Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is contesting in a few seats in Bengaluru, in which K R Puram is one. Lingaraj Urs has been campaigning hard to gain ground to take on the incumbent Basavaraj Byrathi. Here are the excerpts of an interview with him.
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You are a first time candidate in the Assembly elections and the people of K R Puram don’t know much about you. Tell us a bit about your experience in public service and administration.
I think I’ll go back a little in time, to the roots of my career. I spent 30 years in IT and co-founded a company called Genisys. My first foray into an elected office was in 2015, when I got elected in the Kannamangala panchayat. That is the lowest tier in the democratic structure. That’s where my public life started.
However, I have been involved in social, CSR endeavours in this area since 2008. My wife and I started off by supporting 3 schools; after I got elected, we formed a small team of people, and the network has now grown to about 23 schools, impacting 1300 children.
We wanted to engage more and bring communities together, and so decided to have four pillars: education, health, environment and infrastructure. That is how I’ve gone about doing things on the social service front.
What is your vision for K R Puram? If you become the MLA, what changes are you going to bring?
A lot has to change in K R Puram. It’s probably the most neglected area in Bengaluru. But having said that, most people who work in a better neighbourhood or a better locality such as Mahadevapura actually live in K R Puram.
K R Puram is almost caught in a time warp. Even ‘utter neglect’ is a mild word (for the kind of governance it has seen). There are 7 lakh people and there is no hospital of any stature. There is only one government hospital. The government schools are in absolute shambles. The crime rate is probably the highest compared to any other location in Bengaluru. At one point, it accounted for about 50% of the FIRs filed in Bengaluru.
On the civic amenities side, the less said the better. [The lack of] bus services and traffic issues are the order of the day (sic). When Bengaluru experienced light showers over the last few days, there are areas that went without power for 2 days. A colleague of mine who works with me on the campaign with me did not have power from last afternoon to this morning. It’s unbelievable that such a situation actually prevails in a modern, metropolitan city like Bengaluru.
I don’t know why K R Puram is in such a bad state. But what I do know is that this has been caused by poor governance. The MLA [of the constituency] is not capable of handling any of this. The only thing he does, and does consistently, is distribution of money. There’s nothing else happening in K R Puram. No work.
You were the Founder and Director of Genisys Software India. Why did you choose to move from that into politics?
As you know, politics runs in my blood. My grandfather was a former chief minister of Karnataka. He had a huge influence on me and I always wanted to be in politics. But obviously, coming from a middle class background, there are certain priorities in life and you have to settle that before you go after something that is your passion. Right now, what I am doing is chasing my passion.
Did Mr. Devaraj Urs have a role to play in your entering politics? What legacy of his do you want to carry forward?
Tremendous influence, no doubt. He was an icon, statesman. Even today, when I walk around K R Puram, people fondly recall the good work he did and the policies he implemented in his time. It’s sad to say that there is a claim by the Siddaramaiah government that 60,000 crores have been spent on OBCs and this is what Devaraj Urs was focused on. I don’t see it reaching any of the people on the ground. Their economic conditions, living conditions and livelihood haven’t changed. So I don’t know where the 60,000 crores have gone. And yet scheme after scheme, programme after programme, are named after my grandfather whenever it comes to OBCs .
So, was Devaraj Urs your grandfather or great uncle?
He was my grand uncle. But he was more like a grandfather because we would come back in the summer holidays and spend time with him.
Devaraj Urs was affiliated with the Indian National Congress. So, why did you choose to go with AAP instead of INC?
These are two different times that we are looking at. You must realise the different perspective. Secondly, my grandfather also left Congress. Right before his untimely demise, he had left Congress and started his own party. As far as I am concerned, Congress stands for corruption. Everybody knows it. Their governance and transparency are abysmally low-level. The kind of work which I am doing locally, whether it is at the Panchayat or through our federation, is something that the Aam Aadmi Party has done successfully in Delhi. I could relate to it and there was some common ground. Hence I joined AAP.
What are some tasks you would prioritise in K R Puram if you became the MLA?
The focus will be on crime management, health, civic amenities and traffic to start with. There are quite a few other things that need to be dealt with, for which I will need a little more time. For example, lake encroachment. This is sad state of affairs. Lakes are in the clutches of the real estate mafia. It seems to be very well structured, evident from the way they are going about encroachment in these lakes. That is something I would like to focus on as well.
K R Puram faces a lot of traffic issues. What are some specific things you would do to counter the traffic problem?
This is not based on some extensive study on the area or its problems – which I would definitely like to do as soon as I get elected. I think a simple solution would be to see if we can move the bus station onto the other side of the cable bridge, where there is a lot of vacant land. I presume that some of it is government land, some of it is ITI land. All of this can be dealt with and if we can create a modern bus station just like the one we have on Mysore Road for buses going towards Mysore and Kerala, we can have something similar here for buses going towards Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. That, I think, would take away a lot of the traffic and clogging that happens during the peak hours. This would bring great relief to the Tin Factory area where people have to go through this problem day in and day out.
How do you see yourself tackling corruption? Do you think corruption is avoidable in public life?
There are many reasons for corruption. One of the reasons is disparity of income. Normally, when we talk of corruption, it is in relation to our interface with government departments and agencies. We don’t talk about corruption when we deal with the private sector. A government officer has too much authority for the salary he is being paid. The compensation structure is a bit ‘off’. That is where we need to fix it.
