Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, who turns 57 on Monday, is slowly but surely emerging from the shadows of his more vocal fellow Lingayat, B.S. Yeddyurappa, who has parted ways with the BJP and is set to emerge as a major threat to the party in the days ahead. Born in a political family—his father was Hubli-Dharwad mayor—on December 17, 1955, Shettar completed 150 days on December 12 in the hot seat. Not the one keen on rushing to newspapers to give interviews, the changed political circumstances in the state, seemed to have virtually forced him to open up. When Deccan Chronicle caught up with him at his residence, Shettar was busy clearing files. Taking time off from his busy schedule, the CM in a candid interview, argued that it was the BJP which had built BSY and not the other way round. He was understandably cautious while talking about issues like the garbage crisis and bad roads—something which has Bengalureans on the edge. Excerpts from the interview:
You have completed 150 days in office. How do you feel?
(Pauses) I have gained the confidence. In hindsight, I went through a lot of experiences. After I took over as CM, we held two legislature sessions. We successfully handled the Cauvery issue. We held talks with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa. The talks were held after a gap of 20 years. For farmers, we waived Rs 6300 crore worth loans. During the Belgaum session, we passed a legislation to help daily wage workers. I toured almost all the districts. Do you know something interesting? All the MLAs trust me. Even those who, the media said, are with B.S. Yeddyurappa, are with me. I enjoy a very good personal rapport with all MLAs. There are no black spots on me. The Opposition has not accused me of indulging in corruption. If I get more time, I can do a lot more. Don’t think I am boasting. The public loves me, they have showered their affection on me. You may ask how? We know how people react to leaders whom they do not respect and accept. They turn reticent and hold themselves back while talking to you. But I have never felt so. Wherever I go, people welcome me with a smile. It is a clear sign they like me.
Moving onto political issues, how do you analyse the Haveri rally? Why do you think BSY left BJP
(In a dismissive tone) It is a jathra. We can also manage (organise) people. But, such rallies happen only once. You mark my words, this will be his first and last rally. Remember, a party has a lot more strength than an individual. Yeddyurappa lost the opportunity of being with a national party. I do not know why he made such a move? If he had continued in the BJP, we would have given him a lot of respect. He would have commanded so much respect that he would have been able to control the party. Not even the party president would have dared to oppose him. Now, he has lost that opportunity.
You were his choice for the CM post. You enjoyed a good equation with him. But at the Haveri rally, he said you betrayed him. What happened?
Nothing happened. I still enjoy a good personal rapport with him. I have never gone against the BJP core committee’s decisions. I have never imposed any appointment on my partymen. (Astonished) I do not know why he said that and what made him say so.
You are considered close to Ananth Kumar (BJP general secretary and a rival of Yeddyurappa). Comment.
My uncle was a MLA of the Jan Sangh in 1967. Come to think of it, my family’s association with Jan Sangh/ BJP is much older. Neither Ananth Kumar nor Yeddyurappa was around when our family got involved in politics through the Jan Sangh. This was acknowledged by Advaniji himself. He said in a function in Hubli that, the association of the Shettar family with the party was a longstanding one.
You belong to the same community as Yeddyurappa. So why is he considered the tallest leader of the Lingayat community?
See, Leaders grow in a natural way in a political party. Be it state unit president or opposition leader, he got all the posts. The party gave him recognition, so others stepped aside and pushed him forward to make sure he was projected. So today, every worker knows him. How was it possible? Our central and state leaders projected him and backed him all along. At the same time, others did not come into the limelight because they chose to stay back. Because of these reasons, he became a leader.
Then how do you propose to counter Yeddyurappa?
We have a strong cadre. Earlier, our opponents would say we are an urban-centric party. Now, we are in the zilla panchayats, taluk and gram panchayats. The BJP was never dependent on one individual. Our party strength lies in our workers. Hindutva is our ideology, based on which we built the party. We should not focus too much on Mr Yeddyurappa. I think we have to repose confidence in our workers. You know very well what happened to Uma Bharati, Kalyan Singh, Madan Lal Khurana (former CMs). Whoever went out of the party, never made it big in public life. You spoke about Mr Yeddyurappa taking away the minority votes. That’s good for us because they were not our votes in the first place. Congress and JD (S) votes will get split, our votes will remain intact.
But 14 BJP MLAs attended the Haveri rally. You still say Mr Yeddyurappa has not made any impact. You are dragging your feet on taking action against his loyalists. Doesn’t it send a message that the BJP is weak?
I cannot open up on many things. Many of those who attended the rally have come back and told us they are with the party. When they have said this, how can we take action? You are talking about the impact. I will ask you—how many BJP MLAs from Bijapur, Bagalkot, Belgaum and Koppal attended the Haveri rally? None. This shows the rally had not made any impact. They said they would go to Raj Bhavan. Then they said they would resign. Did anyone do this? They know the importance of being with a national party. They are with the BJP. You should know, money will not do anything, but affection does.
You say all is well. But, see what’s happening in your cabinet. Excise minister M.P. Renukacharya fought with municipal administration minister Balachandra Jarkiholi. Does it not prove the cabinet is divided?
All the ministers have affection for me. Have you ever seen a minister making a statement against the chief minister as it happened earlier? There is no dissenting voice against me. The media might have hyped up the Renukacharya-Jarkiholi spat. These are minor differences. No one has differences with the leader or the government. We have democracy in our party. At the cabinet meeting, they can raise issues they want. If a minister differs with another, it cannot be construed as dissidence.
You said there were no charges against you. But charges have been levelled against your deputy, K.S. Eshwarappa. What action do you intend to take?
I have to verify the documents. Eshwarappa welcomed the decision to order a probe. He said it was part of the annual asset and liability disclosure. That means, the information was part of the IT returns he had filed. So, I can’t say whether there was anything wrong in it. Unless I go through it, I cannot say anything.
The CAG reports highlighted irregularities in denotification and allotment of G-category sites besides the bungling in mining. What action will you initiate?
As per procedure, it will go to the Public Accounts Committee which will scrutinise the report and give its view. I too have headed the PAC. We know what happens to these reports. Let us see, what recommendations the PAC makes. We will do what previous governments did. I cannot do anything new.
You give the impression that everything is fine with the government. But, after witnessing the infighting in the party, do you still believe you can overcome the anti-incumbency factor?
We did well in the last four and a half years. People know that what we promised, we delivered. In the public mind, there is no anti-incumbency. So, we are not afraid of going to polls. They are with us.