‘Have no hesitation in backing Rahul as next prime minister’
Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, the Janata Dal (Secular) patriarch, has started yet another election campaign in his six-decade-long political career. He spoke to Venkatesha Babu and Vikram Gopal about the Union government’s schemes, a united Opposition, the improvement he has seen in Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and how his focus will remain on Karnataka ahead of the 2019 general elections. Edited excerpts:
What is your view on the performance of the Narendra Modi government?
His [Modi’s] publicity team is quite something. No prime minister in this country has spent so much money on publicity. I don’t think it was his personal money, corporates and some interested people [funded it]. His first speech was on “bhrashtata-mukt bharat” [corruption-free India]. Was he able to achieve this?
In your assessment what have been his achievements?
I told him that he has announced several programmes, but have they percolated to the common man? Make in India, Digital India, Skill India - so many programmes. I am not going to say they are all bad; but there is a vast difference in the quantum of publicity and the quantum of real ground-level benefit.
Are you saying the hype is more that the delivery?
That is the issue. Take demonetisation - the Reserve Bank of India itself said that it didn’t know… he did not take the Reserve Bank into confidence. Your thinking may be in the right direction, but have you achieved the objectives?
The BJP says that the economy will be in tatters if an Opposition coalition comes to power?
I was prime minister for a short span of 10 months. What was the agricultural growth then? It was 7.8%, according to the RBI bulletin and the Economic Survey of 1997. The GDP growth was 6.8%.
Who sanctioned national highways in the north-eastern states? I was the first prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to visit the north-eastern states for developmental works and to study my country. Modi went for elections everywhere. I was unable to do that. I did not give importance to foreign trips. Not a single day was wasted.
What do you think of the Rafale deal and the controversy surrounding it?
Emergency purchases have got a formulaandidon’twanttogetinto the details. The only problem is that there is a direct attack on the Prime Minister. Where was the need for him to abstain from the House? Rahul Gandhi, a young man, raised theissue. Thedefence minister [Nirmala Sitharaman] has done well, she made all the points.butthepointis,whydidthe prime minister keep away from thehouse?whydoeshespeakoutside the House? You have got a majority of 282 seats.
What is your view of Rahul Gandhi’s slogan, “Chowkidar chor hai”? That is not proper. Any language that hurts the office of the prime minister - nobody should use such language. My humble opinion is that he is the prime minister of the country and not of any political party.
What is your reading of the 2019 elections?
I am 86, my party has been reduced to 37 seats in the state, and I have only two members in the Lok Sabha [What can I say?]
What do you think will happen after the elections?
Sitting in Bengaluru, you want to ask my opinion. [laughs] It is very difficult. The day on which my son took oath, all non-bjp, non- NDA [National Democratic Alliance] leaders and six chief ministers were on the dais. The euphoria created on that day, does it still remain? It is very difficult to answer that.
Are you going to play peacemaker between the coalition partners?
I have to give prominence to Karnataka. The task [of playing peacemaker between parties of a prospective Mahaghatabandhan] was taken over by [Andhra Pradesh chief minister N] Chandrababu Naidu, who has got better experience.
In Karnataka there is a conflict over seat sharing between JD(S) and Congress…
No, the formula that has been adopted by the Congress after the formation of the government is one-third for us on all issues. A third of 28 Lok Sabha seats is 10. Decide this seat sharing quickly, this should be over because we should tour the state.
You said you would let your grandson Prajwal Revanna contest from Hassan…
I am giving you a categorical reply, taking our leaders in my Parliament segment I have already decided that my grandson is going to contest.
Where will you contest from?
First of all I have not yet made up my mind to contest. Nobody can force me to contest, it is my own decision. Now the task before me is to tour the state.
Do you see a United Progressive Alliance 3 coming to power?
It is in the hands of the people.
Do you feel the coalition needs a face for the elections?
All these things will be decided by the mandate of the people. You come back to me after May and I will tell you.
Is Rahul Gandhi the natural candidate to be the coalition’s prime ministerial nominee?
Yes. Rahul Gandhi is a young, upcoming leader. He was made president of the Congress a year back. From then, I have seen the quantum of experience he has gained, but there is room for improvement. As a coalition partner, here I have no hesitation in extending my support. We want Rahul to be PM.
Have you seen a drastic change in the way he operates?
That is what I have seen. But only, as a youngster some of the language he uses he should refrain from, that “chor” or whatever. Out of emotion at times a young man may lose his patience. With our vast experience, we have controlled those emotions.
What did you think about the reservation bill for upper castes? Some experts have said it is a sign of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) desperation?
I agree 100%. Till the last minute, not even an additional agenda was brought, but they introduced the Bill. Everybody was scared, why?
Rahul Gandhi raised the Rafale issue. The defence minister has done well, she made all the points. But the point is, why did PM keep away from the House? Why does he speak outside the House?
Could it be a political masterstroke?
Euphoria has been created, that’s all I can say.