Amid a busy day meant for campaigning, Sureshkumar took time to meet us during a break. He is one of the MLAs in Bengaluru who are in touch with people and socially active. Being a senior member of the Opposition, he has been actively raising issues related to Bengaluru and the State in the Assembly, seeking solutions from the Government. He spoke about his work, party’s policies and more in the interview. Edited excerpts:
What have you been able to achieve as an MLA in the last five years?
As a true representative of the people from Rajajinagar, I have taken care of both education and health issues in Rajajinagar. Rajajinagar is the first constituency to possess a 3D facility in the entire state: a free dialysis centre for poor patients, a low cost diagnostic centre as well as a low cost diabetic centre. All three cater to the needs of poorer sections.
The charges for services at the diagnostic centre are 60% lower than what you would have to pay elsewhere. The same holds true for the diabetic centre. At the dialysis centre BPL patients can avail free dialysis. We have provided outdoor gyms in all the parks, pure drinking water, planted more trees etc keeping the health factor in mind.
Coming to the education sector, we have provided all facilities in the government schools. We have been able to start a CBSE school in collaboration with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in a slum area. We have an organisation called Vikasana, through which, over the last four years,we have been giving free special tuitions to needy students to instill confidence in them. These students are from the economically weaker sections and study in government schools, mostly at the SSLC level. Till today, about 2000 students have benefited from such tuition. Basaveshwara School provides us the space.
Since roads, drains and the like are anyway taken care of by the BBMP, I concentrate on health and education and feel that I have succeeded to some extent.
There is another important project which I initiated as the Minister — the Okalipuram corridor. I was not in charge of Bangalore city, but I took an interest proactively and felt the need for an Okalipuram signal free corridor, though it doesn’t come under my constituency, it is in Gandhinagar assembly. I felt it would be of great help for the citizens of Rajajinagar and so, I got it approved in the cabinet, and got the tender approved too.
I am constantly monitoring the project and giving updates through my Facebook page. I am very confident that the signal free corridor will be completed by November this year. This will be a dream project of my life.
What is the visible impact of the health initiatives you have undertaken, for example at the Nagaraj Memorial Hospital, or the Deen Dayal Dialysis Centre?
We have upgraded the referral Hospital in Srirampuram as well. This is an area mostly inhabited by the poor, so this hospital has now become a great facility for women of poorer sections, who receive the necessary help and guidance. Till today, about 24000 cases of dialysis have been completed at the Dialysis Centre. Around 30000 people have benefited from the Tapasana Diagnostic Centre. It has definitely made a huge impact on the poorer sections.
You have spent some money on a water plant, right? Has that addressed the problem? What has been the visible impact?
The utility of these RO plants will be felt when there is no water supply. Instead of depending upon water tankers, the quality of water in which is doubtful, people can get pure water from the RO plant in the absence of piped water. I am not denying the purity of BWSSB-provided water — they are doing a great job. This is a stand-by project, where we can be assured of pure water when water supply is disrupted.
Is that groundwater?
Is there any mechanism to stop people from misusing it? People might take water for 5 rupees and sell it for 80 rupees in the market…
Yes, there is a mechanism. We have issued coupons in some places, and we have issued cards to some residents. By and large, we have taken a stance that we should not be exploited by commercial interests.
What is your view on politics based on religion, for example by targeting Muslims, or demanding votes in the name of Lingayats? Do you support it?
See, I belong to a party which believes in the politics of development. Development is the only thing we have as reference, as the guiding point for any representative. For example, we have opened a dialysis centre. We don’t discriminate whether he (the beneficiary) is a Muslim, a Hindu or a Christian, definitely not. Anybody is welcome.
Narendra Modi said exactly the same thing: When we electrify villages, we are not supplying electricity to one community. It is for all the communities who live in these villages. So this agenda of trying to get votes based on religion, caste or community should be put to rest.
In 1952, when the Representation of the People Act came into force, the slogan was, ‘Cast your vote’. Now after 66 years, the slogan is, ‘Please vote your caste’. That should not have been the situation. Especially within political parties and as leaders, we should take the initiative to change that.
Still it is a reality even in the BJP, is it not?
No no, not in the BJP – maybe at the individual level. I can say, it is more predominant within the Congress party, who tried to divide the Lingayat Veerashaiva community, who have always appeased minorities and treated them as vote banks. As a BJP worker/activist, I have never believed in it, I have never followed the principle of seeking votes on the basis of caste or religion or hatred.
When it comes to choosing chief ministerial candidates or Chief Ministers in your own party, they will have that calculation…
Definitely not. See, Yeddyurappa has been our leader, since decades. I have seen him when he became the MLA for the first time. And we did not make him a leader just because he belongs to some community. We made him a leader because he emerged as the farmers’ leader. He was the first person who took up farmers’ issues and really fought against these governments. So, for us, Yeddyurappa is the leader of the state, not a particular community.
