Q&A with Capt Gopinath

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With an MBA and degrees from the NDA Captain has working life that includes 8 yrs service in the Indian Army, 17 years in Farming & Sericulture, and finally, the last 13 years as an entrepreneur and founder of India’s first low cost airline–Air Deccan (and other transit and transport businesses.) Age: 58 years; Assets: Rs 70 crores plus; Criminal Record: None.

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Q. What are the top priorities of your constituency?

Don’t think today you can really look at any party. Could they look at their heart and say that it is acting in the interest of the common good. The question is never asked – what is good for all of us – though that is what the manifesto may say for some parties and all parties.  But I think, they have a way of looking the other way, they have a way of either appeasing one or the other community and dividing society, intolerant society that political parties are encouraging.

All political parties, in my opinion today, the way they are some times implicitly, explicitly by commission and omission are communalizing the society. The recent attacks on the churches, the moral brigade fools, who outraged our consciousness as well as our growing intolerance, for a prudent multicultural society, where a tolerant society, where we have an ecology of communal harmony. Our country is great and I think we are what we are working because of this centuries of respect for each other, tolerance for ideas from all sides.

One is capitalism and the other is development and a little more on development. In development what I mean is that today we need equitable growth. So, we have especially in the constituencies  now that I am talking about , there is a huge frustration, dreams, aspirations, a single heartbeat for a new India and this is common to the entire new generation.

So, coming to development, I think the biggest challenge is for, I know it is not easy, the reason I am now getting involved in asking people to volunteer. The challenges are Bangalore gives; I think 70% of the total revenue of the state. That’s a huge amount.  So, a large part of it has to go to State and other rural backward.

Q. The city has to support the State also.

And because if we don’t do that, there will a huge migration to Bangalore.

Even otherwise, there will always be migration. Because like you have come to Bangalore, I have come to Bangalore, people think, Bangalore is a large city, there will be more opportunities. And, come as a laborer here and undergo all the privations in Bangalore, even though they might be   comfortable with one half that salary, you might be there in my village in my own house I don’t have to pay for gas, I don’t have to pay for electricity, I don’t have to pay for water, that’s why he wants to come to Bangalore, because he wants a future for his children. But there will be migration, that’s the reality.  But, that Migration may become a huge flood, if the rest of Karnataka gets neglected, where a large portion of it has to go.

The third one which we were talking about was, as for the terrorism, which is I think, which is not just the Government, because there is a huge frustration now, and anger, that we are coming out as a failed state. I think we’re a failed state because we have failed as citizens ourselves.  So, we need to get more participation, more awareness, more vigilant participation by the public and also going and holding the Government accountable rather than just holding the candle light on the day we have this problem – some kind of an active participation.

What is required is a policy decision at the very well highest and informed level, how much of that investment must be retained in Bangalore, because Bangalore is a rich cow. It’s a golden goose. So, if Bangalore crumbles totally, then Karnataka will also stop getting its revenue.  Because, if you have a city which has got, which is frequently driven to communal tensions and bandhs and we have a city which cannot support an infrastructure, of the kind of infrastructure that the industry needs, small businesses need, then I think industry and small business will not come to Bangalore. And if it does not come to Bangalore, it will choke the growth.

We need to immediately bring back influence on policy to ensure that sufficient part of this money goes to Bangalore itself, so that, Bangalore continues to generate that income.  Because, completely, send everything that comes today and not sufficient to Bangalore itself , then I think it will, the industry will shift, jobs will shift, investments will stop coming,  while some of them think that we will get this money, getting this money and this money will be pumped into the rural areas.  And unfortunately, this is a larger subject.. that money is not getting spent and reaching the given target.

And then the funds that Bangalore gets, it has to be a balance, because if you don’t have a balance,  Bangalore will stop giving you that money.  It’s a rich cow. I think all of us  have agreed that larger cities require a different kind of governing council. We don’t have that now like London has, like Delhi itself has.

This corporation which is at state, which is not at the direct influence of the State ,but there must be a kind of central state intervention here, where very large cities must work under that principle of governance where we need a unified system  of you know both elected representatives as well as the administrators to ensure that we have corporate governance, we have  elected  governance, which will  enable Bangalore to have its autonomous ability to govern itself. And that’s very large issue.

