Former Minister Umesh Katti has emerged as a powerful politician in north-Karnataka having won assembly elections six times from Hukkeri constituency. He hails from a politically influential family from Belladbagewadi which has played a key role in building the cooperative movement in Belagavi region. After being associated with Janata Dal for more than three decades, Katti switched to the BJP upset over the way JDS national president H.D. Deve Gowda was turning JD (S) into a family run party neglecting able leaders. He has also been minister in the cabinets of H.D. Kumaraswamy and B.S. Yeddyurappa. Katti's decision to bring his brother Ramesh into big time politics after he joined BJP a decade ago paid off as voters in Chikkodi parliamentary constituency sent Ramesh to Parliament in the 2009 elections. He however lost in 2014.
Like the Jarkiholis of Gokak, the Kattis too are aware of how to win elections irrespective of the parties they contest from. In an interview with Deccan Chronicle, Umesh Katti spoke of his plans for the future while recalling the past. Excerpts from the interview:
What do you think will be the results of the coming assembly elections?Some media houses have already made their own predictions based on random surveys. But we have to wait and see the trend which is expected to be in favour of the BJP as the election draws close. I am sure the BJP will be able to cross the 120 seat mark comfortably as the maladministration of the Congress will help us. To be precise, the Congress failure in governance will be the BJP's plus-point.
After being in the Janata Dal for more than three decades are you comfortable in the BJP now?
I am absolutely happy and why not? The functioning of Janata Dal was different and I should give credit for my growth politically to the JD(S) where I stayed for a long time. However, the politics of today is different and I had to switch to BJP as it is a national party with repute. After being in BJP for some years, I find that the party certainly has a bright future with able and professional leaders. Considering the prevailing political trend, I am sure the Congress will not be able to come to power at least for 10 more years.
There is news that you are planning to join JDS. Is it true?
Top leaders of both Congress and JD(S) are insisting that I join their party but I have decided not to quit BJP now. The JD(S) today is a party of H.D. Deve Gowda's family. I don't have any issues with Deve Gowda, Kumaraswamy and H D Revanna being in the party but all members of this family have become active now. Bhavani, Anita Kumaraswamy, Prajwal and some other members of Deve Gowda's family are into party affairs. The affairs in the JD(S) have worsened of late. Now I call JD(S) Deve Gowda Janata Dal rather than Janata Dal (Secular). So, there is no question of joining JD(S).
You had a meeting with CM Siddaramaiah in your house over lunch recently. Why?
I invited Siddaramaiah to my house for lunch during the recent winter session of the state legislature as a friendly gesture. We have been friends for a long time starting from our days in the Janata Dal. The CM did ask me to join Congress and said that the party would suit me and not BJP. When he insisted that I join the Congress, I asked him why he did not invite me for the last four years and why now when the elections are round the corner? I have clarified my stand to the CM stating that I will not quit BJP.
Then what made you abuse BJP leaders. A video-clip showing how you abused BJP leaders went viral recently.
I never abused BJP leaders at any point of time. If you watch the video carefully, you will come to know that I actually abused one of my associates which was mistakenly shown as abusing BJP leaders. In fact, I was actively involved in the Parivartana Rally of BJP in Belagavi and accompanied leaders like Ananth Kumar, Yeddyurappa and Jagadish Shettar throughout their campaigns. I have publicly stated during my speeches that I will contest only as a representative of BJP. I want to make it very clear that I will not quit BJP and that there is no reason for me to quit the party now.
As a leader of the BJP, do you really oppose the religion tag for Lingayats?The Lingayat movement is being promoted by the Congress government only for political reasons. Lingayats are in massive numbers in Karnataka and are a potent political force whose votes matter a lot in elections.
I would have agreed, if the Lingayats had asked for their inclusion in OBC category instead of minority community. The Centre has a separate commission which takes a call on which community should get religion tag. Communities like Muslims, Sikhs and Jains have been given minority status based on authetic surveys. It is impossible for Lingayats to get minority status, I feel. The Siddaramaiah-led government has its own plans for backing this movement, which is being headed by leaders of the Congress. Dividing Lingayats for the sake of votes is something the Congress is doing with elections in sight. Just wait and see. The issue will be surely be put on the back burner once the elections are over next year.
Will the Congress gain from the Lingayat movement?
It has become very clear to all Lingayats in the state that the Congress is playing politics by launching this movement. Siddaramaiah will not be able to take Lingayats for a ride by resorting to such tactics. At the end, Lingayats will rally behind Yeddyurappa, even though they do not like him. So, the Congress will not be able to gain anything from this conspiracy.
Are you still committed to your demand for a North-Karnataka state?
I always want Karnataka to remain one strong state with all its areas equally developed. Unfortunately, most of north-Karnataka has been neglected and the region suffered step-motherly treatment in all the sectors. The government focused only on Mysuru Karnataka by ignoring this region wherenever it came to taking up developmental works. The recommendations of Nanjundappa Commission also have not been implemented by the government inspite of several agitations in north-Karnataka. If north-Karnataka continues to be neglected, the demand for a separate state will gain strength.