Workers transporting election campaign material. Party members lodged in hushed discussions. Plastic chairs strewn about. Posters of B S Yeddyurappa smiling directly at you. For a party that was born barely a few months ago, the mood at the election office of the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) in Malleshwaram is surprisingly calm. The reasons could be many. For one, the man who leads the party is a force to reckon with. It’s his very first election outside of the party that led him to become its first ever Chief Minister in south India. After more than 30 eventful years with the BJP, in November 2012 Yeddyurappa moved out to launch the Karnataka People’s Party or the KJP as it’s now referred to. Several others left the BJP to join him. V Dhananjay Kumar is one of them.
A former MLA, MP and Union Minister, Kumar was with the BJP for over three decades. He was a regular face during primetime debates on both national and local television news channels, speaking on behalf of the BJP on matters concerning Karnataka. Last year, Kumar left the party, even before Yeddyurappa quit. He heads the campaign committee today, shouldering the mammoth task of helping script the party’s first ever success story. KJP is fielding candidates in all 224 constituencies.
Citizen Matters spoke to 61-year-old Kumar about the party’s first elections, its preparedness and more importantly, about Yeddyurappa, the man who Kumar claims is the ‘tallest leader across the political spectrum in Karnataka’.
It’s the first election for the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP). What’s the mood like within the party?
Mood is upbeat. We have very good experienced political leaders as our candidates. Many of them have been former ministers, former legislators, a few have been with other political parties. No doubt we have also fielded some new faces. Comparatively our candidates are much younger, presentable, experienced and liked by the people.
Don’t you think you have had too little time between launching your party and the elections? Hasn’t that been a bit of a gamble? Are you happy that you have possibly at least been able to dent the image of the BJP a little? Or even the fact that you could play a significant role if it came down to numbers?
The main plank on which we are contesting these elections are the programmes and projects conceived by our leader Shri B S Yeddyurappa when he was the Chief Minister. He has the vision for developing the whole state as a model state in the country. During his tenure as Chief Minister, Karnataka was reckoned in Number One, Number Two positions among the developing states in the country. We have excelled in the matter of economic management, in augmentation of revenues, it was increased by three-fold, Rs 30,000 to 32,000 crores was the volume of the budget when Yeddyurappa took charge as Chief Minister. By the time he had to leave the office the volume of the budget was increased to Rs 110,000 lakhs. It’s a huge growth of economy without levying any extra tax. Leakage is prevented. Pilferage is also thoroughly reduced and more and more economic activity is induced among people. That is, more agricultural output, more industrial output and more jobs created. Economic activity will get a boost.
In 2009 when Yeddyurappa presented his first budget after assuming the Chief Minister’s post, the budget plan size was Rs 29,500 crores.
Mr B S Yeddyurappa was named in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining. He was then forced to step down as Chief Minister. How has he tried to break away from the image that was created at that point in time?
The Lokayukta went beyond the brief given to him by the state government. You should not forget this: it was not a suo moto enquiry by the Lokayukta. The Karnataka Lokayukta Act mandates the Lokayukta, in a case where a reference is made by the state government, you have to work within the purview of the terms of reference. That is exactly why the Honourable High Court said there is no authority to step out of this, you were never asked to look into whether there is some hand in making some donation to some Trust run by the relatives of the then Chief Minister, and then try to connect some kind of mining activity to that. What is this nonsense? That is why High Court said you had no business. Now what is the charge that is made by the Lokayukta against Mr Yeddyurappa? Is it that you had any hand in mining activity? Or much less, illegal mining activity? Was he a miner? Was he a mine exporter? No. What Lokayukta has said is, your children are running some institutions, that is owned by some Trust and some mine owners gave some donation to that and then Lokayukta himself poses a question that why should they make a donation, probably you must have helped them for their mining activity. What was the brief given to the Lokayukta? You find out the people who have been given license, have they been sticking to the terms of the license, have they violated. Find out whether anybody has been doing mining activity without a license. Whether the ore which is extracted was exported as per terms of the lease. You (Lokayukta) never made a report on that. Instead you tried to create a tremor in the whole administration and unfortunate part of it is, I don’t bother about Lokayukta because Lokayukta is not a judge passing any order. Lokayukta after all has to make a suggestion to the government. The culprits are within the party, within BJP. They tried to make much about that so-called Lokayukta report. They made Yeddyurappa to step down. Today they are reaping the consequence.
