For over four decades, Mr Adagur H Vishwanath was a loyal Congress leader and a bitter critic of the Janata Parivar, especially the JD(S) and its supremo H.D. Deve Gowda. At one point of time, when Mr S.M. Krishna was chief minister, he was even tipped to be KPCC president but he lost the race to Mr B Janardhan Poojary. But politics has taken a dramatic turn in the past few months with Mr Vishwanath now heading the JD(S) state unit. Within a week of taking over, he has started making changes in the manner the party functions and is keen on dispelling the myths surrounding the JD(S) to make it more acceptable among youth. In an interview with Deccan Chronicle, Mr Vishwanath said his focus will be on making the JD(S) an ‘inclusive movement’ on the lines of the political philosophy of late CM D Devaraj Urs. Here are excerpts.
Long ago, you were a contender for the top state post in a national party (Congress), now you are heading a regional party. What is the difference, what scope do you have in a regional party?
In a national party, there is a high command and there will be lower commands, which give suggestions and directions. What do they know who is what in Karnataka? People in Karnataka fostered a high command and got whatever they wanted to get done. To get a decision, it used to take months. Other than that, there is not much difference. Now, our high command is Mr Deve Gowda and the chief minister is Mr Kumaraswamy. I can talk to them over the phone and take their suggestions on how to run the party. It is simple and easy, which is good for the organisation.
The JD(S) was your traditional rival for over four decades. Now, you have taken over as party state president. How will JD(S) workers or even your own followers react when they are forced to make peace with traditional rivals?
Personally, even when I was in the Congress, I was friendly with members from all political parties. When it came to personal relationships, I maintained good ties with everyone. Political rivals were not personal enemies. When I took over as party president, many members from even the BJP and Congress came to the JD(S) office and congratulated me. That is the way I have always been-politics is different and friendship is different.
What are the immediate challenges you face as party president? You are a minor partner, leading a major coalition partner in the government with both parties fighting for the same vote base.
It’s a coalition government, both have to understand each other and run the government. At the same time, we have to strengthen the party organisation. The two parties are different in their structure. Basically, the Janata Parivar started with a debate for change. It was earlier called Kranti Ranga and after multiple divisions, it is now known as Janata Dal (Secular). Even the Congress has witnessed multiple divisions and we both resemble each other in that sense. As a first step, we have dissolved the Janata Dal (Secular) state committee and will be revamping district committees after the urban local body (ULB) elections. We want to promote youth and confine senior leaders to an advisory role. The biggest challenge is to break myths surrounding the Janata Dal (Secular)—that of a father-son party or a party of one community (Vokkaligas) which is restricted only to the Old Mysuru region. Making me the state president is a first step in that direction. Earlier too, other community leaders like Mr Merajuddin Patil, Mr Thippanna, Mr A. Krishnappa and Mr Siddaramaiah were made party presidents. This time, we are going much ahead and giving more opportunities to youngsters from all over the state. That will reflect the ‘inclusive politics’ Devaraj Urs believed in. We have the responsibility of building our party and I have been given full freedom to take any decision.
Though the JD(S) was against the weakening of Lokayukta and formation of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), nothing has been done after your party came to power. There are many contradictions in the election manifesto and actual governance, how does the party view it?
There are coalition compulsions, where some pre-conditions like not reversing the earlier decisions and retaining the budget presented by Mr Siddaramaiah, should be honoured We are doing that. As time passes, there will be discussions and reviews on these issues in the coalition coordination committee and slowly, things will start falling in place. The farm loan waiver was the biggest promise in our agenda and the government has almost fulfilled the promise. While loans taken from the cooperative sector are being waived now, the issue of nationalised bank loans will be cleared shortly. We have a bigger problem of private loans. Most farmers, who committed suicide would have taken loans from private lenders. These loans are not be more than Rs 1 or 2 lakh. However, the recovery process is very humiliating, which drives people to commit suicide. The government is working on this issue too. In 1971, when Urs was CM, a law prohibiting private lending was promulgated to check the private loan mafia. Now, we may have to think about something on these lines and we are working on it.
You have introduced a system of inviting ministers to the party office to receive complaints from people. Is this aimed at easing the CM's burden of holding Janata Darshans?
In a way, it is. But, the party is also advising the Chief Minister to concentrate more on achieving good governance. The complaints of people are endless, if officials work properly, people will not have complaints. The government should ensure good governance through bureaucrats. I had hinted about this in the Assembly and had also told the Chief Minister himself. You just have to go near MS building during working hours. The officials sign in, go for a coffee and there is a huge market outside, where they go shopping. There is no accountability. The government frames programmes and they are not implemented properly because of this. Similarly, poor people come from long distances with their problems. How many people can the Chief Minister meet every day? People throng Vidhana Soudha and the area near ministers’ office. In the process, they obstruct the functioning of ministers and their work too may not get done. So we felt we will make one minister visit our office everyday. Once in a month, even the Chief Minister should come to our office. The ministers will talk to people and accept their petitions. We will make a list of all petitions and send it to the respective departments. Within 48 hours, we will revert back to the petitioner with the status of his petition. Since this is a party office, there are no restrictions, people can enter freely.
You are a former minister but still, you were not made a minister in the coalition government?
I didn't ask for it and I had also told Mr Gowda, not to bother about me. When I felt my political career had ended abruptly, I received a lot of love and respect. Now I am entrusted with a huge party responsibility. I am happy about it.