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`I joined BJP for its programmes'

The former Chief Minister, Sarekoppa Bangarappa (71), is a maverick politician who has greatly influenced the political scenario in his home district of Shimoga. He began his political career by winning the Assembly election in 1967 from his home constituency of Sorab, the most backward taluk in the Shimoga district. He created a record of sorts by winning all the seven subsequent elections though on different political labels till 1996 when he entered the Lok Sabha. Although he lost in the 1998 Lok Sabha election to a much younger opponent, Ayanur Manjunath of the Bharatiya Janata Party, he avenged the defeat in the 1999 election by winning against the same opponent.

Mr. Bangarappa took time off his hectic tour programme at Masur in Sagar taluk on Wednesday to talk to Pramod Mellegatti on topics related to the coming elections.

The Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, while addressing a public meeting at Bhadravati as part of his "Vijay Dundhubhi Yatra,'' criticised you for joining the BJP. He said politicians who changed parties owed an explanation to the people. Any comment?

Mr. Krishna's observation does not deserve a reaction. But, in the interest of making my stand clear, I need to give the reasons for my joining the BJP. That party is no longer what it used to be a few years ago. There has been a transformation in its approaches to contentious issues, which has made it as secular as the Congress. I find no difference between the Congress and the BJP. I would not have joined it but for the shift in its policies and programmes. With the new political initiatives by the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government has been able to offer satisfactory solutions to vexed problems such as the Ram Mandir issue. You see, defection is not uncommon in politics, and Mr. Krishna is no exception.

Mr. Krishna has reacted sarcastically to your complaint that you did not "get anything" from the Congress.

He should know that in 35 years in politics, I occupied political positions for only five years. I was made the President of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee only once and not twice. Mr. Krishna should know the facts before making comments.

The Chief Minister also commented on your remark that it was because of him and the KPCC President, B. Janardhana Poojary, that you failed to get membership of the Congress Working Committee (CWC). Mr. Krishna also said that the CWC membership is a post of honour and dignity, that it goes only to those who deserve it, and that it cannot be got by pestering and lobbying.

Do you think that the party earns honour and dignity from those who are made CWC members? I take strong exception to Mr. Krishna's reported remark that I am made to wear khaki shorts and hold a lathi after joining the BJP. Nobody should cross the limits of decency while criticising opponents.

Your attack on your elder son, Kumar Bangarappa, has evoked sharp criticism not only in political circles in Sorab but elsewhere.

I do not find anything wrong with it. I am free to share my sentiments with my people.How do you rate the chances of the BJP in the coming elections?

The response to the BJP is fantastic. I have no doubt about the BJP giving a spectacular performance at the Centre thanks to the inspiring leadership of Atalji.

Even in Karnataka, I see a distinct possibility of the BJP coming to power. As of now, it is poised to win at least 100 seats on its own in the State.

What are your priorities for Shimoga if you are elected?

I am quite aware of its problems. Some solutions that I had offered as Chief Minister were given short shrift by my successors.

Of them, the packaged programme to develop Jog as a major tourist centre by building infrastructure assumes importance.

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