have no particular likes or dislikes.
Was there a political message in your visit to the Statue of Unity?
I was party to the decision to increase the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam during my tenure as Prime Minister. I had also sanctioned 2 crore for a memorial. I only appreciated that it was the tallest statue.
Are JD(S) leaders under any pressure from the Centre?
It is left to the investigating agencies to do what they want to do. We have nothing to fear. I will not criticise the investigating agencies unnecessarily. I have told [the former Chief Minister] H.D. Kumaraswamy to go and answer if he is called by the CBI in respect to phone-tapping case or the IMA case. It will not be true to conscience if any Chief Minister or Prime Minister says that phone-tapping did not happen under his regime.
What do you think of the B.S. Yediyurappa-led BJP government?
Honestly, I think Mr. Yediyurappa took oath as Chief Minister even though they [the BJP central leadership] was not interested. Mr. Modi and [Home Minister] Amit Shah want to go for elections instead of this hotchpotch government. I am not confident that the central and State leadership are together.
Will you entertain disgruntled BJP leaders and field them in the bypolls?
I cannot anticipate anything. We should not be surprised if the State goes for elections. There are many possibilities after the Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra. They [the BJP central leadership] may think of going for Assembly elections instead of having unnecessary problems in the Karnataka unit. They are gathering information.
Dont you think that a divided Opposition will work in favour of the BJP government?
We will fight separately. We will not go to anybodys doorstep. The former Chief Minister [Siddaramaiah] has also taken a stand. He was not even in the Assembly when Mr. Kumaraswamy spoke during the three- day session recently.
Are you hopeful of any rapprochement with the Congress with byelections in sight?
The Congress wants to damage me. [The former Congress president] Rahul Gandhi calling me the B-team of BJP in my home district led to us losing 26 seats to the BJP [in the 2018 Assembly elections]. Otherwise, we would have got more than 60 seats. They also wooed one or two Muslim leaders who were with me. Nobody can question my credibility or secular credentials.
Nobody can question my decision on [Hubballi] idgah maidan or reservation in jobs for minorities.