Volunteers from a citizen activist group, Million Voter Rising interviewed candidates contesting in the Karnataka Assembly elections from Mahadevapura constituency. Below is the transcript of the interview with Swaraj Party candidate Ramesh Chander:
Video courtesy: Sunil Gupta, Whitefield Rising.
Your profile mentions that you are a humble person. How will your humility help you in politics? People expect aggressive people to join politics. Will you be successful with humility?
With my friends and family, I am very humble. I am also the head of the family after my father passed away. My family has done very well wherever they are. Most of the people say my humility is my strength . In my profile you would have seen another word – determined – So, I am both humble and determined
In politics, if you attempt doing some good work, you will find 5 other people blocking it. Usually the other parties will block. How will you solve this problem?
I will raise those questions. If I don’t get answers, I will seek your help and we will together raise those questions. With the people power, such blocks can be removed. Also, I plan to use the stick and carrot approach. If there are officials involved in blocking my work and people wish me to use the stick, I will – like they can be transferred if required. First show the stick and get them to work, otherwise, if people need me to use the stick, I will use it.
Earlier you said, win or lose, you will be part of the political process. In this constituency, people don’t even know you or your party. In politics, for you to do good, you need to be seen and known for doing good. What will your media campaign be to let people know what you stand for and believe in.
From my childhood I had learnt not to boast. However, the new lesson I have learnt now, at Swaraj India, is to advertise at least 20% of what good work you have done. You will see that 20% advertising in social media – FB, twitter and print media. After the nomination, you will see us on TV as well. That will all be from Swaraj India. Beyond that, I wish you could be my mouthpiece. Here in Mahadevapura I have seen unknown candidates winning because of their party. I don’t want that in my case. I wish voters know me and for that I need your help.
To answer the first question – why get into politics? I am like any other citizen of Mahadevapura – I have seen many civic issues. I don’t wish to be a civic activist but I need solutions to civic problems we face. Whenever I have gone to the polling station to vote, I have not found a suitable candidate to vote. I have waited long enough. Finally, I thought why not become MLA myself.
To answer the next question – why Swaraj India? I have and believe certain core values, from my family and childhood. I came to Mahadevapura in 1998 as an officer of Hindustan Petroleum. Initially, I did not see my core values matching what any of the usual political parties believed in. I was searching, I asked citizens, I asked some of you people which party is good but I didn’t find a match. Finally, Swaraj India was a party where I found 80% match with my core values.
How long have you been aware and associated with Swaraj Party and its members?
Not very long but Swaraj India’s Yogendra Yadav has been an inspiration for me. I met Swaraj India only a few months back. From last two months, I have seen a lot of value addition in me being a Swaraj India candidate
What according to you can a good MLA get done regardless of which party is CM or PM within the powers of an MLA. Regardless of whichever party comes to power, what actually can a good MLA get done?
I believe as an MLA, I would first go around the constituency and listen to the people for their needs.. All MLAs have the same power, even a minister. They have LAD funds. I can listen to the citizens needs and raise questions in the assembly. By raising questions I will try to get solutions to the problems faced by my constituency.
We understand the role of corporator, MLA, minister and the bureaucracy like BBMP. If we see online, the definition of the role of an MLA seems limited. What, according to you is the role of the MLA?
An MLA has the power to push for new rules and regulations. There are many rules already and we may not need more. How an MLA can help is – by questioning civic agencies like BBMP, BESCOM, BWSSB, etc. why certain things are not happening the way they should, etc. For example, when I joined HPCL as an officer in 1998, there used to be a backlog of 1.5 months for gas delivery. I followed the rules and brought down the backlog to 1 day.
Why have other MLAs not enforced the rules?
It is a valid question and I hate to answer it because I think the other MLAs do not have a good intention of service the community. Their intention is perhaps to grab land or somehow serve themselves rather than the general public. My intention is the address the issues of the public
If you were to become the MLA, what will be your top 3 to 4 focus areas for Mahadevapura?
For the last 60+ years our country has been talking about only one thing – Roti, kapda or makaan – food, clothes and shelter. My party, Swaraj India, has moved up to the next level – Sadak, bijli and paani – which is Road, Electricity and water. When people use public transport like bus, there should be a good platform for them to walk on, good last mile connectivity. Used water should get recycled and be good for use again
The issues you have identified are those of the urban dwellers. How about the villagers living in Mahadevapura area?
