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“This Election Is A Contest Between Truth & Lies” – Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah

NewsCentral24x7 caught hold of the very busy Chief Minister in the middle of a campaign to pose a few questions.

Karnataka goes to polls in two weeks time and is seeing the BJP desperately trying every trick in the book to unseat the sitting Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah. But it is widely acknowledged that Siddaramaiah is running the BJP scared in the State. While his fate will be known on May 15, Aruna Urs of NewsCentral24x7 caught hold of the very busy Chief Minister in the middle of a campaign to pose a few questions:

Q. What will the three main focus areas be if you are re-elected?

A. Our society faces many development challenges, so it is tough to prioritise one over the other and to tell you which are the top three but our key focus areas will be on education & skill development, creating sustainable jobs and improving farm incomes.

We will ensure that all young Kannadigas will get good quality 10 years of education. From this academic year, all girls will receive free education till post-graduation. We will ramp up our skill development initiative to ensure that our youths are job ready. But this work will be incomplete without attracting major investments in manufacturing and service sectors to generate jobs.

We are already No.1 in the country in attracting investments but we need to do more and we will do more.

From this academic year, all girls will receive free education till post-graduation.

After Rajasthan, Karnataka has the largest dry land in the country. Nearly 70 percent of our farming is dependent on rains. We have launched many schemes to drought-proof small and marginal farmers. We will accelerate the efforts to increase water efficiency and ensure that farmers’ incomes are protected. But overarching all these is the health of our citizens. Health is wealth.

Q. What are the five significant contributions of your government in the last five years?

A: I can proudly say that we have almost eliminated abject hunger from the State. Under Anna Bhagya, over 4 crore people get 7 kilos of rice free every month. This gives me immense satisfaction because while growing up, I have seen poor standing in front rich people’s homes pleading for rice to make porridge for the ailing member of the family. We have ensured that such misfortunes are a relic of the past.

Tell me which other State gives 150ml of full-cream milk to school children 5 days a week?

Under Anna Bhagya, over 4 crore people get 7 kilos of rice free every month. 

Over 1 crore school children are benefitting from Ksheera Bhagya. To increase milk production, the government is giving an incentive of Rs.5 for every litre of milk deposited to co-operatives under Ksheera Dhare programme. We have created a win-win for children and dairy farmers, benefitting mainly women. The recent National Achievement Survey by NCERT ranked Karnataka students as the best performers in the country.

How many States are giving milk and eggs to anganawadi kids and nutritious lunch for pregnant and new mothers? We have focussed on improving nutrition levels of the weaker sections. The improvement in infant mortality ratio is a proof.

Tell me which other State gives 150ml of full-cream milk to school children 5 days a week?

I am also proud that we brought back Karnataka on to growth track that got derailed since 2006. We are the most preferred private investment destination in the country. Bengaluru is one of the start-up capitals of the world. We also have built world’s largest solar park and Asia’s largest drip irrigation project.

Q. How different is Karnataka model of development from the Gujarat model?

Our development philosophy is based on Basavanna’s principles of Sarvarigu Samapalu, Sarvarigu Samabalu (Equal share for all, equal life for all). Ours is an inclusive approach where growth and redistribution have equal emphasis. We have sustained economic growth of over 7.5% and this has enabled us to ensure that no one is left behind in the process of development. We are the only State in India to give scholarships to eligible students from minority communities. We also have pension schemes for transgenders, widows and divorcees. The Gujarat model is illusionary. 

Q. You have been accused by the opposition as being a divider of Hindus. Why did the government agree for Lingayatas to break away from Hinduism this late in your tenure?

Separate religion status for Lingayatas is not a new issue. Lingayat religion was established by Basavanna 850 years ago. Our government received five representations on this matter from different schools of thoughts within the larger Veerashiva-Lingayata community.

I sent all the representations to the Department of Minorities for detailed consideration. The department formed a 7-member expert committee led by justice HN Nagamohan Das to look into the matter. Based on the committee’s recommendations, our cabinet, after a detailed discussion, accepted that Lingayats and Veerashivas who follow Basavanna’s philosophies should be accorded a separate religion status.

We have recommended it to the Union government, as they are the final authority on this matter.

Q. Why is there a perception that Bengaluru has been neglected by your government?

A. Why would I neglect the capital city, I also live in this city. Bengaluru is not just a jewel of India but the world. If you have seen our ‘tender sure’ roads, you would not have accused us of neglecting Bengaluru.

This politically motivated perception that we have neglected the city is being created by opponents. Under whose term did The New York Times term Bengaluru as garbage city? Who created India’s largest municipal corporation without building necessary infrastructure or even a roadmap for one? 

The previous administration that ran BBMP mortgaged key heritage properties at very high-interest rates to fund day to day administration. We have cleared all such irresponsible borrowings and are nursing the institution’s finances back to health.

In our term, a significant amount has been invested in infrastructure projects that will have long-term benefit for Bengaluru.Stormwater drains, an extension of Metro, white topping of roads, flyovers, underpasses, sewage treatment plants, rejuvenation of lakes, the work is going on all around the city. We have also set aside funds for suburban rail network too. It will take a few years more for everyone to see the impact. We have also won an additional 4.75tmc of Cauvery water for Bengaluru’s drinking water needs.

Q. You have put regional identity at the forefront. Karnataka now has its own flag. Learning Kannada is compulsory in all schools. You have championed the protest against Hindi imposition. And now you have taken up issues with terms of reference (TOR) of the 15th Finance Commission and have effectively made it into a North Vs South debate. How do you reconcile these positions when you are a senior leader of a national party?

As a Chief Minister of Karnataka, it is my fundamental duty to protect and promote the interests of the State and its people. I think it is the duty of every Chief Minister to do so regardless of party affiliation. Congress party is a big umbrella organisation where our leadership believes in true co-operative federalism unlike the empty slogan as it is now being used.

States who have done better in population control are now being penalised for doing so. The terms of reference impinges on rights of the States too. Who is the Finance Commission to decide on social sector schemes of democratically elected state governments? What is the definition of a populist scheme? Why should Finance Commission incentivise states that implement Central flagship schemes? The terms of reference of the 15th FC strikes at the heart of our federal system. The devolution is our constitution entitlement and not a charity from the Union. 

Q. You identify with socialism but you are also a fiscal hawk. How do you balance the quest for social equality while maintaining fiscal discipline?

A. Working towards social justice requires fiscal discipline as it involves careful prioritisation of public spending. All our flagship schemes have been fully backed by required funding while maintaining excellent fiscal discipline. For example, fuel is cheapest in our State in the entire south India. This balancing is more an art than science only a politician with heart at the right place can master it. I don’t know what are the priorities of our Union government is. They have cut education and health budgets. Army has no money to upgrade its weapon systems. Country’s farmers are in deep distress. All major schemes are facing funds shortfall. The government is claiming higher collection of direct and in-direct taxes but is also increasing its market borrowings. Where is the money going if it is not going for medicines, books, farmers or to jawans? They have wasted their historical mandate.   

Q. You are a veteran of competitive electioneering. How different are the 2018 elections?

This is my last election but it is also an election for the soul of India. The activities of the principal opposition party in Karnataka are deeply distressing. They know that they cannot win so they are resorting to overt communal politics to divide our society. The State had not witnessed this type of campaigning backed by fake news. The Prime Minister comes to campaign and lies blatantly on the dais. Our Prime Minister has demeaned his office that was occupied by leaders of great stature. 

This election is a contest between truth and lies; between love and hate. Between progress and regress. People of Karnataka are wise enough to differentiate. We will create history by coming back with thumping majority.