On Wednesday, 15 April at 6:30 AM, I left for Lalbagh. Not for a morning walk, but to meet Captain G R Gopinath, the famous founder of Air Deccan and now an independent candidate from the Bangalore South constituency for the Lok Sabha elections. Gopinath was having a Yoga session that morning and his team had scheduled my meeting after the session, at 7 AM.
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As I was waiting, I could see most of Gopinath’s supporters and campaigners were in the age group of 20s to 30s. At the same time I saw an overwhelming number of women in his support group. After the yoga session, Gopinath stood surrounded by his supporters in an informal conversation sharing jokes. He was in his grey-black shorts and a T-shirt and sports shoes, talking to his supporters. As the crowd around him dispersed I went up to him.
Forty nine-year-old Captain Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar Gopinath did his schooling at Sainik school, Bijapur and thereafter moved to the National Defence Academy. He graduated from the Indian Military Academy to the Indian Army. After having served the nation as a Commissioned Army Officer for eight years, he went back to villages and started sericulture. His innovative eco-friendly techniques for silk farming won him the ‘Rolex International Award’ in 1996.
Going from there, Gopinath together with his old Army friend started a private sector commercial helicopter service in 1996. Following that, he started the first low cost, no frills major airline of India in 2003. In the past, he had contested as a BJP candidate in 1994 but lost.
We start talking as we proceed towards his car parked near the Double Road-main gate of Lalbagh. His symbol for the elections is Kite, and he explains why, “…I see myself as a facilitator in enabling a common man’s flight towards chasing his dreams as liberally as the kite glides in the open skies.”
We sit in the car with his wife Bhargavi and move towards his house on Vittal Mallya Road dodging the traffic and dug up roads. Gopinath points out how all the governments have failed to fix minor issues like dug up roads, and they aim at fixing bigger issues. Our conversation strikes a chord here and we move on with the interview:
Supriya Khandekar: For a candidate without a major base of volunteers prior to throwing your hat into the ring, you appear to have announced your intent to run pretty late. Mounting a very solid campaign would have been a challenge. Why did you not decide to sooner? Isn’t it fair to people who would otherwise vote for you that mount a more prepared campaign?
Capt Gopinath: Like everyone even I was living in my own cocoon. I had a new business and was thinking about it and my family that is in my own world which is how most of us live. And then a series of events occurred like the Mumbai terror attack, attacks on the churches in Karnataka and then the attack on women. I was in Mumbai when the Mangalore goons attacked women, it was a shameful event and it was at that point I decided that there is no more showing a back to all these. I always had an urge to do something and this was a trigger and jumped in to make a difference.
The day I declared that I would be standing for elections there was a lot of media attention because of my past stature. And eventually many people approached on their own to support and campaign for me. Initially it was a group of 40 people and then people kept coming everyday to support and today we are a group of 1000.
Campaigning therefore has not been that tough a job because throughout and till date I am not short of support from the people.
SK: Your motive to run appears progressive and reformist. Yet you are the outsider to this race, despite your stature. Indians still look at politics in terms of groups, communities, castes, languages and not individual leaders being held on account. Do you deny this?
CG: Absolutely, I do not deny this. This is the reality but this is also the time for a change. Group, caste and community are the grounds on which Indian politics is now breeding. It starts right from the allotting the tickets to the candidates. If you are a Gowda, a Vokkaliga, Lingayat and so on. You are given a ticket on the basis of what caste and community you belong to and then you are wooing votes from that community only.
If we take the example of only Bangalore South, there were 19 lakh people last time out of which 8 lakh voted and out of this three lakhs were reservation votes. This three lakh makes approximately 15 per cent of the population. And from the past record to win only this 15 per cent is also enough. So this is the usual strategy, you take hold of one community and add a little cocktail to that by adding little of some other communities and then you can win even if 76 per cent of the people do not want you.
So what happens later is because your community people have made you win, when you come back to power you have to go back to that community and work for that community. Eventually you do not work for a society as a whole but limit yourself to the community, each winner does this and instead of uniting they divide the society. The candidate keeps clutching his community to win further elections and these are root causes for all the communal tensions which take the shape of terrorism in the long run.
All the political parties are following this golden rule only to win and to woo their respective communities. During elections they spend huge amounts of money for this purpose. Corruption in the society starts from the elections. We are aiming at changing this process.
We do not know if we at this point are strong enough to move the whole Parliament or do any constitutional amendments. But if I vote the only message that will move will be that Captain Gopi won by uniting the society and not dividing it. He won without asking for votes for castes and communities and without giving money to people for voting. Also they will be worried that some of their good candidates now may stand up as independents.
Secondly the MPs job is to represent his constituency in the parliament. Today none of the parties not even as an exception come back to the constituency during the time of passing a bill. The MP simply goes with the party whip. It’s the party that tells you to stay and vote for or against. (Our) system is very good on the rule book and if followed will be perfect example of how a democracy should work. But in reality it is not followed.
SK: We spoke to Ananth Kumar and he says that people only want love and affection.
CG: (Laughs loudly.)
SK: Who is really going to vote for you?