Their needs are one level below – Roti, kapda and makaan. For them making ends meet is a big challenge. Education level is limited. I visited a church this morning and was talking to one person. He was mentioning that the education level of the villagers is very low. If they get educated their income level will go up.
You are adding Education to the Sadak, Bijli and Paani, Right?
Yes, that is in the 3rd phase – Education, Health and Safety. Mahadevapura is ready to go to the 3rd phase. But, we don’t have sadak fully yet. Our party’s slogan is “Be the change you want to see”
What can you do for Sadak – Roads? You have seen the road to VIBGYOR school, that has been a problem for 10 years now. People have developed medical conditions using that road over the years. What can you do about that road?
There are ward committees under the corporator. But they have been toothless. As an MLA, I can question their functioning. We can empower the committees and get them to work in their wards
How will you bring funds for the road? How will you resolve something that is in court?
I will question the bureaucracy. The Vibgyor road has not been laid for over a year. I will ask questions and find out why. An RTI query will not be needed. I will get the information and place it on the website. people will be empowered with the information. without that, people will be misled. I will also tell the corporators that they will lose their face if work does not happen.
When some work needs to be done but some political people have other interests there, how will you handle the pressure that will come from other parties that are stronger? Your party is young and may not have much say, when a lot of pressure comes against work you wish to do. How will you handle that?
My party may be only 2 years old but we have process to handle this. Citizens will be our strength. Like how activists have managed to accomplish certain things – 8000 voter applications and the Bellandur skywalk – it is possible to get things done with people power.
In Mahadevapura, two big parties have control – Congress and BJP. The corporators are also 4 each from those parties. They don’t want projects in their own ward to succeed if they can make a point against the opposing party in the next election. In such a situation, why will corporators listen to you when you are from neither of those parties?
I have met all the 8 corporators and I believe in building good relationships and rapport. Also, I will ask them questions as I represent all the people. I will make them understand that work has to happen in a transparent manner. I believe in working together. If that is not possible, we will have to find a workaround
Mahadevapura is a large constituency. How do you plan to cover it to get a grasp of all that is happening? The other parties have reach. How about you?
I intend to use technology. We can put a portal where citizens will raise a ticket about their issues. As people vote their priorities, certain issues will raise to the top.
The government already has such a system – Sahaya – though it has turned out to be a dead end. Why not use that rather than create a new one? Is it not better to make the original government system work?
The tool can be anything – maybe Sahaya. The technology can be only 20%. The rest 80% is the process on top of that.
Give us one example of your top civic issue – maybe polluted lake, no roads, underground drains but no STP, cauvery water has not reached everybody – what is your plan to fight that?
Let me take the STP issue – the citizens of Mahadevapura have lot of ideas how this can be done – I will become the facilitator to brainstorm the ideas and take them forward
The STP issue is a hard one. UGDs have been laid, people have connected to them but the sewage does not flow to any STP. You are new to the system. We have seen the system inside and outside for a while now. Why don’t you take another example. Maybe Varthur Lake or Bellandur lake, that affect us all. They are the current raging fires. The agencies have started looking at these lakes only because we brought them to their notice. How will you solve the lake issue?
First, I definitely intend to solve that problem. We have experts in our party on this matter and I will take their views, take help from people and raise questions in the assembly. 100s of crores have been sanctioned but what is happening. I intend to ask those questions. If good answers come, then we can plan the next action plan. Otherwise, we have to go together and raise these questions
Specifically, about the Varthur lake, what I have seen is there have been lot of organizations which have come and analyzed the lake. I believe an Israeli organization has come and done. They said the solution is very simple ‘just stop polluting the lake’. So I believe if we do that itself, Stop polluting it, that lake problem is solved.
And How do you propose to stop polluting the lake?
That is where I would take the expertise of people like you and there are a lot of experts in our thing, So we can. But I have the intention to solve that, which I feel is lacking in the current system.
I’d like you to dwell a little more as we go through the next questions because I think we should come back on this question. We’d like to walk through any other example that you are comfortable with because something like Varthur Lake, yes, we’ve got now, as citizens, a lot of expertise which we can bring that to you as an example. But what we see is you will get political stumbling blocks. And our curiosity is to know how you will get through a) The political stumbling blocks and b) The internal inefficiencies between the departments or within a department in order to bring attention and resolution to an issue. So you dwell on that question at some point. We’ll come back to that, But I want to go to the next question over here.