Yes, the community itself definitely feels that here’s a leader belonging to their community. We cannot prevent it. But for us, he is a fighter, a person who can take any issue, without compromising, and he has succeeded to a large extent in finding solutions to the problems of farmers and other weaker sections.
You are one among those politicians who use Facebook a lot. Has it helped you in any way in your duties as an MLA? What does it mean to you?
See, it’s not a question of helping me. For me Facebook is a medium through which I express myself. If you have followed my Facebook page, you would have seen that it is not 24×7 political Facebook page. I think I am an exception in that sense.
I use Facebook to bring out many human interest issues. Wherever I go, if I see something positive, I just post it.
For example, I had been to Nanjangud for an election campaign, when I saw a person who was known as Vade Basappa. His main source of income is preparing and selling Vada Bajji etc. With his income from that business, he educated his son, who went on to become an engineer, and is now studying MS in Germany. It’s a very positive story that would inspire any person. I use my Facebook as tool to convey good, positive stories. And in a way it has helped me to become more positive.
So what’s your suggestion to other politicians who use Facebook?
Politicians, as a class, have ample opportunity to come in contact with various human interest issues. So I feel it is the duty of a political leader not to treat his Facebook page exclusively as a political tool. He should use it to educate his citizens and voters, so that they can also become more positive.
Unfortunately our mainstream media is not doing that. Mainstream media, especially electronic channels, have no flair for positive stories. Exceptions are there, that’s different. So it is the duty of a political leader to convey those positive human interest stories to citizens of his constituency.
What power does an MLA have over corporators? Why do all MLAs end up doing a corporator’s job addressing roads, garbage issues etc.?
No MLA has any power over his corporators. If anybody thinks that he is above the corporators, I think he does not know the division of responsibilities. I was a corporator for two terms. And I have been an MLA for four terms.
Srirampuram. Then it was called a division, not ward. An MLA’s responsibility is something, the Corporator’s is something different. But, in our system, where institutions have miserably failed to deliver, people find no difference between the two. So my belief is that MLAs and corporators must work together. No one should try to dominate the other.
As an MLA, by using my office and connections, I should help any corporator who comes to me seeking guidance or help. Till today I have never overpowered any corporator. I myself was a corporator, I know the duties, responsibilities of a corporator. MLAs should do their job. Corporators should do theirs. In many places they can work together with cooperation.
Have you been able to coordinate with corporators irrespective of their party?
Definitely. See, I don’t politicise any issue. I am a political person, a BJP man during elections. Between elections, I am the representative of Rajajinagar citizens. I don’t mix politics and development. For me, there should be development in politics, not politics in development. So we should not politicise each and everything, and we should work together so that the constituency or the ward can develop further.
Is there enough monetary compensation for the work that an MLA does? Is it enough to manage the expenses?
See, he did not ask me to contest elections, nor he (pointing at two party workers sitting in the room). I contested on my own. My party also gave me a ticket. Since I contested on my own volition, I should not complain over whether I am getting suitable monetary help to do my job. When I was a corporator, I used to get 500 rupees per month. I was very happy with that.
I was one of those who rode a scooter till my second term as an MLA. Even today I am happy to move about on my two-wheeler. So there should be no harping on monetary benefits. But people say they should get more so that they can work better, especially in rural areas. I have never considered this question of whether representatives should get more money or more honorarium.
But in urban areas if you don’t have monetary compensation, you will see bad elements coming into politics, right? Like people with interest in real estate…
Ultimately, it depends on the citizens. If they want an element with money or muscle power to enter politics, we don’t have a choice. Our belief is that enlightened citizens always prefer enlightened representatives who do not indulge in real estate, land mafia, granite mafia, mining mafia, education mafia etc. So our representative should be a true representative of the people. He should represent all sections.of his constituents. Finally, it depends upon the voters and citizens.
A corporator gets about what, about 7,500? Is it enough for them? How much time do they have to dedicate to the job?
It is a 24×7 job. If you want luxury in life, 7,500 is nothing, it’s peanuts. But if you can work within those limits, you can definitely work as a corporator, and I can work as an MLA within the honorarium fixed for me.
Is it enough to run the office and manage it?
If you are a cadre-based party, if you are a party activist, definitely you can manage. But there is a feeling that corporators should get more money or secretarial assistance. I think that the BBMP can think about providing this.
And you have this 28 lakh limit for campaigning for MLA candidates. Is it enough in realistic terms or do you need more?
Now, the Election Commission has fixed it and we should spend within those limits. That’s enough.
You have seen many ratings for MLAs coming out. How do you think an MLA should be rated exactly?
I saw the BPAC rating. I was just surprised. The ratings should be based on how a representative has attended and participated in the assembly, how he has utilised his MLA funds, whether he has come out with innovative measures in his constituency. What is the people’s opinion about him – whether he is responsive or not. I think these should be the parameters.
When you say innovative, how do we get to know whether an MLA has undertaken something that’s innovative?