CG: Hmm. I am creating a large group of people not based on vote bank politics. The vote banks are the dalits, the slums, muslims, gowdas, and so on. All the educated people, employed people like you and me. All the middle class will be voting for me.
SK: How are you trying to reach the poor?
CG: I am trying from my end to visit the slums and reach out to the poor but it is very difficult. It is a challenge for me to reach out to them. It is difficult to explain them. If I think from their perspective at times I feel they have no choice as such. They live in conditions that are unimaginable and have to fight for everyday meal. In that scenario if someone gives them Rs.1000 and asks them to vote, they would certainly do that. Corruption needs to be first eradicated.
Reaching and educating this section about the right things and foremost to provide them with the basic amenities is a challenge. Although from my side I am trying every bit to reach out to them also. But I cannot tell you how successful I am in convincing them.
SK: Give us some examples of diversity in your own campaign organisation and in the people’s groups you are meeting.
CG: I have people from all the fields coming and helping me. Be it my driver, or some media friends or people from the environmental backgrounds, students, youth, employed people, everybody is coming here. And there is no classification ever done on what community s/he belongs to.
Divisive politics is the core of all corruption in the country. And this corruption has seeped through all arenas of life. Today starting from the driver to the highest ranking official in a department, no one can come up and say that he is totally clean.
SK: In the Smart Vote debate you mentioned that you had to wait for almost two years to get Air Deccan off the ground because you would not bribe. Your acquaintance with Ananth Kumar helped you. Is it OK to do that?
CG: I said that because they were asking me if I bribed. And I meant to say that the society at this point is working on these lines; without any reference and help from the top brass it becomes difficult for a common man to achieve his dreams. And that is one of the main evils I want to eradicate from the society. That is one of the prime messages that I am spreading.
SK: It is all nice and intellectually gratifying to say that MP’s must only legislate and be grand lawmakers for the nation and not interfere in local issues which are not their jurisdiction. Yet basic needs and infrastructure requirements are still not met. How is it possible for MPs to not get into local matters?
CG: City infrastructure is mainly the concern of the corporations but here the corporations are only not structured properly. This requires a constitutional amendment. The structure through which money allotment is done for the state and then the city needs to get more indigenous. In the West, the bigger cities have their own small parliament, their own money allotment system. In India too we need a system like that. You need to have a body under which all the other local bodies will function and in coordination. There is need for a constitutional amendment for this.
SK: What is your take on Bangalore not having a city council for over two years now?
CG: This is really shameful and that is the reason why our infrastructure is going to doldrums. There is need for restructuring and consequently an amendment in the constitution. All this is the result of coalition politics, party politics and less realisation of societal benefits. Politicians don’t want to let go their control.
SK: You mentioned about forming a citizens committee with Mohandas Pai and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. How will you make it an inclusive and diverse committee?
CG: The members of this committee are not just the above mentioned two people. There are more people from various fields. The major concerns, work module and objectives of this committee will be decided in a public meeting on 18 April. (This meeting is at 4pm-6pm, at Jain College auditorium, JC Road.)
SK: What is your recommendation for cushioning the shock of the economic downturn?
CG: Entrepreneurship is the key to success at this time. At the same time there is a need to create jobs in the market. A strong infrastructure is also required for creating work for the people. All the rural development policies and education policies first need to reach the places they are meant for. If that is in place we can expect a stronger infrastructure and more opportunities for jobs.
SK: Tell us about your inspiration.
CG: One of the main influences on my life is Mahatma Gandhi. He has inspired me on every step I take. He was according to me the one of the best communicator. He put forth the easiest solutions for the toughest problems in a manner that was understood be the people. At a time when there was no internet or phone each word of his created a movement amongst the people. He was able to unite the whole country. He was able to galvanize people to stand up and come forward for their own good.
SK: One memorable moment while you were campaigning. Something that touched you.
CG: While I was in Chickpet campaigning I met this small group of Marwari young men who serve food to several poor people everyday in that area. They have their own shops but they have come together to start this novel thing of feeding thousand poor people everyday. Seeing so many people satisfied with this group of men touched me. I had tears in my eyes when I saw that. And in return these young men ask for nothing, they are satisfied by seeing the poor have their food. They say they work so hard but do not get any respect in the society.
By this time we have finished our hot cup of coffee and it is almost 9 AM, campaigners have started coming to start the days work. We sign off as he asks to cast my vote for him and support his campaign.
A quick addition. Before we began with the interview, a few members of the Hasiru Usiru, a citizens’ network supporting environmental causes in the city, came up to Capt Gopinath with their pamphlets and told him about their protest against Metro Rail running through Lalbagh. This is what Gopinath had to say on this:
“This is totally wrong on the BBMP’s part to destroy a heritage site. You cannot ruthlessly cut trees in the name of development. I have never heard of this kind of development. Never has development anywhere in the world disturbed the inside infrastructure and beauty of a city. If the Metro has to come, it has to come from outside the Lalbagh, it cannot come through Lalbagh. In fact the Metro should not have come through the city also, it should have come underground or around. I am against cutting of trees and this ruthless destruction of heritage places. I will join you people in your protest.” ⊕