In March 2013, the Karnataka High Court quashed the portion of the Lokayukta report that accused Yeddyurappa of corruption in granting of mining leases to certain companies. The court said that no material was provided to prove that the former Chief Minister had shown favour. It further stated that on the ground of suspicion, the image of an individual cannot be tarnished.
On the other hand, last October, the CBI named Yeddyurappa among others, in a chargesheet filed before the special CBI court. The charges include receiving kickbacks from certain mining companies. The case is underway and the next date of hearing is 15 May, 2013.
But Yeddyurappa’s image did take a hit at that point in time. In that sense, how have things been for him, and now with elections coming up?
I can bet Yeddyurappa will come out pure and clean, like Sita matha who entered the fire and came out. Unnecessarily you make blames. But sometimes yes, in public life you will have to do something more than what is seen through your naked eyes. You will have to stand through the test, to prove something beyond what is seen or what is heard. That you can establish only through election process where you are able to get more votes and support from the people.
There is also the illegal land denotification case. In the light of these cases, why should the people of Karnataka, the people of Bangalore vote for KJP?
Who has not denotified land? It all started from Mr S M Krishna’s time. S M Krishna did much more than what Yeddyurappa did. Kumaraswamy outsmarted Krishna. Dharam Singh also was not lagging behind. Why only single out Yeddyurappa? People judge about this. I tell you, if the Land Acquisition Act can make a provision of withdrawing a notice issued for acquisition, this denotification process will remain forever. I feel this is not the proper time to argue much about this because matter is pending before the court. The courts have not come to any final conclusion that whether the government or the authority of the government do have any right to withdraw a notice issued by them. As a lawyer I can always tell you, if you have an authority to issue a notice, then always the right of withdrawal also lies with you. Nobody can prevent that.
In December 2012, the CAG report clearly pointed that denotification committees were never used as required by law. Denotified land went into the hands of others who sold the land. This is between the 2007 and 2010 when H D Kumaraswamy and B S yeddyurappa were occupying the Chief Minister’s post.
In the Act there is a provision that the government can acquire private land for specific purposes on payment of compensation. If the purpose is not found, then it has to be restored to the original landowner. The courts make their own interpretation of the intent of legislation.
But denotification decisions are to be taken through a ‘denotification committee’.
There is no provision to set up a denotification committee under the Act. See, S M Krishna and H D Kumaraswamy placed denotifications before the Cabinet. No one questioned them. With my leader, unfortunately the matter didn’t go before the Cabinet, so stigma is attached. With Krishna and Kumaraswamy, money changing hands has taken place more intelligently.
So are you justifying what has been done?
I’m not justifying. Please don’t single out one person. People say Yeddyurappa has done so much for us, he has done this and that. And then they say, he is the most corrupt person. That is not correct.
In December 2012, the CAG submitted its report on illegal and irregular denotification of land acquired for layouts by BDA between 2007-2012. The CAG’s indicting report has documented case after case of formerly acquired land being returned to original landowners through wrongful use of the denotification process by chief ministers B S Yeddyurappa and H D Kumaraswamy. Read the Citizen Matters report here.
So you are taking the stance of innocent until proven guilty.
It is not the question of taking the stance of innocence. It is the question of taking bold decisions to fulfill the vision of the people. You cannot remain a dumb spectator. When you are given the task of administering, you should also have the right to judge what is good in the interest of the people and the state. If you are not given that power, you can never administer.
So why, according to you, should the people of Karnataka vote for the KJP?
I must tell you, really, the feeling among the people is that, we want basic amenities to be provided. Is it not a sad state of affairs even after 65 years of independence? You still struggle to get pure drinking water, good roads, electricity, 24/7 electricity, good schools, good health provisions. People are more worried about that. One should give more attention to that.