Q. What is the most important contribution you have ever made to public life?

I come from a very small village. I was born in a village. I went bare foot to a school. I studied in a Kannada medium school.  I never went to school till my fifth standard, because my father taught me at home. Then of course, I left my village when I was in seventh standard, went and joined  the Sainik School and the National Defense Academy and Indian Military, I became an army officer.

I was an Army Officer for eight years and it taught me lot of secular values, in the army. And then I wanted to come into something I know, so I thought I must leave the Government shelters and come back. 

I came back to my village,  and discovered to do something else as an entrepreneur. and when I came back they had built a dam in my village, all the family lands were lost, and about 16 villages were submerged. so, wherever I went the talk was, what would they do when they all become overnight  emotional  refugees, physical refugees. They had allotted land to my family, in a very godforsaken place, hundred miles away. 

I  got a tent, I took a Doberman dog, I had a Harijan boy in my house, who was in some kind of bonded labor, and I went and lived in that as a country clad man for ten years.  I lived in a  tent for about two years and I got into farming and because all the farmers were caught into debt. I did a lot of work in the farming, serious farming.  Got a novice award in farming. It might be, because of my work in farming, which you do not know!   Then I got the recognition of, you know, ecological farming, and farming which works with nature. and at that time, I became the largest cocoon producer of Karnataka. and, so, I understood the problems in farming, the problems in villages. 

Then, BJP came to me, and they offered me a ticket .  Of course, they actually asked me to come, this was fifteen years ago, though they said why don’t you become the president of BJP. In those days, though BJP did not exist in Karnataka.  I had a thinking that in late eighties, they were having about two MPs  in parliament.  They had come out of the Janatha Party experiment, and Congress was degenerate, they said it is a party with a difference.    And they were alluring doctors and engineers, all walks across. that call, for a month I was deeply thinking.  the danger was that instead of changing the system, I will be changed. I will become like the rest of them.

BJP at that point held a ray of hope , there were people who had clean image. and so I became the President of BJP and for four years,  president of Hassan town, and then, ….. because it was there then I became the President of the constituency where I was contesting  from, then I contested as a BJP candidate, and then I lost.  So, I have been through that, and, and, then of course, I completely  left politics, and came to Bangalore, because then my children were growing up, and dividing my time between my farm and Bangalore, and I set up lot of businesses in between, because I moved to Bangalore.

And it was during that period, when I was between  my farm and  Bangalore, I went to China, with the delegation of farmers. and I went there twice to basically to study Chinese farming in exchange of ideas, and I   spent about a month in  China,  deep into rural China. And what I saw in China, completely sort of shook me up, because, even in 95, the kind of developmental activities, mindless, what should I say, mindless, I am using the word deliberately, mindless, because there was huge destruction of ecology at the country side, but which I could see even in 95. I wrote somewhere in some paper. But it was a method of creating infrastructure at a pace you cant even imagine.

Even the Taluk Head Quarters, they were linking it up with high ways, building multistoried  buildings, building the hotel infrastructure, associated infrastructure, and I came back, thinking –  Oh My God! I said, if China has embraced capitalism without abandoning communism,  Russian State had collapsed, why are we like this?

With my back ground of Army, farming and politics of four years, I said why not harness all the energy because, the very day I lost, I was with an unbounded energy.   I said, since it is a miscalls you said, you know, we have to build, we have to create, that’s the only way we can get out of this morass.  As entrepreneurs, we cant be outside society.

You are the part of the problem, you are the part of the solution. Because the politician is not he….its you and your mirror.  He has come out of us and it is out of this mud, out of our blood, that he is there.  So, he is as best a part of the problem and solution, as I am a part of the problem and solution.   So, there is no point sitting and complaining. you fight for it, at the same time work with the government. And I said, I must now pick up a line where I can make a difference. Where I can build something. That’s how the idea of helicopter company came to me. 

