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Modi Behaving Like ‘Petty Panchayat Pradhan’: K'taka Minister Krishna Byre Gowda

The minister from the state's Congress government also said that the 2024 general election is being fought over real livelihood issues like price rise, unemployment and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Photo: The Wire.

New Delhi: A little over a year since the Congress wrested power from the BJP in Karnataka, often considered to be the saffron party’s gateway to the South, its prospects will again be tested in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The state’s historical trend is inimical to the grand old party’s interests. Since 1996, the BJP has consistently increased its vote share in parliamentary polls; it has also been the single largest party in all Lok Sabha polls since 2004.

However, a number of pre-electoral surveys have pointed out that the Congress could buck the trend and dislodge the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, securing anywhere between 12 and 18 seats out of the 28 in Karnataka.

The Congress believes that the second term of the Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar-led government is the first in Karnataka to have fulfilled its five poll “guarantees” in a matter of three to four months – a factor that will also keep the Congress in good stead in the Lok Sabha polls.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The Wire spoke with the state’s revenue minister, senior Congress leader and popular legislator of Bengaluru North’s Byatarayanapura assembly seat, Krishna Byre Gowda, when he was in New Delhi to appear in the Supreme Court for a case related to the Union government’s alleged delay in disbursing drought relief funds and GST compensation to Karnataka.

In this no-holds barred conversation, Byre Gowda claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi behaves like a “petty panchayat pradhan” when he resorts to “abusing” states like Karnataka, who are claiming what is rightfully theirs from the Union government.

He also said that while the BJP successfully got dividends from a manufactured political narrative, the 2024 Lok Sabha polls will be fought on real livelihood issues of the people like price rise, unemployment and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

“There are no platforms in this country where the voices of the people can be heard. The environment is one of fear. But I believe that the moment has arrived when people will vote on real issues of livelihood,” he said.

“You can suppress the voices of the people and create fabricated narratives. But voices, long suppressed, will be heard in crucial moments of time. This is one such moment,” he said.

“The Centre itself had allocated Rs 5,300 crore for the Upper Bhadra drinking water project. Not even a single paisa has been released yet … [similarly], the Union government is sitting on our request for drought relief funds from November 20, 2023,” Byre Gowda said, adding that 223 out of Karnataka’s 225 talukas are facing a drought.

He said that if one clubs various heads together, the losses faced by states like Karnataka would be “roughly Rs 50,000 crore” every year.

Byre Gowda said that ideally in a Union set-up, the states and the Centre should sit together, discuss and resolve issues; but instead of listening to the states, the Union government has only “abused” states as “separatists”.

“For asking politely, pressing the [Union] government, we get abused. India is a diverse country with diverse interests. You must listen to every person in the Union. That is the only way you can strengthen India…

“But the situation is such that if a farmer raises his or her concerns, [they get] abused. If states voice their concerns, they get abused…

“This government doesn’t want to be questioned. See, from November, they don’t have five minutes to take a decision on our request for drought relief funds” Byre Gowda said.

Also read: New Frontlines Before Elections Force Modi Govt to Be Answerable on Bread and Butter Issues

Hitting out at the Modi government, he said that it believes in a “my way or the highway” kind of approach. 

“When we raise these issues [the judicious devolution of taxes, GST compensation, drought relief funds], the PM goes ballistic and says that ‘desh todne ka baat ho raha hai’ [‘there is talk of dividing the country’]. The same PM as the Gujarat CM had said that Gujarat should not give even a single paisa to the Centre. The Centre needs to understand the basic needs of the state,” he said.

Byre Gowda said that the BJP will have to pay the price in Karnataka as people are resentful towards its MPs in the state.

“There is a change in the mood of the people. Having voted for the BJP consistently, people are itching for a change. They are disappointed with MPs from Karnataka. They never raised their voice for the people – whether it is the water crisis or the devolution of taxes. They have only sided with the BJP leadership rather than the people of Karnataka…

“MPs have become agents of injustice in Karnataka,” he said.

The Karnataka minister also felt the BJP was only “kite-flying” about its achievements.

“Growth rate has been less, employment generation has dropped, growth in per capita income was higher during the Manmohan Singh government. The only thing that has increased [during Modi’s tenure] is the gap between the rich and the poor of India,” he said.

He said that the prime minister and the BJP only abuse the opposition instead of recalling their own achievements.

“Recently the PM was in Mysore; out of the 30 minutes he spoke for, he spent 20 minutes just abusing the opposition. You are behaving like a petty panchayat pradhan, demonising the opposition, demonising a certain community just for [seeking votes]. It is unbecoming of a prime minister.”

“People have seen enough drama, people have given them a chance also time and again. Somewhere deep down [beneath] these diversionary tactics [and] muscular politics, they know that you can’t fool people all the time. That moment has come,” he said.

“We are working for the poor, not working for the rich. That is what the BJP is not being able to digest,” he said.

He added that Modi’s tenure will be remembered for the worst Centre-state relations in Indian history and that the Lok Sabha elections are a time to “save democracy”, as his regime has also seen the maximum attacks on the people’s and on opposition voices through “extra-constitutional” means.

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