Responsibility and compensation must go hand-in-hand. People have aspirations, but they shouldn’t take the wrong route to meet their aspirations. If we can somehow bring that balance between compensation and responsibility in the government, corruption will come down automatically.
Are you aware of an MLA’s salary and allowances? Do you think it is sufficient to carry out the duties of an MLA?
When someone enters this kind of role, they go in with the mindset that they are going to be in public service. When in public service, compensation is the least of your priorities. I understand that for the work and the time being spent, one must be compensated. But it is service that takes precedence over compensation. I would like to let it be there, without discussing numbers.
It is not one person or one group of people in the government who are responsible for corruption. There are layers and each of the layers has to be addressed differently. People who are elected must come in with the clear view that they are in public service. And people who are employed must receive compensation for the responsibilities they take up. A balance must be struck. Hopefully with that, corruption can be reduced.
You have an IT background, what are your thoughts on the recent issue of Cambridge Analytica? Do you think people in Karnataka have anything to fear?
You have put me in a spot there. As far as Cambridge Analytica is concerned, it would be unfair for me to comment. But let me give you a more general view of what I feel about it, and how data is handled these days. Data is of paramount importance and the whole thing works on trust. It is very similar to the way we trust the banks and put our money in them – there are rules, regulations, norms. But the way the bank manages your money determines how you feel. It is the same thing with data. Data is provided to all these agencies like Facebook and Twitter on the basis of trust – when that element gets short changed, that’s when you feel hurt. Today, Facebook and some of these social media platforms like Google owe people an explanation about how their security has been compromised, and for what reason.
If you win, how do you intend to spend your MLA LAD funds? What would be your main focus?
I’d like to understand that a bit more, in terms of what can be done and what can’t, and where the funds can be deployed. I don’t have a full understanding of that, I’ve been trying to read and understand that better. Having said that, I want to spend that money purely in the way that I’ve committed to in my manifesto.
It is a great programme that the government has provided to an MLA. I was shocked to find that a 100 crores in the MLA funds haven’t been utilised, which is just silly. People should benefit from it. I think this has to do with people not knowing how to utilise it.
K R Puram is one of the biggest constituencies in Bengaluru and has one of the largest number of voters. But with AAP having no significant party presence in Bengaluru, how do you think you will be noticed in your constituency and in Bengaluru?
As an MLA, I should be noticed. As a party man, I have no doubt that AAP will play a very structured opposition role if we are elected. We are taking some steps, it may be baby steps, we hope to win as many seats as we can and form a significant presence in the legislative assembly. We would definitely like to say that we’d like to win. But we have to be realistic as well. In the current situation, we may not be able to form the government with the seats we win. And if you don’t form the government, the only other option is to be in the opposition and do constructive work as part of the opposition.
How do you intend to solve the waste management issue in K R Puram?
What we need is a comprehensive, speedy plan on waste management. What is shocking is that the government hasn’t thought about. Why are they sleeping over it? Why do they only think about collecting waste and dumping it? On one hand, they talk about waste segregation at a unit level, (but then) when it is transported it is all put together. What is the point of segregation? People have lost trust in the way waste management is happening today. There are simple steps that the government can take, but again, total neglect on that front. I can make presentations to you as I have done to a group of MLAs about the many solutions that can be easily implemented.
The corporators in your constituency will be from different parties. How do you intend to bring them together to work for the betterment of this area?
Democracy is all about working together. Working with people and with the elected representatives. I will have to work with elected and un-elected officials. There is no choice there at all. That is going to be the norm of the day – to work with everyone. We will have the opportunity to have our own corporators, maybe in the next year or so. Or even before that if the bifurcation of BBMP happens. Once I have corporators from my own party, the rapport will be even better.
What do you commit to do in the first three months in the Assembly/Constituency if you’re elected?
In the first 90 days? Isn’t that a hard ask from where we are today? We have to be purposeful and show people action. In the first 90 days, we have to ensure a high level of people participation in every initiative. This will be based on our manifesto. That’s what I’d like to do – bring in transparency in operations. There is co-ownership in everything we do. Once we set up these platforms, together we can achieve a lot.
What steps will you take for the upliftment of slum dwellers or the underprivileged in your area?
They have some very basic demands. From what I’ve seen by going around the constituency slums, they have basic needs. One of the requirements is that living conditions need to be improved.
There is the problem of ownership. People who have lived in an area for 30-35 years still haven’t got their house ownership papers for their property. This is more of a legal matter than anything else.
Then there is healthcare, which doesn’t exist in that area at all. We need to set up primary health centers. Another thing they ask for, and I completely agree (with the demand), is that their children deserve equal education. Schools have be rebuilt in many ways from scratch.
Finally, if you happen to lose, will you continue to work for the people or will you take a break and move away from public life?
I’ve actually moved away from my corporate life and this is a new career that I’ve started. So I don’t know any other career now. I will definitely be in politics. Winning and losing is part of the game, but I look forward to winning. Having said that, the roll of the dice can turn out in any way. But yes, I am here to stay in public service and politics.
Shravya Srinath and Gauri Mullerpatten are summers interns at Citizen Matters.