What special skills do you bring to the table that the voter should be aware of? You can talk about , of course, your customer relationship as one. And a lot of people have asked this question, What work have you done, social or otherwise, in Mahadevpura because there is a genuine concern about people that may just stand for elections for purposes other than, you know, the intended governance. So, how can you demonstrate that you have worked on the ground in Mahadevpura?
So, See, I am a newbie in the system. But I have the intention. Yeah, so if you give me an opportunity, I would like to work. But in my previous roles, whatever I have done, you know, like worked in Hindustan petroleum and all that. There, actually, I have been very instrumental in providing employment to lot of contract around Mahadevpura. Putting some processes to help, in terms of, you know, the women in the house to get the cylinder on time. And some organizations like Karunashraya, worked with them in raising funds. And abroad I worked with a lot of organizations to set up libraries. They wanted to set up a library. In Madurai, there is an Indian Association of Blind. They wanted a system to manage donors. So like this, there are a couple of things which I have not been doing as part of my regular activity, but I have been doing that. But right now, through this platform, I would like to do it. But I am newbie. I may not have done many of the social, but I have an intention to serve people.
May I follow that up with a question? Yes. So, What has prevented you from doing that till now? … you have seen a lot of citizens engage on the ground, over many years… What has prevented you from engaging in all these activities? You have even had a platform all these years.
Yeah Correct. Like you said, there is a iteration point in Chemistry. Somehow I think, the iteration point came this year. Better late than never. First twenty years of my life, I spent in school, colleges. Next twenty years in professional and entrepreneurship. May be, the iteration point hit now and it says now, you know, it says it’s time for you to get to the next level.
I think the question asked is not about your joining politics now. But the question asked is how come you have not engaged in any ground level civic social activities, such as may be taking up a lake for rejuvenation or may be even join us for a spot fix, as we have done so many. And it has been a public sort of thing. It would be nice for the people to know, why that has not yet happened as a logical pre-step
Yeah, so, It was always there in the mind now it has come into action. And Again, I would like to tell you, like, what Yoginder Yadav ji also told me. Actually the process of giving a ticket was very cumbersome. Although, I hated going through the process, but I liked that there was so much process. During that, what Yoginder Yadav ji said was, Election is just one activity in our, whatever we are doing. Remaining things are whatever you are saying – Struggling, Getting those things. So right now, it is Try. You will see that I will do more. It was there in my mind, I didn’t do it as an action. But now I will do. And Election is just a point, whether we win or lose, that is going to continue because I’ve got a good team like Swaraj India through whom.. Even Swaraj Kendras, they are not politically affiliated. I’d like to associate with that and take up. And my form of social service will be more in terms of education, that is where I feel I can add a lot of value. So I would like to go to the villages. See how lot of people can be educated. And educate people on civic things, something like that.
I have a question. So Mahadevpura, as you know, has a lot of villages also. So there’s a mix – Urban, Semi-urban combination. What you have so far spoken sounds very nice for the urban crowd. What is it that you going to bring to the non-urban and make them comfortable that you are going to also work for them, That’s a very important thing.
So, Today morning, I told you right. I was in one of the villages of Mahadevpura. There, when I was talking to that, one of the church Fathers, He was saying Education level of the people is low. See, they are not able to meet the basic expenses itself. They just going on neck to neck. And he has done a research and said No, if the people get educated to the next level, more so the need. So I feel that the third phase of Mahadevpura can be going to these villages, We help those people to get educated and move into the next level. So like for example, the schools which are there, make their facilities better. Give them more knowledge about how they can get educated and they can come to the next level. I think for the villagers, that is my dream. To make them educated and educate their parents also that, you know, They need to educate their kids in villages.
To Further that same example, since that is an area of passion, we are working with 5 Government schools over here, as an example. Any many groups are working in the Government schools in their area. These are citizens just volunteering. As an MLA, How do you propose to improve the facilities of that Government? You do have stumbling blocks. For example, the Block Education office himself is the first stumbling block, or the headmaster itself. And when you go to these institutions, you will notice that a lot of them are completely dilapidated. And they are completely dependent on, you know, CSR support in order to improve things. Specifically, what will you do and how will you resolve it to improve the facilities, including the level of education of the teachers in the Government School.
