Modi juggernaut has to be stopped in Karnataka: H.S. Doreswamy

April 09, 2018 12:20 am | Updated 12:20 am IST - Bengaluru

H.S. Doreswamy is working to stitch up a secular coalition against the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections.

H.S. Doreswamy is working to stitch up a secular coalition against the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections.

He is a freedom fighter, a journalist, and above all a man who has led citizens’ movements for everything from providing housing to the landless to preventing dumping of garbage at Mandur. And on Tuesday, this tireless citizen turns 100.

H.S. Doreswamy started out in the freedom movement as a revolutionary, helping plant time bombs to burn government records in British India. He was jailed during the Quit India Movement and turned a Gandhian later. Mr. Doreswamy recently suffered a bout of illness, but that has not dampened his spirits. He is actively trying to stitch up a secular coalition against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the forthcoming Assembly elections. The Hindu caught up with him on the eve of his centenary. Excerpts:

You have seen all the elections in independent India. What is the significance of the the 2018 Karnataka Assembly elections?

I have described this election as Modi vs Karnataka. If the BJP captures power in Karnataka too, Narendra Modi may end up being a dictator. Democracy is already at peril. The Modi juggernaut has to be stopped here. As a group of civil society activists, we are working towards mobilising people to support secular parties — the Congress and the JD(S). Not that we are happy with these parties, but in real politics we need to support parties that have a chance of winning. We will work to hold these parties accountable.

But we are also concerned about which way the JD(S) will go after the polls, given the party’s history of siding with the BJP. We met JD(S) national president H.D. Deve Gowda once and will continue to persuade him not to side with the BJP. More than making his son Chief Minister again, Deve Gowda should look at the national interest. This mobilisation of support must continue into 2019 as well to defeat the BJP in the nation.

As a freedom fighter, how do you see the ongoing nationalism debate in the country?

Nationalism is not something a person in power decides and imposes. My nationalism is a civic nationalism prevalent among the common citizens who celebrate diversity and don’t try to regiment the country into ‘Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan’.

I find the opposition to linguistic and regional identity, like Kannada identity, in the name of nationalism funny. Kannada identity and my nationalism are not opposing forces; they complement each other. Linguistic regions were created to decentralise power and give autonomy to cultures. Opposing them would be killing the federal spirit.

Though you were an active Congress worker in your youth, you chose civil activism over electoral politics. What is the role of civil society you foresee in politics?

Influenced by Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave, I have always felt citizen activism is effective and better than electoral politics. The real opposition to today’s Union government has emerged from the civil society, students, Dalits and farmers. Mainstream political parties such as the Congress have failed to build on this opposition.

But what ails many of our social movements is that they have taken the easy way out — going to the courts with PIL petitions. This will weaken the movements in the long run. During the old days, no activist leading an agitation approached the courts, as if he or she did so, the person should abide by the court’s ruling, which will only compromise the agitation. There is no alternative to mobilising people. I have been involved in three social movements in the past few years — to stop dumping waste in Mandur, for providing housing to the landless poor, and for the implementation of the A.T. Ramaswamy report on encroached government land. All of them were a success as the government was forced to respond as the moral pressure on them grew and we kept up the persuasion.

What keeps you going at 100?

Looking back, I have led a content life and have done my bit to keep our governments in check. I will do that till I am there. The baton needs to be taken over by the next generation. This is a continuous process. Inequality has been growing at such a fast pace. We need to get back to the Sarvodaya movement and start with Antyodaya.

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