The Congress’s promise of “decisive” action against the Bajrang Dal in its manifesto for the Karnataka Assembly election has been called an “insult” to Lord Hanuman by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which launched a new campaign around the deity. Randeep Surjewala, the Congress general secretary overseeing the party’s Karnataka campaign, spoke to The Hindu about its political impact and other key issues. Edited excerpts:
What is working for the Congress and what worries you at this stage of the campaign?
A yearning to change the 40% commission BJP sarkara [government] is the centre point of this election. Coupled with multiple job scams like the police sub-inspector (PSI) recruitment scam and assistant professor scam, rampant unemployment and back-breaking price rise make the recipe for throwing out the Bommai government complete.
The Congress party, on the other hand, has offered the positive narrative of five Congress guarantees: Grihalakshmi or Rs. 2,000 monthly in every woman’s bank account; Griha Jyoti or 200 free units of free electricity for every household; free bus travel for all women in Karnataka; Annabhagya, which will give 10 kg of rice free for every BPL [below povery line] family member; and Yuva Nidhi or Rs. 3,000 monthly for every graduate for a period of two years. The only worry arises from a sense of responsibility towards 6.5 crore Kannadigas, to the extent that the voice of people is heard not only by the next Congress government but also the entire administration in unison.
The BJP is attacking you on the promise of tough action against the Bajrang Dal and likening it with the PFI [Popular Front of India] in your manifesto. PM Modi has asked voters to punish the Congress by chanting Jai Bajrangbali while pressing the EVM button. Is this causing religious polarisation to your disadvantage?
The Bommai government and BJP leadership have no comprehension of Hanuman Chalisa. They only understand chalis (40) per cent commission.
The Constitution of India and the law is sacrosanct for the Congress party. The reason why Karnataka lost its frontline place as an investment destination and an innovation hub has been the politics of hate and caste-communal polarisation perpetuated by the Bommai government. The bounden duty of the State is to uphold the Constitution and the law as also to punish those spreading enmity on the grounds of caste or religion. Do Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Bommai not have faith in the Constitution and the law? In fact, the superficial politics of BJP is an antithesis to the very concept of Hinduism and Indianness.
The infirmity of thought process and malicious prejudice carried in the minds of BJP leaders prevent them from comprehending the very meaning of Hindu dharma. Hinduism is compassion. Hinduism is sacrifice. Hinduism is a sense of duty to other beings. Hinduism is nyaya — justice for all. Hinduism depicts Vasudev Kutumbukum — the whole world is my family.
Those — including the Prime Minister — who use Lord Ram or Lord Hanuman for political polarisation or vote garnering actually disrespect and insult the very tenets of Hinduism. May Lord Ram and Bajarangbali pardon their ignorance and malintent.
Are you hoping that your demand for caste census will counter the Hindutva narrative?
Social justice and equality is the life and blood of India’s polity. The Congress government at the Centre conducted a caste census which was completed in the year 2014. The Congress government headed by Shri Siddaramaiah also conducted a caste census in Karnataka. Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minster Bommai have refused to release the caste census data. This reflects their anti-poor, anti-SC/ST [Scheduled Castes and Tribes] and anti-OBC [Other Backward Classes] mindset. If the caste numbers are known, it would enable the State government to distribute its resources in proportion to the population of SC/ST and OBCs.
You have inducted several people from the BJP and RSS. Were you desperate?
BJP suffocates leadership, stifles expression of opinion and only wants subservient puppets singing to the tunes of the Modi band. It was, therefore, natural [that] senior leaders like former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and former Deputy CM Laxman Savadi decided to move away from BJP.
How will the Karnataka outcome impact the next round of Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan?
Every election is different but Karnataka and the country have a commonality of issues that will resonate everywhere. Why should a gas cylinder that was priced at Rs. 400 in 2014 cost Rs. 1,100 today? Why should the price of petrol cross the Rs. 100 mark and diesel hover at Rs. 90 per litre? Why should the Modi government collect Rs. 25 lakh crore from Central excise and cess on petrol and diesel alone? Price rise, joblessness, wealth disparity and the politics of hate, all issues need answers and will remain relevant in every election.
The Congress has spoken openly about Muslim rights and insecurities. Does this mark a change in the party’s strategy, and will it endure?
The dharma of the government is to uphold the Constitution and the law for both the majority and the minority. Equal opportunity, justice, safety and security of every citizen, be of majority or minority is the bounden duty of the government.
It does not matter whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or a Buddhist, all have equal constitutional rights.
The Congress formula is: equality for all, discrimination towards none. This is the fundamental principle of the Constitution as enacted by Shri Babasaheb Ambedkar.