A veteran Karnataka BJP leader, Union minister Shobha Karandlaje is heading the poll management committee of the party in the state. She tells The Indian Express that the coming polls are all about development, and that party leaders have been asked to focus on that. Excerpts:
* The BJP is seen as facing severe anti-incumbency. As head of the party’s poll management committee, how are you countering it?
KARANDLAJE: In South India, people are confident that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will do something good for them. We are trying to run a positive campaign. The perception is about development. The Congress has ruled the country and even Karnataka for decades, but it had no direction towards development. For the first time, even non-BJP-ruled states are getting a direction towards development. PM Modi is focused and, for people in India, Modi means development. They are seeing what is happening on the ground. People are happy with the Jal Jeevan Mission, they are getting drinking water, and people see him as an icon of Swachh Bharat.
Only the Congress is talking about anti-incumbency. People are talking about the development brought by Modi as they are looking at the larger picture.
* But this is not a national election to re-elect Modi. It’s a state election and the party has to convince people about what it has done in Karnataka under its government.
KARANDLAJE: Because of the double-engine government (with the BJP in power in both Karnataka and at the Centre), we could do better for the state and the people… In 2013, when (Congress leader) Siddaramaiah was the chief minister, he never went hand-in-hand with Modiji. They did not accept Modi as the PM… In Kerala, we do not have a single MLA or MP… still the Centre rolls out programmes for Kerala… Tamil Nadu, Telangana. It’s because Modiji thinks that the country will progress if the states flourish.
So, many projects rolled out effectively here because of the double-engine government. Many of the Central programmes could not get implemented in states like Kerala or West Bengal due to the state governments’ attitude. Many programmes have been renamed (by them), despite the Centre bearing the bigger financial burden.
* But what would you say are the achievements of the BJP government in Karnataka? You had two chief ministers – B S Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai.
KARANDLAJE: The Yediyurappa government brought out a kisan budget for the first time in the country. Karnataka farmers got loan at 0% interest. For the first time, farmers and BPL families got free electricity. Now the Congress is promising free power, but it’s a farce. They did not do anything while in power, except corruption. Yediyurappa had a Sandhya Suraksha Yojana under which a senior citizen got Rs 1,200 each, he launched a pension for the differently abled. The Congress now talks about Rs 10 kg rice. But whose money is it?… During the Uttar Pradesh election (for which Karandlaje was one of the co-incharges for the BJP), I saw how the effective implementation of the Central scheme helped the party.
* What about the reservation policy announced by the Bommai government on the eve of elections? How is it going to help the BJP’s prospects?
KARANDLAJE: The Congress has always done vote bank politics. So we had a reservation policy — no other state has this — based on religion. It was unconstitutional, so we thought it’s fair to scrap the 4% allocation for Muslims and give it to Vokkaligas (2%) and Lingayats (2%). We increased reservation for SCs and STs. The Constitution allows reservation for socially backward people. There has been a long-pending demand from the Lingayat community for it.
* Do you expect the visuals of cash being caught from the son of a BJP leader hurting the party? The BJP knows the value of optics.
KARANDLAJE: The Congress means corruption. We had a Lokayukta, but Siddaramaiah wound it up because there were cases against him and D K Shivakumar. They wanted to hide their corruption. The BJP strengthened the Lokayukta and allowed it to act freely. That is why a BJP leader’s son was caught and is under probe. (The Lokayukta’s powers were restored after the High Court ordered the same in August 2022.)
* While you say this election is about development, BJP leaders have made provocative statements along communal lines.
KARANDLAJE: Our Prime Minister has made it clear that our government stands for sabka saath, sabka vikas. The country will progress only if everyone lives together in harmony. We cannot ignore any religion or community. We object to terrorism, but religion is not connected with terrorism, nor is terrorism connected with any religion. Our Prime Minister has changed the thought process.
Yediyurappaji and Modiji are the best examples of all-round development. We never discriminated on the basis of religion. Yediyurappa initiated the Bhagyalakshmi programme under which every girl child gets Rs 20,000. Even a Muslim girl is called Bhagyalakshmi. The Central programmes are also for everyone.
* The BJP scored a record win in Gujarat, but it lost in Himachal Pradesh and just scraped through in Tripura. How different would the Karnataka results be?
KARANDLAJE: We won Gujarat and three Northeastern states, including Nagaland, where non-Hindus dominate. Still we won, and on the development agenda. We are fighting elections on development. It’s the only solution to all our problems.
* Has the message gone across to your party colleagues?
KARANDLAJE: Yes, they have been told. We are campaigning only on the development agenda, nothing else.
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* In Karnataka, the BJP has struggled to find a leader to replace Yediyurappa. Has the party failed to bring up a second-rung leadership?
KARANDLAJE: The BJP wants to take everyone along. Yediyurappa is our top-most leader and remains so. Our workers fight for kamal (lotus), not for any leader. Leadership is not an issue in this election. We have leaders of every caste and community. Yediyurappa is Yediyurappa and he cannot be replaced.
* PM Modi talks a lot about Nari Shakti, and ahead of the Tripura elections, there were rumours that Union minister Pratima Bhoumik, who was sent to fight the Assembly polls, could be the CM. But that did not happen. Will Karnataka have a woman CM? Are you one of the contenders?
KARANDLAJE: No, never. I am very proud to work with Modiji and I am happy that I can learn a lot from him… I am not a contender. The party has given me a role and I will go back to Delhi after 40 days.
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* How do you think Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification as an MP and what has followed would affect the elections here?
KARANDLAJE: Rahul Gandhi does not have any influence in the Karnataka elections. No one even asks about him. The Congress created a hype about the Bharat Jodo Yatra, that’s all. But he is not seen as a successful leader. However, with Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar fighting against each other, Rahul Gandhi could come and resolve their issues. He has no other impact in this election.
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd