He has contested polls three times earlier, and has lost it to more powerful candidates from recognised parties. Yet, former AAP Spokesperson for Karnataka, Ravi Krishna Reddy, is an undeterred independent candidate, who has chosen Jayanagar assembly constituency for the elections going to be held in May 2018. Losing has not killed his spirit, but has only served to invigorate it.
Jayanagar is where his journey started a decade ago, when he contested as an independent candidate. After joining political parties for some time, he is back to give the polls another shot, as he believes lawmakers have true power.
In 2013, he contested from BTM Layout assembly constituency representing Lok Satta Party. With Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s emergence on the national political scenario, the Anekal-born engineer ran from Bengaluru Rural Constituency in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
After quitting politics due to differences with AAP, he started Lanchamukta Karnataka Nirmana Vedike (Forum for Building Bribe-Free Karnataka).The forum conducts social audits, aiming to bring down corruption in different government bodies. His one note-one vote campaign for this election, allowing the voter to democratically back the chosen candidate, has caught the attention of people.
He went door-to-door meeting the poor in the constituency for more than 100 days. He has a helpline number used by them to report corruption (088842 77730). Most importantly, the bold allegations and protests have never failed to keep the government in check.
In a conversation with Citizen Matters, this self-professed Gandhian discusses his politics and activism.
In the last ten years, you have moved from Lok Satta to AAP, and now you’re contesting as an independent. Has political instability affected you in any way?
I was in the United States from 2001 to 2011. But I contested in 2008 from Jayanagar Assembly Constituency as an independent candidate when I was still based in America. At the time, the political situation in Karnataka was very bad. It was all money-power. The majority of the culprits from the mining mafia were very active in major political parties.
Apart from that, on a month’s sabbatical in the country, I was motivated to join politics to bring back the lost dignity to public life. I went on a three-day hunger strike in protest of the widespread corruption, and raised Rs 2.5 lakh on my own in 2008. Three years later in 2011, I moved back permanently to Bengaluru. Soon, by January 2012, I joined Lok Satta and stayed with them till January 2014. I was an activist five years before joining AAP and continued after leaving in 2016 after being with them for two years. Moving from one party to another, I cannot say has helped or damaged me in any way. I am a socially active person; I will continue to be active.
What have you done after leaving active party politics?
To continue my work with like-minded people, I immediately moved on with Lanchamukta Karnataka Nirmana Vedike (Forum for Building Bribe-Free Karnataka), it’s quite popular across various social activist circles. We have conducted social audits in 150 government offices across Karnataka. We covered 45 offices in 9 days of continuous social auditing here in Bengaluru in September 2016. We audited 5 or 6 RTOs, 30 BBMP offices and 15 sub registrar departments in the city. BBMP and RTO officials, and Inspector General of Registrar, sent memos to their offices pointing out things that need to change. The memo said that services were not listed, without nameplates for reference and the atmosphere was lacking professionalism in government offices. The notice also read that drinking water and toilet facilities should be installed for the public who spend lots of time in government offices.
What is your equation with AAP now?
There were talks of a merger between Lok Satta party and AAP. Both parties were interested. But it did not happen. For various reasons, some of us left and joined AAP as we had already worked together. Some of us, because of our activism, were already being recognised as AAP workers. I was forced to contest parliamentary elections. I did not want to run in 2014. Even after the elections, I worked for 1.5 years with the party. There was no internal democracy. My intention was to build the party through activism and movements, but there was not much support from people in higher positions to take this forward. We were trying to put together a group of organisations called Grand Alliances of Movements here in Karnataka. Some people in AAP took objection and temporarily suspended me from being an office bearer. I did not hear from them again, so I moved on.
Will you work with AAP again?
I want to refrain from commenting on this as much as possible. No – I would never join them again. But in politics you can never say never. Yeddyurappa spoke to me very politely during a discussion organised by a channel recently in spite of my allegations pending against him. Likewise, I am open to having similar dialogues with AAP.
In the past, you have made allegations against the Lokayukta and ACB. What was the outcome?
The system is messed up. I have lodged several complaints in the ACB and Lokayukta. Some cases are rejected, some are in court. It shows they are not working hard and are all lethargic. It’s all in caught up in the process. Even Narendra Modi promised in 2014, a special trial court will be set up to try corrupt MLCs and MLAs. Nothing has happened.
In the denotification cases against former CM Yeddyurappa filed in 2011, the Lokayukta special court judge took cognisance. It was pending for four years at the High Court after the leaders appealed against the Lokayukta report. The court ruled in our favour after we took objection to the High Court’s first decision to side with them. They took this issue to the SC and the ball rolled back into our court again. Two months ago, SC directed it back to Lokayukta. It is still stagnant – no trial yet.
I have another example. In place of the historical Puttanna Kanagal theatre in Jayanagar, a shopping complex was built and inaugurated by the BBMP for Rs 56.7 crore on October 17, 2015. Two and a half years later, the BBMP has not opened the doors of the 8-floor shopping complex to the public, thus losing Rs business opportunities worth 100 crore and Rs 60 lakh of monthly rent. We protested in front of the complex nine months ago. I complained to the Lokayukta, and he himself directed the BBMP officers to work on it, but still nothing has happened.
You contested from BTM Layout last time. How do you choose your constituency?
Anekal is a reserved constituency, so I can’t contest from there, but I continue to be on the voters list. Jayanagar has middle class population in majority, including IT employees. They understand what I am trying to say easily. I was living in BTM Layout in 2013 and I still reside there. I am also a property taxpayer in Jayanagar as my wife owns property here.
What are your achievements as a citizen in your constituency?
We conducted awareness drives in ration shops and fair price shops. The third largest government hospital in Bengaluru, after Bowring Hospital and Victoria Hospital, is the general hospital in Jayanagar; where Building Bribe Free Karnataka conducted social auditing. We found that for every mother to be shown the baby after delivery, the hospital staff was demanding Rs 1000 as a bribe. On the day of auditing, more than 20 women came forward and complained. Now, the bribe-taking has stopped.
The other big issue is garbage, strewn everywhere in Jayanagar. We conducted awareness through Facebook Live sessions. We brought garbage dumps to the government’s notice. On a given day, 50000 people pass by BES College of Arts on 33rd cross road, located 100 metres away from the incumbent MLA BN Vijayakumar’s office. This stretch, near 18th main road had people openly urinating on the walls. I spent five hours in the spot, trying to somehow get through to him. I approached the BBMP commissioner, who sent the Chief Engineer to rectify this immediately, and public urinals came up on the next street. Like this, through our intervention, my organisation, Forum for Building Bribe-Free Country, has catalysed change in Jayanagar.
What would you like to do if you are elected ?
Probably, for the first time in Karnataka, we had an open-manifesto meet with over 100 residents in Jayanagar 4th block. The major issue is corruption, primarily the corruption they encounter in government offices while applying for certificates. One of the reasons being; the Bangalore South Deputy Tahsildar office serving five constituencies and 10,000 people on a daily basis is located in Jayanagar 4th block. We are in the process of writing the manifesto and taking the discussions into consideration.
The manifesto so far is:
- Within one or two months, all the government offices and hospitals will be bribe-free. People can avail of government services in a time bound situation, according to the Karnataka Sakala Services Act, 2011.
- We want to work on a garbage-free Jayanagar. We will segregate waste at source and recycle wet waste within Jayanagar itself. (In 2012, when I was in Lok Satta, we had an event where we walked from Bengaluru to Manduru, I was part of the Mandur agitation, and landed in jail for a day).
- Improving the quality of education.
- Environment-friendly Jayanagar, where we will have more parks. Reduce traffic with last mile connectivity and have breathable air.
- Access to hospitals without corruption.
Why should people of Jayanagar vote for Ravi Krishna Reddy? How do you position yourself?
Jayanagar is an area where highly educated people live. At the same time, Jayanagar also has a decent population of BPL people, and others living in EWS quarters. There are seven wards in the area; the MLA is like the eighth corporator here. He never acted like an MLA. His attendance and participation in the assembly was very disappointing. He does not have to spend Rs 10 crore or Rs 20 crores to win votes as Jayanagar is mostly populated with the middle class. The MLA has failed entirely. Because of my education, my software engineering background, my social activism, my writing and political outlook, I can raise the issues of Jayanagar with clarity in assembly. I am not just a representative of Jayanagar, but of Karnataka. Politicians lack dignity and are looked down upon. We have to bring back dignity to politics through honesty and performance. I have done more work than the MLA in the last six years.
Do you think it is only when one has power that one can work for people? Is power a necessity for one to work for people?
In social service, people can donate and do some good things. That is an individual choice. But these are our employees. BBMP and BWSSB officials, MLAs and MPs, they work for us. They have crores at their disposal. They can use it judiciously for the betterment of society. They are in the unique position to initiate great change. MLAs and lawmakers frame laws to make the lives of ordinary citizens a little better. Lawmakers have a distinctive role. Being a lawmaker is more influential and more effective. I believe in democracy, but politicians directly control our lives. There is a vast difference between being a social worker and politician.
Have you ever considered starting from the ground-up as a corporator ?
Right now corporators are not politicians, they are an extension of the BBMP. Issues and politics are not discussed in BBMP elections. In the last thirty years, only two corporators have become MLAs. Because of money and dynasty politics, it is not possible for good people to grow from the bottom.