For example, there was a district innovative fund of the central government – I came to know about that. When I spoke to the DC they said I should come out with some innovative idea. It is a fund of 1 crore. So I had been to Jayadeva hospital, where I happened to see the Karnataka Institute of Diabetology, where there was a huge crowd. So I thought why should I not start a diabetes centre in my constituency? When I presented my project, they were very happy. This is an example. The website of the DC’s office will have all such information.
In all these years of your political career, what have you learnt? What’s your biggest learning?
It is a continuous learning process. Everyday you have to learn. One thing is certain: No political leader, no MLA should think that he is omnipotent, or omnipresent, or omniscient. He is not all-powerful. And he is not a sarvajna (one who knows everything) — he should learn, he should listen to the people. He should have patience.
Why do people come to you? Because they have elected you, you have have become their representative. You should not treat this post as a license to become authoritarian. You should be patient, you should be a good listener, you should be accessible to the people always.
What is your favourite area in governance?
For me, I was a law minister. I was an urban development minister – I was looking after all corporations other than Bangalore. I enjoyed urban governance. My basic liking is for good governance. If you have good governance in the state and local body, I think everything will be in order.
How do you define good governance?
Good governance is pro-people. Persons at the helm of affairs should always feel that any project should help that last man in the queue. If any government is pro-people and has the mindset to help the last man, it can be called good governance. And it should be transparent, it should be responsive, it should be accountable. More than all these things, it should have that compassion towards people.
When you talk about transparency, assembly debates are put online, right? It is not in a format that is accessible to all. What’s the mandate for the government? Should everything be made public?
We are thinking of converting the whole legislature into e-legislature, a paperlesss legislature. Things are being shaped in that direction. Over the coming five-year term, everything will turn paperless.
Irrespective of who comes to power?
Irrespective of who comes to power. Everything will be in the public domain in a proper format, anybody can access it.
Even the committee reports?
The cabinet subcommittee reports?
No, not those. Ultimately cabinet subcommittee reports will remain confidential until and unless approved by the cabinet.
You are heading the BJP Manifesto Committee. How did you go about compiling the manifesto?
First, we went for crowd-sourcing. I posted my request through my Facebook page and gave my email id. I received about 2000 suggestions from all over the state. Then, through our party forums like raitha morcha, yuva morcha, mahila morcha, SC morcha, we collected some more ideas.
In our committee, I’m fortunate to have very efficient persons like Madal Gopal who was the additional chief secretary of the state, Mr Somashekhar who was the principal secretary, ex-irrigation minister Bommai, cooperation field expert Mr Savadi and others. So we could collect a good number of ideas, which we compiled and presented to our core committee.
So, it’s not a party-driven agenda but people-driven?
Definitely not a party-driven agenda. On the first day itself I decided that it is not a BJP manifesto, but a people’s manifesto.
What was your learning when you were in the Koliwada Committee (on lake encroachments)?
The only thing I learnt was that I should not have been in that Committee.
The committee exceeded its limits. Koliwada was the chairman when Kagodu Thimmappa was the speaker. The Speaker appointed this committee and made Koliwada the chairman. When Koliwada himself became the speaker, he should not have continued as the chairman of the committee.
Propriety demands that a speaker should not become the chairman of any committee because ultimately, this chairman has to hand over the report to the speaker. In this case, therefore, Koliwada would hand over the report from the right hand to the left hand.
And the chairman sought extensions at least five to six times. Whom did he ask? The same Koliwada. Koliwada sought extension from Koliwada. And they started going for inspections, making a list of buildings etc. Many people started talking about the overall attitude of the committee. So I resigned and came out. I am not a signatory to the report.
When you contested elections for the first time, what was your vision? Have you been able to achieve it?
I contested elections in 1983 for the first time. I was a young advocate then. I had to contest sheerly because of pressure from my party and friends — I was a reluctant contestant. I personally wanted to pursue law. Then we contested, and BJP won for the first time. From then on, there has been no looking back.
Every term, we have tried to improve facilities for the common man. So I’m one person who is accessible and physically mobile, moving around the constituency. Responding to citizens’ needs is a great step towards alleviating their problems.
What’s your highest ambition right now in politics?
Not to have any ambition is my ambition.
You don’t aspire for any other higher position in politics?
If it comes, it comes. You should not aspire for it. So I’m not an aspirant for any other higher position.
Why should people vote for you again? What’s your pitch?
I think I have been a true representative, taking care of their needs. I haven’t done anything wrong which has made my voters, my citizens feel ashamed. On the other hand, I think they are proud of me, because of my attitude inside and outside the assembly, in the panel discussions etc.
I’ve been a responsive representative. I have tried my best to solve issues without any personal agenda. I don’t have an educational institution, I’m not into land dealing or real estate, I don’t have a business, I’m a 24X7 representative of my people.
My wife is a journalist. My daughter is a doctor, who is already married. So I think people know the very purpose of my being in politics. I feel people think that here is one tried and tested, trustworthy person.