So from the schools, what I understand, whatever research that I have done, the major challenge of the schools, is that they have a lack of good teachers, in the schools. So, of course, I don’t know if that is correct. But we need talk to experts and find out. So we can, I as an MLA, your representative, We can look at adding more teachers with the schools. Facilities, you know the LAD fund is there. We get 2 crores of LAD fund every year, in which every month around seventeen lakhs is there. Definitely a portion of that that be allocated to improve the facilities at the schools. And LAD fund is authorized to spend for education. And one step above that is, I see, lot of corporate in Mahadevpura. I see Huawei Technologies donating laptops to lot of schools. So like Huawei Technologies, since I am from the corporate world, and that is one of the USP. I can go to all the corporates in Mahadevpura and see if they can divert some of their funds or allocate some of their funds for education purpose, which I am sure they will do.
One question. How will you ensure that strict enforcement is done in our zone with already existing laws. You yourself mentioned that new laws are not required. Existing laws are more than enough. We, actually have high court order also, on a lot of things. As an example, For Garbage management through citizen engagement, many high court order have come. Even, without the engagement of an MLA, as an example. But we see blatant violation on the ground. We work actively with the lowest level Government officers, all the way up the chain on both the bureaucracy as elected rep. Why will you be different in how you enforce?
But going back to the enforcement, right, what if it’s not an issue of the poor government official not having the support necessary. One classic example is the Plastic Ban. We see that, you know, basically the shopkeeper can provide hundred rupees, two hundred rupees and simply the inspection moves on. How will you actually stop that?
That’s why I am saying na. Let’s say I work with the Health inspector closely, I meet him every month. I can understand what is his challenges. When I meet people…
His challenge is the requirement of more money. How will you resolve that? More pocket money.
You are talking about corruption. Suppose they are not following the rules. Already the rules and guidelines are available. If we need to transfer those kind of officials, then we can take steps to transfer them and get the right kind of people in here.
So that leads to a question, How will you influence the transfer of such officials, on what basis? Because, you are new. You are a new party and it’s a large established…
But this is my constituency, our constituency! An MLA definitely has power here. I will be strong and show show the rules. For officials who don’t follow rules, I will tell them that my people have asked me to transfer you and I will pursue it strongly.
Citizens in different areas have different priorities – eg. Varthur and Bellandur. Those agendas may contradict each other. That will need political experience to deal with. Priorities could be due to personal interests, social, their class/caste, gender, etc. You are new to this type of politics. I am not asking for specific answers. How will you face those opposing priorities? Different groups will try to influence you differently. How will you assess what is right?
The first thing I will see is – intention. so definitely there is an intention to solve the issues of the people. So, I might not be the best expert, but I believe there are a lot of experts available – even in Swaraj India I see there are a lot of experts – I will definitely go ask them – I will take help from a mentor – already they have given me a mentor in Swaraj India. So, I will take the advice of the mentor, I will ask people for suggestions and I will take forward the route that is most suitable for the organization and as you said if there are multiple people coming with multiple priorities then we can use the technology where people suggest their priorities and people can vote online. The priority that is most popular will be taken forward to implementation
Who is your mentor?
Right now KP Singh
At a Corporator level, there are ward committees. In other places there are lobby groups. Are you thinking of creating a group that is not mandated by law? It is important for you to function, to be able to take suggestions of different groups – you could create a group for yourself – would you consider doing something like that and what would be the guidelines if you were to consider? A 10-member panel from different areas or different classes, different genders, –would you consider forming such a group and how will you do it?
Our party is already doing that. most of the political parties start with the different agenda. But Swaraj India distributed the ticket to me on April 3rd and, I was surprised that, they started talking about things like the environment and all that kind of things. Other parties don’t do that. For example, when Yogendra Yadav Ji visited us here, we went to Azim Premji University and we had called those people to discuss the environment. So yes, already our party is doing that. We like to make groups having People who are experts in different areas and we will take their advice. The policies and procedures of Swaraj India are being formed by talking to all those people on such panels
Will you be ready to have a group that is composed of nonpartisan citizen representatives? These representatives may come from different areas of expertise or different areas of interest. Such groups could be set up for a period of 5 years. We are not professionals to be included in your advising committee.
Yes, I am ready to do it. I will ask people to come forward and suggest solutions to the problem. Unlike other parties, one of the things that our party has told us is, that if we see something is wrong, we can always question them. Even the ticket distribution of mine. When Yogendar Yadav Ji came here, he said he didn’t make the decision. It was the local people. It was decentralized, and the decentralized team also told me that if there is something I don’t like about the party, I can always question them. The party will not govern most of the things. It will be the people who will govern, and I will be their representative. Of course, I must tell this to our party, but I have confidence that they will accept the people’s mandate.
