In the backdrop of protests against the use of Hindi in the State and the demand for a separate State flag, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah reiterated that Hindi cannot be imposed and is not the national language. Refuting allegations that these issues were being fuelled by the Congress, he says regional assertion cannot be seen as a threat to the unity of India.
In your letter to the Government of India, opposing the use of Hindi in Metro signboards and announcements, you had said a “persuasive” rather than “mandatory” approach should be followed in use of Hindi. You reiterated your stand against imposition of Hindi in your Independence day speech also...
You see Hindi cannot be imposed; you must leave it to people to learn it. Hindi is not and cannot be the national language. It is just one of the languages of the country. I am not opposing learning of any language, be it Hindi, Tamil or even foreign languages; only thing is do not impose it.
Would you say there is a systematic effort to impose Hindi by the Central government?
That is what I felt. In the case of Namma Metro, for instance, they have issued a letter to use Hindi. Tamil Nadu is not using it, but Kerala is using it. It is a matter of choice and they cannot impose it. I have told them that this is against the sentiments of the Kannada people.
You have set up a committee to decide on a State flag. How would you respond to the argument that having a State flag or reasserting linguistic, regional identities is against the Union of India?
In my personal opinion, having a State flag is not against the Constitution. For example, in the United States, every State has its own flag or anthem. So, If I plead for a State flag, it is not above the national flag. The national flag will always fly high and below that, the State flag will fly. Asserting regional language pride or having a flag is not against the Union of India or the Constitution.
Why are these issues cropping up so close to polls in Karnataka? Is this an effort to drum up a regional sentiment to combat BJP’s portrayal of nationalism and patriotism? Is this a counter to the fact that patriotism seems to have been appropriated by the BJP?
Regional sentiments are there, but it is not against patriotism. Everybody should be a patriot. I am a patriot. It doesn't mean that if I oppose Hindi or demand a flag, I am not a patriot. This is an election between secularism and communalism. The BJP is communal and it is destroying the secular fabric of the country and that is what we are fighting against.
These issues have come up in the backdrop of your accusations that the Centre has violated federal principles. It seems to have clear political motivations.
Incidentally, all of it has come up now. But this is not our intention. I don't say it’s not a retaliation against the Centre or its imposition of Hindi. Any imposition will be opposed.
Would you then be open to forming a secular front with the JD(S) in the State?
Not necessary. The Congress will fight on it's own and come back to power.
On the demand for a separate Lingayat religion, that has been backed by the Congress — is this an effort to drive a wedge in the BJP vote bank, which has a strong presence among the Lingayats, and has projected Mr.Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, as its chief ministerial candidate?
It is not fuelled or initiated by the Congress. Some religious leaders had given me a representation demanding a separate religion and I have merely said if they all come together, I will support it and forward it to the Centre. Only the Government of India can take a decision in this regard.
It is rare for the Congress to name a leader ahead of an election. But they have categorically stated that in Karnataka they are fighting under your leadership. Do you feel the balance of power in Congress has now shifted towards regional leaders like yourself?
No, it has not shifted from the high command to the State. Strong regional leadership is necessary in any political party, but that doesn't mean the high command is weak or the regional leader is strong. Since I am Chief Minister, they have said the election will be fought under my leadership. After elections, the legislature party, in consultation with the high command, will decide on the [next] Chief Minister.
The BJP has raised corruption allegations against your government, sought the resignation of Minister for Power D.K. Shivakumar and said the FIRs filed by the Anti Corruption Bureau against Mr. Yeddyurappa is a clear case of political vendetta...
The case against Mr.Yeddyurappa is based on investigation on a complaint against him. Law will take it's own course. But in D.K. Shivakumar's case, we are not opposing raids on anybody. What we are opposing and asking is why are only Congressmen being raided? Why not other party leaders, including [those from] the BJP?
Would you consider the demand for resignation of Mr.Shivakumar?
Why? You please tell me why we should? The Income Tax Department has not disclosed anything. He is replying to their notice. Does it mean he has committed any offence?
Is it now clear that we will have elections as per schedule and not ahead of its time?
Yes. Elections will be as per schedule in April or May and we are confident of victory.