There were no helicopters in the public domain for charters, for
Construction, for infrastructure, for aerial mapping, for geophysical survey for mining, oil companies, for aerial photography. I knew that all these sectors will be opened up, those are the very very early days of Infosys.  And I knew that India cannot remain in that solution, I have had this inextinguishable optimism in the country, and this unbounded energy, which I knew in my heart and my bones and I think its true today , it was true yesterday, it will be true tomorrow, it is your energy, it is your rationalism,    it is your commitment, its your belief, that you can work with the government.

Its one of the  first privately owned, completely for public purposes, the first helicopter company, And we became the largest helicopter company in India, with about fifteen helicopters and small planes, through the length and breadth of this country. And while, I was running the helicopter company  I decided  that the country, I must, I decided based on the kind of image that I saw, one day  when I was flying in a helicopter, I saw a different India.  Wherever I was flying, I was flying these mirrors and I was curious and I said lets fly down on the farm, these were dish antennas in the village huts. And I said, Oh My God! this is all, my country of  billion hungry people to be fed and subsidized. It is a country of hungry consumers.

Again it was a simple dream that every Indian must fly, every  common man must fly, and it’s a  new India where its possible and I could build it with out  money but with volunteers who joined my company on this dream and I raised money, I raised more than a thousand crores by giving my shares, and  I thought you can’t be in isolation. You are a citizen, as well as a businessman.  You are media man as well as a businessman, you are an artist as well as a citizen.  I said it cant exist in isolation.   I have to take part . And these events in the last couple of months,  5 – 6 months, the terrorism in Bombay, the communal configuration in  Karnataka and Orissa of the Catholic churches, moral brigade, this triggers it. Because I was always concerned that whatever we did as entrepreneurs we must build the same entrepreneur energy, we must build the same energy for building and creating into political arena.  That is the reason I chose (to be) independent.

Q. Could you share with us your significant failure till date? What have you leant from that experience?

Edison said if I did not fail ten thousand times, I would not have discovered of ten thousand ways it does not work. You know it is a hundreds of lessons, of course  its coming out in my book, its how you build on those failures.

Q. How will you be continuously accessible to the residents of your constituency?

I am only giving a voice to your aspirations.  I am only giving dreams to your frustrations. I will only be as successful as your participation with me. I will only be as successful as you being a watch dog on me and participating with me. I am just trying to create a movement, I am just trying to create awareness, I am trying to tell all of you including you, because when you go back you also will have to vote, that the solution is not in isolation, not in cynicism, not in criticism – in actively participating and you can make a difference.

Q. Corruption and terrorism are major concerns, as an MP, what do you think you can do? And what specifically, do you plan to do?

See, we are ourselves as a society, part out of that corruption. I generally condemn it but I gave it because  I feel, one is I give because I am helpless .  The other one is  I give it because I get a benefit. I gave an employer to violate a business rule, I give bribe to a housing construction, or if you are an individual I give a bribe to get admission to a government job as sub inspector. so my life starts with a lie.

And so I don’t want to point a finger. If your son comes and tells you, I am getting a job as sub inspector, I am getting a job as a KAS person, please give me ten lakhs.  And if you give that 10 lakhs, so that he gets a job as a KAS administrative officer, then we are ourselves perpetuating that.  Of course, you are giving it because you are helpless, but I think it’s a chicken and egg. So its for all of us to search within ourselves, and recognize that the human nature is selfish, human nature is corrupt if left to itself. We have to create systems, make systemic changes, and I decided that probably I can possibly raise money…

Q. How much is your budget?

Twenty five lakhs.

Q. You are going to stay within that?

Yes! I am trying to find from the election commission because the political parties rules are, can spend on elections, independently of the candidate. Can my supporters spend independently of me? Not illegally.

Q. What is your message to the people of your constituency?

You can make a change, you must volunteer, If you want me  to win, it’s your victory, it’s not my campaign, it’s your campaign. make a difference, come and participate, come and volunteer!