There are core principles for a party. That is why you belong to that party. Can you tell us – What are the core principles of the party – Those principles that the party and you will never compromise?
As I told you, my core principles are similar to Swaraj India because for the last 20 years I have been searching, now I have found such a party and I am ready to associate with it. First core value of Swaraj India is being against corruption. My party will not compromise about corruption. That is also my core principle. I have seen a lot of places where because of corruption, lot of people have gotten affected and suffered. Even my family. Definitely I will not compromise on corruption. I will never take any money as bribe. Second core principle for Swaraj India is environment protection. Swaraj India party would do its best to protect the environment.
What are your own personal values, about which you feel very passionate.What are your values?
My core value is honesty. I am always honest. And relationships. I like to maintain good relationships with people.
There are women who support you. What are your views on gender itself? Do you care for equal representation for women’s rights? what are your views on gender, what are personal views on gender? what are your political views on gender?
I always feel women have to come forward & participate. Even in our party also when they were distributing tickets there was a mandate that so many have to be women. Definitely I would recommend women to be more participative. I don’t have an idea right now, but if you give me time, I will understand the issues involved. But it should be acceptable to the people
How important is caste as an identity to you? Regardless of castes, those who are not on par in terms of education, in terms of equality, in terms of job employment, – how important is it to you to provide equal opportunity to everybody and how would you do that? different groups have different levels. For example, SC/ST. Very few candidates are ready to come forward as SC/ST… given this is a reserved constituency. How will you help them to come forward?
In Mahadevpura, 15-20% are SC/ST. I have not known them earlier. But in this new role, I will reach out to them. And I would like to work with, for them and improve their lives. See my own family. I and my brother are the first engineers. Our family was also struggling to progress. After we became engineers, our entire family status has risen. I would like to replicate the same model. Education is vital and I will make sure education opportunities are available to them.
Coming to healthcare. What is your opinion about the government hospitals?
In Mahadevpura we are in the second phase – road, electricity and water. Right now, we are struggling at that level itself. In the next two years, if we work together, we can solve this road, electricity and water problem.We can then go to the third phase – education, health and safety. We can solve this by working along with the government. I have heard there is no government hospital In Bellandur. So we have to work on getting all those such facilities.
What happens if you lose in the election? What is your vision for your party and yourself?
I have been in Swaraj India from some time and am happy about it. Election is only one part of it. Yogendra Yadav says there are 5 things. Fighting elections is only one part. I will focus on the 4 remaining parts. getting knowledge, and others. And it is also very clear to us that winning or losing is not the important part. The electoral process of competing is important. Following the model code of conduct, limiting the spend to only 28 lakhs. Collecting money from voters themselves. Getting ticket itself is different. In Swaraj India one will not know one is getting ticket till that morning. I got a call from a reporter in the morning for my profile. I asked him if I have got the ticket. He became silent because he didn’t want to reveal it to me. Maybe you got the ticket, he said. Till Yogendraji announced, it was not sure. They follow a very strict process. That kind of process are not followed by any of the other parties. You pay 1 crore and you get a ticket. In this party, there is no money. Only I need to show my credibility. And they do all the checking.
Have you tried talking to other parties? Like BJP or Congress?
Some of the other parties tried talking to me. But my core values did not match with them. That’s why I liked Swaraj India, to make a huge difference in the Indian political system.
One major mission for Swaraj India is environment. Can you elaborate on that? In Mahadevpura what will you want to do? And as a resident you have lived here, what will you want to do?
I am new member to the party. I don’t have full details. When I was in the school, I studied in KV Hebbal. We used to celebrate Vanamotsava. Every person had to plant one sapling. Now people are cutting trees. I want people to stop cutting trees, but if they need to cut, then they have to first plant 2 saplings. Bangalore was called a garden city – now it is not. With Vanamotsava, we can bring it back. polluted Kere is one more of the major challenges in our constituency. We need to clean those kere lakes .
Related to this, are you aware that 10 trees were cut this week near More store? What would you do in this case?
I wish to be the people’s representative. I will demand going by rules. As a representative, I will question.
On the issue of water – We saw water in plentiful. Our children or grandchildren will likely face a dire situation about water. How to stop that from coming true?
I am a normal citizen. But i will get expert opinion and my intention is to definitely find a solution.
Is there a need to speak the language of the place you live in?
In our Constitution good intention is more important. not language