How do you frame these elections in Karnataka, with a view to 2019 and other issues?
I believe that there are three issues which are important in Karnataka . One is the development yatra under (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi, on which Karnataka has fallen behind. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to take Karnataka along as well. Second, after 1967, caste, dynasty and appeasement have affected the electoral politics of this country, and we want to change this to a politics of performance. This means development, and he who prioritises that should be given the opportunity to govern. We want to take politics to that level. Third, from the point of view of the BJP, we are looking at this election as a ‘gateway to the south’.
But, as a political party, the BJP also indulges in caste politics. You do bank on support from certain castes and communities while fighting polls.
There is a difference between the two things. If a candidate, at the MLA or chief ministerial level, gets an advantage of belonging to a particular caste while fighting polls, that is one thing. But after having been elected, if you only look after the developmental needs of a particular caste or community, that is a different matter altogether. The BJP has never done that.
For example, it is said that if Mulayam Singh (Yadav) comes to power, he will only look after the Yadavs, and if Behenji (Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati) comes, she will look after only the Jatavs. But that is not said about the BJP. We believe in development for all, of those who have voted for us and those who haven’t. We also want to bring this credo to Karnataka.
All the opinion polls so far have shown the prospects of a hung Assembly in Karnataka. Are you worried?
This always happens with us. In Tripura, Uttarakhand, Manipur and even Gujarat, we are first shown to be behind in the opinion polls, or that the poll is going to be a hung verdict, then we are shown to be improving. And exit polls end up showing us heading to a big majority. Thus I consider this a good portent for us if the first few opinion polls show a hung verdict ( smiles ).
In a lighter vein, it is said that if Karnataka votes one way, the rest of the country votes another. Are you worried about this trend if you win?
The BJP has broken many such electoral myths. And I’m happy to say that we will break this particular myth as well.
The Congress’s campaign has been very much woven around the issues of Kannada pride, the importance to the language , a separate flag , and today while filing his nomination from Badami, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah invoked the Chalukya king Pulakeshin defeating “northern king” Harshavardhan. What is your response to all this?
We are also not against the promotion of regional languages. There are many resolutions passed by the BJP in its executives and councils where we have strongly supported the promotion of regional languages. In fact, we have more staunch views on promoting regional languages than the Congress ever did. As far as invoking King Pulakeshin and Harshvardhan to remind Kannadigas of regional pride, what about invoking the power struggle between the Wadiyars and Hyder Ali? Why is the Congress giving so much importance to Tipu Sultan then?
Apart from the battle in Karnataka, you are also locked in a battle with the Opposition on the issue of the impeachment of the Chief Justice of India and other issues.
The Opposition is expected to do this. Do you think they will praise us?
Prime Minister Modi had spoken against the politicisation of rape incidents at various fora, the latest in London, but the poll advertisement by your party then talks of rapes under the Congress government and the recent ordinance relating to death penalty to rapists of minors.
We have come out with an ordinance . This is not politicisation of the issue, but to say that we are a government that has taken strong steps in this direction. Bringing such an ordinance to further plug loopholes in these laws is the duty of the government, which we are speaking about in our advertisements.
How do you see the BJP’s relationships with what were once strong allies, like Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Shiv Sena?
If you had observed during Atalji’s (former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s) time and in the time of UPA as well, when there are alliances, there were always differences of opinion too. We had alliances and differences with Mamata Banerjee and J. Jayalalithaa, even with the Shiv Sena in NDA there were differences. Differences were there between allies in the UPA too, and so too with our government now. In fact, we will go into the 2019 polls with more allies than we had in 2014. We have allies in Tripura, Assam. In U.P. we have two allies, three parties in Maharashtra are with us, Nitish Kumar has joined us in Bihar. Our alliance will be larger than it was in the last polls.
If you take 2014, you maxed out in major States. It will be difficult to repeat that feat. Where do you expect to make up for this?
There are 219 Lok Sabha seats which we haven’t won and we can win in 2019. In the Northeast itself there are 18 seats we can win. There is Odisha, West Bengal where we are the number two party now and were at number three in 2014. In Telangana too there are seats we can win. We have been working on expansion, which is why you see so many BJP-ruled States. We will win 2019 with more seats, not just a repeat of 2014.
It is being said the Janata Dal (S) will emerge as a king-maker in this election. Are you open to an alliance with them if you don’t reach the magic mark?
This is an election for effecting a change. Except for one district, I have visited every district in the State, met my party workers and the people at large. Everybody knows this is an election that will bring a change in government, and that the Janata Dal (S) is not the party to bring about that change. The situation of needing an alliance does not arise. We are winning Karnataka with a comfortable margin.
But Congress president Rahul Gandhi has termed the Janata Dal (S) as the “B” team of the BJP.
I don’t take Rahul Gandhi very seriously, why are you ? The flaw in the assessment you people are making is that the issues flagged by the Congress are not the ones resonating with the people of the State. On the ground, 3700 suicides by farmers is an issue, the tottering civic structure of Bengaluru is an issue. I often say that the development of Karnataka is stuck in Bengaluru’s traffic. Infrastructure, despite so much Central aid, has not been improved. Up to ₹80,000 crore has been sanctioned by the Centre under various heads to the State, with the leap in funding between the 13th and 14th Finance Commissions being nearly ₹1,30,000 crore. Even so, infrastructure is poor in Bengaluru. I make it a point to stay close to the airport when I visit, else I know I’ll waste at least two hours to reach it to catch a flight. Law and order is weak, corruption is at its peak, and the system of governance has been absolutely destroyed. The hierarchy of administration between taluka and Chief Minister has been destroyed.
How do you respond to the huge loss in bypolls in Rajasthan. And the defeats in U.P.
No bypoll decides the government at the Centre. It is not a comment on whether the people want the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm. That is decided in the general elections. When the time comes to decide that whether you want Narendra Modi or someone else, I won’t take the name because the Opposition itself is confused on that score, then the people will support us. There are many reasons for that. We have had success in uplifting the lives of more than 13.86 crore people, by giving cooking gas to 3.5 crore households, by building 7 crore toilets as a commitment to cleanliness and the dignity of women. Some media people show, say, a goat tethered to a toilet, instead of being used. That’s the easy thing to do. We are launching campaigns to educate people on putting toilets to proper use, but I want to ask why the media hasn’t questioned why these toilets were not built in the last 70 years, why 5.5 crore households were not given power connections, 19,000 villages had been left in darkness. We worked on these issues. These are people we have touched and made a pious attempt to uplift. And that is the reason we will be voted back.
How do you view the banding together of the Opposition?
I only say that at one time the Congress party was the main pole of politics in this country — as BJP president I’m proud that now it is my party that is the fulcrum of politics in this country.
Do you think the party could have handled the fallout of the Kathua incident better as it invited much controversy?
There was a heinous incident of rape and murder, no one can support it. After the incident, local people from the area got together and said that the people being caught by the police were not the right people. Seeing this crowd, the local representatives went there and said the Crime Branch of the CID should take up the inquiry. A resolution was brought to the Assembly, even these two Ministers voted in favour of that resolution asking for a thorough probe. The CB-CID then investigated and filed a charge sheet. At that point of time some lawyers went on strike. None of our people was there, but people from the Congress were there. No questions were asked to Ghulam Nabi Azad as to why the man who was his polling agent was heading this strike. No one from our side has supported the rapists, not a single public statement has been made. Even so, there was a perception built that this was so. So perceptions should also be respected in a democracy, and we asked the two Ministers to step down . The media picked up this issue after the chargesheet was opposed by the lawyers, led by a person close to the Congress, but you people are not in the habit of questioning the Congress.