Q. From your perspective which are the most important issues facing the nation, that you intend to raise in parliament?

Yesterday a bunch of very lower middle class volunteers, about 25 of them, not sought by us, not recruited by us by people going and telling that we will give three hundred rupees a day, they all saw my TV interview, my news paper interviews,  they had seen me before for the kind of work I was doing.  they came in the morning, all from different communities, see, normally that Hindu and Muslim, and in Hindus there were various,  one was a driver for example, they had every community – it was actually a microcosm of India.  And I said, this is like a fabric, the society that we are talking about is like a fabric, which is woven, and is as rich and as fragile in its texture, in its tapestry, as a saree itself.   and for your society to survive, you need the warp and the weft in the weave of all these various people.  And I told these people in the morning today that, in the interest of your business, you need communal harmony.

Apart from the fact that communal harmony is so important, that what gives life meaning, I mean our country is what it is today, because our literature, our temples, our art, our music, everything is born out of this rich diversity.  Let’s say every day, you have bundhs, or every other day you have communal stabbings, first you know, you will not get good investment into the state, or to the city or to the country. 

At the end of the day, you want when you go to the shop, when you go to the school,  wherever you go, to the hospital , if you go to the clinic, you need to have communal harmony. because if that breaks your business suffers. I said, the most important foundation for us, first one is communal harmony.  So, all parties are dividing us, giving tickets on caste, demanding ticket on caste. Number two, they are also selling their votes.  Political parties are buying the votes.  The corruption starts there.  I said, if you get these two things right, for the good  governance what you require is less corruption, and then a social harmony. If you get these two ecosystems right, then automatically, you will have good roads, because that is a function of execution.

I am sure if you can build a Taj Mahal, can build a Madhurai Meenakshi Temple, and if you can produce a Zakkir Hussain, and a Subbulakshmi, I am sure this country is a great country, in terms of talent. And today, we have a Narayana Murthy, a Kiran Mazumdar, or a Premji, or a Ratan Tata, or a Bajaj who are great business icons, I am sure building a road is the easy part, because it is very easy to get people to plan your city. So, that is the reason I am  harping on this, that my manifesto, our manifesto should be to ensure, what is it that we need do together to that everything that we say or do, must promote communal harmony. 

Everything  that we see or do must eventually have systems and processes in place or  build a governance structures in  place or organization structure in place,   so that corruption is reduced, so that then, there is money available for, you know, getting the best planners and getting the best peers to build the roads, that’s the easy part.

Q. How will you ensure that money meant for development projects are not misused?

I think today, a lot of studies have come that if a rupee is allocated for any project, I think it is the various studies which have all said that only 11 to 15 paise of that rupee goes to the project.  The rest are all swallowed or eaten up or misused or siphoned off.  It is a well known fact.  As I explained, I am living in the best localities, right outside the house  drainage is open, footpaths are broken, the roads are full of pot holes.

It’s a rich country.  Now every time an MLA gets elected or a corporator gets elected, he gives a contract to his chelas.  If Congress MLA gets elected, he gives all the drainage contracts, road contracts and various contracts to his followers. And if BJP gets elected, they will give it to their chelas.  And obviously, the entire chain, they all siphon off because the  MLA expects money back for having given the contract and the guy who got the MLA elected expects the contract because he supported the MLA, so it is big one vicious circle, and we all are responsible ourselves because some of us who are now wanting a change ourselves are contractors. may be today the new MLA who has come who will not give the contract, so we want a change .  So, we have to find out well all of us are selfish, all of us have our families, all of us have our businesses, we make a …   I think probably now, that is the reason I said, that the social fabric, the business fabric of various things.  It’s in a danger of you know, breaking…

Q. What would you do for the current unemployment issues for the youth and what is your stand on moral policing?

You know all over the world entrepreneurs create wealth, entrepreneurs destabilize the status quo.  And there is a role that the government has to play here. There is role the entrepreneur has to play. The entrepreneur many a times is a problem.  When he becomes a big business like in the olden days, he ensures or he is complicit, hand in glove with the government, with the politician to ensure that more people do not come in, by creating a monopoly, by ensuring licenses are difficult to get, he creates entry barriers. So, the problem is with the very businessman who is a part of  the society. It is not only the politician. We need to have policies and regulations in place, where because we are all weak, we are all selfish, whether the businessman or a politician. We have got to find a method where rules are created in such a manner that it creates entrepreneurship, doesn’t create monopoly.

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