The city has no water. No new water can come from Cauvery. Digging borewells in many areas is barred by the central and state groundwater authorities. Yet, no one is implementing the ban and new permissions for industries and residences are being given all the time. Is this the way to plan growth for a city?
The problem in Bangalore is that it is an over-growing city, with increase in population. More and more Cauvery water is to be pumped into the city. That is why, during Yeddyurappa’s tenure as Chief Minister, he conceived the Cauvery Phase-IV project at the cost of Rs 1400 crore, for Greater Bangalore.
But that water too isn’t enough.
We’ll have to go for Cauvery 5th stage.
The real solution is to put a permanent halt to the further expansion of Bangalore. No license should be given to construct any more buildings. There are different zones in the city. The green belt has already been pushed in the last Master Plan. Do not alter the green belt that has already been demarcated. And within this belt, do not permit any more construction.
— Dhananjay Kumar, Campaign Committee Chairman, KJP.
But that’s not possible now.
I have said this before, in the near future, the entire water of the Cauvery will have to be pumped for drinking and not even a drop will be left for drinking purposes.
The water table in and around Bangalore is less. The point you are referring to, about permissions being given for borewells, what else can they do? If you can’t provide sanitized water, how can they survive? The real solution is to put a permanent halt to the further expansion of Bangalore. No license should be given to construct any more buildings. There are different zones in the city. The green belt has already been pushed in the last Master Plan. Do not alter the green belt that has already been demarcated. And within this belt, do not permit any more construction. Satellite towns should be set up in Tumkur, Kanakapura, Ramnagara, Kunigal.
Does the KJP promise to address all of these concerns if you come to power?
Exactly. Exactly. Our vision is to create a kalyana Karnataka, that is prosperous, fully developed. A state where people of all caste, of all creed, men, women, everybody get justice, equal rights, equal opportunities. That is why our slogan in Kannada is, Sarvarigu Sama Bhalu, Sarvarigu Sama Palu. Samajika Nyaya, social justice. Regional aspirations are growing day by day. Why? People are really fed up with the so-called national parties. They have never fulfilled the aspirations of the people. Karnataka also, I think slowly is going towards supporting a regional force which can really fulfill the aspirations of the people. KJP has taken an oath that we will fight for the rights of the people of Karnataka – right to land, water, language, culture.
In the election manifesto, specific allocations have been made for Muslims and Christians. Is this a conscious effort to create a secular image, unlike what one would believe is the case with a right wing party like the BJP?
This was an innovative programme conceived by Mr Yeddyurappa when he was the Chief Minister. You know Yeddyurappa can always take the credit that he was the first Chief Minister in the whole country who built a very spacious, lavish Haj Bhavan for Muslims at a cost of Rs 45 crores. He set up a separate committee for development of the Christian community. That’s why he has continued with that. He said if KJP is voted to power, we will allocate Rs 2000 crores for the development of Muslim community and Rs 250 crores for the Christian community.
The construction of Haj Bhavan was announced at a cost of Rs 40 crores.
When do you see an India where elections will not overtly or subtly be fought on caste lines?
So long as discrimination and disparity prevails, I think caste factor will play a dominant role in Indian politics. People are more concerned about social status also. It is not just the parameter of poverty. You might have overcome the poverty factor but what about social status? Naturally, till all these are fulfilled, I think people will definitely feel that they are ignored. What is the way out for them? Their hope is that their caste person, if given a chance to work as a leader, probably may try to help out. That is the aspiration on which people rally round the caste factor. You know nationally, at the helm of leadership, caste doesn’t matter at all. What caste Sonia (Gandhi) has? What caste (Jawahar Lal) Nehru had? What caste Lal Bahadur Shastri had? Narasimha Rao? It is only down the line (state/city level), all these factors matter. It is natural.
These elections are happening after a wave of protests across the country, with people coming out on to the streets demanding the Jan Lokpal bill to be passed. How much of an impact is that going to have in these elections? Do you feel urban voters will make a more informed decision now?
