Most KJP election candidates in the city are ex-BJP workers. But in Sarvagna Nagar, the party is fielding Michael B Fernandes, who had been with the JD(U) until recently.
Fernandes, 78, is a trade union activist, and is the brother of former union minister George Fernandes. His wife Donna Fernandes is the founder of Vimochana, a city-based women’s rights group. Fernandes is a physics graduate from Madras University, and is a retired engineer from ITI Ltd. A former corporator, MLA and MLC, Fernandes has been active in politics for the last 53 years. He was elected as a corporator for the first time in 1970, contesting as an independent. He was jailed during the Emergency for 15 months in 1975-77.
He became an MLA from Bharathi Nagar constituency in 1978, from Janatha Party, and won the next term from the same constituency in 1983, but served only for a short time as he lost in the mid-term polls in ’85. In 1988, he became an MLC. In ’99, he contested Lok Sabha elections under JD(U)/NDA ticket, but lost.
Before beginning this interview, Fernandes claimed that he had actually won the ‘99 election, but the returning officer was specially brought in by Congress’s winning candidate Jaffer Sharief. “I strongly believe I won, but it is a separate story,” he says, and proceeds to answer questions.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
What are the main issues in your constituency?
Sarvagna Nagar is one of the most cosmopolitan constituencies – it has people from different religions, speaking different languages and from different parts of the country and abroad. A few pockets here are taken care of, but vast areas have problems in drinking water supply, sewage blockage, clogged drains, no connectivity etc. Children are exposed to thick, black water in the drains and the stench. There are no proper footpaths along roads, even for broad roads. There are potholes and hurdles on the road, making it a problem for both traffic and pedestrians. There are not enough community halls and civic amenities.
What is your solution to these issues?
I will set up physiotherapy centres, community centres, civic amenities and hobby centres. I am proposing that within a month of being elected, I will set up monitoring committees at booth level with representatives from all political parties in the locality, RWAs and independent citizens. This committee will work to prioritise problems to be tackled. They will decide on the time to settle the problem. They will ensure that money allotted is used honestly without room for corruption. For example, a huge amount is marked as wage for labourers, but this is not given and hence workmanship is poor. This should be prevented. They should ensure quality and life of the job done – that good materials should be used, and if a structure is meant to last five years, it should last for five years. If officials do not work according to what we say, we will go for Gandhigiri and Anna Hazaregiri, against corruption.
What have been your achievements so far?
There are many. In 1978, as MLA, I started a school on no-profit no-loss basis (Austin Town Flat Allottees’ Association Nursery, Primary and High School). I had started a co-operative society for workers to build houses. What is your solution to water and garbage issues in Bangalore? In my constituency, until all people get Cauvery water, there should be borewells and tanker water; and purified water will be given separately for drinking. Borewells should be recharged on war footing, and rain water harvesting should be done. Regarding garbage, people should be given intensive training in segregating at home. Drums of different colours should be given for segregation, and garbage should be converted to compost. Garbage processing should be decentralised – these units should be as close as possible to source of garbage and compost should be used in the neighbourhood. There is infrastructure, but these things are not done. We have to reactivate things.
Should commercial/residential development be stopped in areas that don’t have BWSSB/borewell water supply?
How to strike a balance would be a big issue. Currently my mind is blank on this question.
What should be the government’s priority in terms of allocating land? Governments say that there is not enough land for housing poor while land is given within the city for industries and tech parks.
I have been writing to the central government for the last two decades on this. KJP’s manifesto also talks about creating a house building revolving fund. When people start employment, from day one, they should be made a member of the fund – they should make a contribution to the fund, and the employer and government will make a matching contribution which will be returned later. Many people stay in rented houses; they don’t get homes, only their income gets depleted. And after retirement, they can’t afford to pay rent. There should also be a labourers’ house building society. Government should find funds for that, and labourers should give their own contribution to get houses in a few years. All such houses can be given in sale-cum-sale basis, and the owners can pay back to the government and the company in the form of rent over the years. Government can make it tax-free. So the amount comes back to the fund and government coffers are not depleted; that is why they are called revolving funds. I suggested this to KJP and they included this in their manifesto. The highway to urbanisation is urbanising the highway. Housing should be decentralised instead of getting facilities from outside. There should be balance in giving land. Industry should be scattered and only barren land should be given for those. Arable land should be allowed to remain the same way.
What is your campaign budget and who are funding you?
I’ll try to campaign within the limit of Rs 16 lakhs. The Party is contributing. I am supposed to get a token donation from B.PAC (Bangalore Political Action Committee). Some workers from my trade unions have given funds informally – this is from individual workers, not the unions.
What was the reason you joined and became a candidate for KJP?
I joined KJP because regional parties are essential in Karnataka. Karnataka cannot be a sacrificial vote at the altar of national politics. It can’t be ruled by Delhi while many states have regional parties and these parties also have presence in centre. The party was keen that I should contest. Large parts of Sarvangna Nagar were earlier part of Bharathi Nagar constituency. Also in the last 10-15 years, workers and migrant labourers have moved from Bharathi Nagar to Sarvagna Nagar. Minorities, mainly Christians and Muslims, from the earlier Bharathi Nagar constituency are also there in Sarvagna Nagar now.
Yeddyurappa, who is leading KJP, has a tainted record. What is your comment on this?
I don’t believe much of what media talks about Yeddyurappa. About illegal mining, one can find out from papers that Yeddyurappa was fighting against illegal mining. The ministers in his cabinet involved in those activities, were posted by Congress. Yeddyurappa was urging the Centre to ban export of ore. Centre delayed it. Congress, in both state and centre, backed up the ministers responsible and wanted Yeddyurappa to quit his chair. Second is Santosh Hegde’s report on illegal denotifications by Yeddyurappa, which has been rejected by the High Court. Let the court decide, media cannot decide. Many chief ministers and father-son combinations have done more than what Yeddyurappa has done. I have never seen a CM who was mentally tortured and harassed as much as Yeddyurappa was. I have not seen anyone showing the courage and fortitude that he has. He could take KJP forward like no one else could; he has the charisma for that.
What about the attacks on churches during his tenure?
Many feel that he was anti-minority as a BJP man. But when he gave Rs 500 crore for Hindu temples, he raised the funds for minorities from Rs 86 crore to Rs 386 crore. For 2% of the Christian population, he set up an exclusive fund of Rs 50 crore to be handled by a separate committee of Christians. He has secular credentials. Now he’s out of BJP and shackles binding him, he is saying ‘social justice to all’ by equal share and equal opportunities for all. I accept that as his signature line. Mahendra Kumar of Bajrang Dal had claimed responsibility for the church attacks on TV. Saffron parivar was obliged to remove him then, but Yeddyurappa did not protect him. Yeddyurappa was not the total boss of the show – you have to be in his shoes to know the pressure on him.
What was the reason you quit JD(U)?
The JD(U) has no presence in Karnataka. Being in power in Bihar, it has not made any impact. Even in assembly election, it is getting two-digit votes. People are not showing any inclination to support it. So I needed a suitable platform and a regional party to contest.
Can you tell us about your hobbies and family?
My only hobby is work. My wife is Donna Fernandes, founder of Vimochana. I have three children – my elder son works for a construction company and is my campaign manager; my daughter works in New York with the UN Peacekeeping department, and my younger son is doing engineering final year.
Give us three reasons why people should vote for you.
Politics for me is to serve people and not to make money. I have no other private business. For me, work is chronic and not working makes me feel bad; so I will keep working for people and workers. ⊕