Do you think the MLA salary is sufficient?
I have made the same promise over the years. When I ran in 2008 and 2013, I said it. I am saying it now in 2018 as well. I am going to live my life using the salary I get. I will bear my family’s expenses from the money given to me and support myself through the other rental incomes I receive. I, and my wife, are not going to acquire any property during the time, nor will I take up any business or profit making ventures. I will not misuse my position for any political gains.
Do you think the government can ever be corruption-free? Is it a way of life? What needs to change?
Two things should happen for that. Moral values in society should increase. Secondly, there should be a system in place, which citizens can fall back on instead of relying on just people. I am very proud of the fact that the Lokayukta act was enacted for the first time in India in Karnataka during Ramakrishna Hegde’s time. During an interview in a TV recently, I was invited to speak to Yeddyurappa, H.D. Kumaraswamy and CM Siddaramaiah. Through individual meetings set up by the channel, I directly posed a question to the CM, asking him if he would bring more transparency to the way Lokayukta functions. Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy said they would definitely make changes within three months of coming to power. However, Siddaramaiah was the only one who said the functioning of ACB does not need to change. In the last two years, the failings of the Lokayukta has emboldened people. RTI has to be strengthened, Sakala implemented and Lokayukta transformed to ensure a corruption free state.
Would you call yourself a socialist?
I am not a communist, I am not a rightist, and I am not a leftist. I am in the middle path of everything. In fact, I would say I am Gandhian.
How does being a Gandhian play into this corporatized and liberal economy in current India ?
I have seen the economic policies of many developing countries change overnight. Sometimes, it is leftist. Sometimes, it sways towards the right. Sometimes, the regulations are open, sometimes it is strict. We deal with micro-and macro situations. We can only decide at the given point of time. So, being Gandhian does not mean you have to disagree with everything you don’t like. Kuvempu said that even sages are people like us. Their principles are for their time. Whatever is relevant today was not relevant back then and not thought of hundred years ago. But there has to be basic principles in place. I believe in justice and equality, and the best way to ensure those ideals are through democracy.
Yogendra Yadav, Swaraj India President and Ex AAP member has publicly supported you. What is your equation ?
Swaraj India is contesting for a few seats in this assembly elections. They are extending their support to my candidacy. They are just supporting some good candidates, that’s about it. Yogendra Yadav might not be a successful politician, he still continues to be a well-known activist and social thinker. Likewise, he is inspiring people like me to do clean politics.
How did you come up with the concept of the one vote-one note campaign?
During our freedom struggle, Gandhi used to raise funds from the public. People donated cotton cloth, khadi, women gave earrings and sacred jewelries. Post independence, this rich and illustrious tradition continued in Karnataka. Shantaveri Gopala Gowda, a prominent activist from Thirthahalli in the 1950s and 1960s, responsible for the Kagodu movement, used this method. He did not have the resources to campaign, so he said that if you give me a note with your votes, I will support you in return. When I first contested as an independent candidate in 2008, I used this concept successfully. I am just applying it again.
How much money have you collected already?
So far, as of today, we have Rs 1,50,000. There are donors giving Rs 10,000 to just Rs 1. On the first day, the donation was Rs 66,000 from 200 people, the second day it amounted to Rs 700 from 80 people, and on third day we got Rs 2000 from 58 people. Five people have given online donations, though the campaigns are focused on the ground and not yet online. Going back to 2008, I have the details of the 150 donors listed on my website from within and outside the country.
What is your plan to support to slum dwellers, underprivileged/ homeless in your area? We hear they took part in the one vote-one note campaign?
All that we have done so far, the direct beneficiaries of all the campaign work, are the BPL people. Today, corrupt officials in my constituency are afraid of my activism. The poor have to mention my name and things move along. One such example is: from Sanjay Gandhi Hospital, a woman called our helpline and said the hospital staff was demanding a bribe of Rs 1000. We told her to inform the hospital superintendent that we are coming immediately to check the matter. He jumped into action and took care of it. So, this is nothing new to me. All the BPL people are the ones who approach government offices for income certificates, gas certificates and BPL card. Giving them time-bound service is the best way to eradicate poverty.
Which departments of governance are of interest to you?
I would like to improve three things; Firstly, the BBMP does not use technology and prefers paperwork to get away with corruption. I would like to change the bureaucratic style of functioning within the BBMP. I want to also lessen the practice of taking bribes in the Deputy Tahsildar’s office. The revenue officers are the ones who issue senior citizen cards, pension and income certificate, hence it is easy for them to charge bribes. Thirdly, in fair price shops, the Anna Bhagya Scheme is not distributed adequately, and the poor are always cheated.