This is not the first time few people, few individuals, or some associations, have declared a war against corruption in public life. Unfortunately today, not only in politics, we see corruption everywhere. Corruption in our Army, corruption among professionals, bureaucracy, and really, people are fed up. But you will have to find a solution, a way out for this. So far as political corruption is concerned, it’s a relative term, who is more corrupt. People have their own estimation about that. People know. Much cannot be said about this. I would always say that if you say less, that is better.
While you were in the BJP, Operation Lotus not only spoiled the sanctity of electoral politics, but also led to extra expenditure on the state exchequer, while MLAs quit their seats and contested again. Do you have any plans to ensure that the KJP does not indulge in such practices?
This is a process of revolution. Earlier we never had the anti-defection law. The elected representative also had the liberty, even after getting elected, to change the party if he didn’t agree with the positions of the party or the principles or working style. But once this Anti-defection Act has come into effect, what has happened is, this kind of dynasty and autocracy among the leaders. Now whatever the leader says, whether it is a democratic decision, whether it is a decision taken after full-length discussion, nobody knows, but you will have to obey. What is the way out? Probably this is a new solution not to break the anti-defection law, but to surrender to the very system, saying that, ‘Yes if you don’t allow me to express my views then I will go back to the people’. Don’t look at it as disobeying the mandate of the people. It’s a bold decision by an elected representative to surrender his membership and go back to the people. Eleven out of 13 people won back the seat. You name it whatever. Lotus or whatever operation. But the fact remains that 13 people surrendered their authority and 11 of them came back victorious. It should be viewed from that angle. Nobody is a culprit there. I don’t know, the party (BJP) was at a loss to explain that at that point of time. A few people from within the party wanted to make a very big claim that, ‘Yes we are the authors of this and we named it Operation Lotus’.
So if tomorrow the Congress or BJP get a paper-thin majority and need some extra support, and resort to the same trick by making MLAs resign from KJP, say by offering them cabinet berths, will that be justified?
The question is not about how many people of which party will quit. I was only trying to explain how a person quit his party, contested elections again and won. It’s not intentional defection. What is this word ‘Operation’? Many people have left BJP and Congress and joined KJP. Now people say it’s Operation KJP. There is no meaning for the word ‘operation’. It is the volition of one candidate to quit his party and join another.
What has been the biggest learning for you since forming the KJP? How are you doing things differently from when you were in the BJP?
In BJP, unfortunately, few individuals, just to fulfill their aspirations, try to sideline people who have merit. That is why sometimes we also tend to say, let us see how many seats you will win without Yeddyurappa. But really we are pained about that. BJP has been our home, built by us. We built that party brick by brick. Unfortunately after coming to power, the whole equation in the party started changing because of high ambitions of a few individuals who do not have any following, who are not natural leaders. Before Yeddyurappa could leave I left the party. I was in that way in fact a symbol of success for BJP. That was forgotten by the BJP. I have never lost an election. Continuously I have been winning from a constituency where I never had any caste support, I never had any money support. It was only love of the people and the strength of my organization which was built by me. I can even today make a definite claim on that. Today many of the ministers, many MLAs have also left BJP. Why? So you should try to find out what is wrong with that organization. It is not wrong with the people who have left the party.
If it comes down to numbers, and the BJP approaches you to form the government, what would you do?
No question. We are out of BJP, no question of returning to BJP. We are totally independent and the plank on which we are fighting, I told you, the achievements made by Mr Yeddyurappa, I must tell you, the tallest leader across the political spectrum in Karnataka, is only B S Yeddyurappa. There is no other dependable, formidable leader in any other party. These days, electioneering, that is the campaign, is for a short period. People generally rally round a person whom they see as their future leader, who can form the government and head the government. That is an advantage for KJP. Only KJP has such a highly rated person as our leader. You can definitely see that Yeddyurappa can lead the state as a good Chief Minister.
What about joining hands with the Congress to form the government?
As of now we are keeping equi-distance from all parties. We are quite confident that people will vote us to power. On our own we will be in a position to form the government. If it comes to that after the results are out, let us see. Why ifs and buts now.
Will your party be the king-maker or the king in these elections?
We are kings! That question doesn’t arise.⊕