This isn’t a game of football, this is a game of chess, says DK Shivakumar

BENGALURU: He is being hailed as the man of the moment, Congress’ crisis manager and troubleshooter, but powerhouse DK Shivakumar chooses to credit Rahul Gandhi for pulling off a post-poll coup on the BJP in Karnataka. In an exclusive conversation with TNIE, Shivakumar listed out how the Congress forced the BJP on the backfoot and why he is willing to let go of his chief ministerial aspirations, at least for now.

Have you become the Congress’ go-to man in a crisis? 

This isn’t the first time I was given such a responsibility. I helped Vilas Rao Deshmukh many years ago and then the Gujarat MLAs earlier this year. Now, I am used to this (smiles). The confidence the party leadership has in me is important. Though I am not a very big or senior leader, they have confidence in me and how much I deliver matters too.

What makes the Congress confident about you?

I really don’t know, but they believe in me and respect me but I do my job. During the Gujarat crisis, even the KPCC chief or the then CM Siddaramaiah were not in the know of Congress MLAs coming to Karnataka. When I was called, I did the job.

How did the Congress pull off this massive political strike? 

Yes, the Congress didn’t have enough numbers but the entire nation was hoping for an alternative secular government in Karnataka. We didn’t have a pre-poll alliance but in the interest of the nation and the state, we offered all our MLAs to JD(S) to form a government. Rahul Gandhi had given us clear instructions that we should act immediately if we don’t get a majority, and ensure that a secular government is formed even if it meant offering the CM post to JD(S). Our senior leaders flew down to Karnataka and set the ball rolling. We didn’t wait for the results and offered our support to JD(S). The BJP was also trying to do their best, but we were quick. I physically secured two independent MLAs without bothering to visit my own constituency. This isn’t football, this is a game of chess.

How was it keeping your MLAs together? 

It was very tough and a challenging job. BJP had taken away two of our MLAs, including Anand Singh. We had taken Rahul Gandhi to his constituency to kickstart the poll campaign and when he isn’t in the party, it becomes embarrassing. I personally convinced him and he assured that he would return but asked me to save him. Keeping so many leaders in one place isn’t easy, especially when they begin to question your confidence in them. But we had to. Huge offers of money, position and other things were being made to them. They (BJP leaders) tried to create confusion and tried to trap many MLAs but everything is in public domain now. The BJP should not have hurried to form the government. The image of the BJP at the national level has come crashing down after this fiasco.

How did the BJP, which successfully carried out Operation Lotus in 2008, fail to muster numbers this time?

The numbers as well as the situation were different this time. Last time, we allowed them to form the government by not acting. Had our high command wanted, Mallikarjun Kharge could have been CM heading a Congress-JD(S) coalition with the help of independents, but they didn’t allow it. This time, the number of MLAs required was bigger. BJP with their mighty power used all government machinery, officials and constitutional bodies but whatever happened ended up being a slap on the face of the Governor. Everything was being monitored by the Supreme Court.

Did the IT raids against you make the battle with BJP personal for you? 

Not really. They (IT department) should have definitely not taken that risk for BJP. It is impossible to raid a minister without the knowledge of the central government, if one were to go by convention. They could have waited but they raided more than 80 friends and relatives. Everybody knows of the harassment we faced. Some officials behaved harshly with my family and friends while some were cooperative. I have confidence in senior officers that they won’t do injustice to me, but they are also under immense pressure.

Are you not taking on Amit Shah and Narendra Modi by hitting them where it hurts? 

No, I am not taking them on. I am not such a big leader to match them and neither do I have the authority to do that. But whatever their political thinking is, it will not work here. People of this state are peace-loving.

What went wrong for Congress in this election? Did Siddaramaiah’s approach backfire?
No, I do not want to comment about it, but all of us and the high command reposed a lot of faith in him (Siddaramaiah). High command gave him full powers and obviously, we have to sit and sort out where we went wrong and why. The result speaks for itself.

Your personal and political rivalry with Kumaraswamy and Deve Gowda is no secret. How will you work with them in the coalition?

I have been fighting Deve Gowda politically since 1985. I have lost a few elections against him and won a few against H D Kumaraswamy. Differences have always existed between us, but in the interest of the nation, state and the Congress party, I have to swallow a lot of issues and forget them. The party is important. I know it is difficult, but in the eyes of the public, we have to let go of some issues.

You were a CM aspirant yourself. How is Kumaraswamy as CM acceptable to you? 

When the party has already decided, what option am I left with? I do not have an option other than to accept it. Yes, there is a lot of pressure on me over the CM post. Individual interests should take a back seat here and collective decision and leadership should be foremost.

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