Karnataka'sChief Minister Shri Bookanekere Siddalingaswamy Yeddyurappa has created history by heading the first-ever full-fledged BJP government in the south. After an eight-day tenure as the Chief Minister of the BJP-JD(S) coalition, which ended just as it started in dramatic circumstances in November 2007, Shri Yeddyurappa with the total support extended by the party'sstate and national leadership and the party rank and file successfully led it to victory. Though three short of the magic mark of 113 to gain a simple majority in the 224-member Karnataka assembly, which was overcome with the unconditional backing extended by all the six independents, Shri Yeddyurappa is making a conscious and determined effort to endear the BJP rule to the people. He lists out the challenges and achievements of his government on the eve of completion of 100 days rule in an exclusive interview to Organiser Correspondent Deepak Kumar Rath. Excerpts.
Yeddyurappaji congratulations on completing the 100 days of your government. During this period what are the important shifts in focus of governance you have brought about in the state?
Thanks. I have started with giving a greater thrust on making the administration more responsive to the people by impressing upon the bureaucracy from top to bottom to try and understand and immediately respond to their grievances. Instead of asking officers to rush to Bengaluru whenever consultations are necessary and thereby lose valuable time, energy and resources, I have continuously resorted to video conferencing with the Deputy Commissioners and Chief Executive Officers and other district-level officers to know the progress of implementation of various developmental schemes and difficulties in each department and find solutions.
Removing red-tapism and making the government more responsive to the people in tackling their problems have received the highest priority. With a view to bringing down corruption in the rural areas, the state government had decided to introduce a system for an interaction between the tehsildar and the villagers in at least 30 villages in each taluk on every Saturday. This would prevent the need for villagers from coming all the way to Bengaluru or district headquarters for resolving their grievances, which would save precious time and money. The villagers could meet the tehsildars, once a week.
State Cabinet meeting takes place on every Thursday and all the ministers are available in Vidhan Soudha on that day. General public are not allowed entry to Vidhan Soudha on Thursday so that ministers and higher officials can have serious meetings to implement the government projects.
You are the first BJP Chief Minister of Karnataka. With your victory the BJP has made a historic entry into the south Indian politics. What do you think is the national impact of the BJP growth in Karnataka?
It is obvious that the victory has enthused the party units not just in southern states but the party'srank and file across the country. The victory has energised not only the party cadre but also the people, who have been the supporters and our sympathisers and who have tirelessly worked for bringing BJP to power all these years.
With elections to about half a dozen north Indian states, especially BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh etc due later this year and imminent Lok Sabha polls, BJP'srise in Karnataka to rule the state on its own has galvanised the party organisation all over the country. With Shri LK Advani chosen as the prospective Prime Minister of NDA, the BJP cadre in the south as well as in the north are raring to go to realise the dream of securing a majority at the Centre. The failures of the Congress-led UPA rule at the Centre, the galloping inflation, growth of terrorist activities in Karnataka, Gujarat and other states are all factors that should give a definite boost to BJP with its strong and committed leadership.
What are the causes that led to the BJP victory in the state?
When I was the Deputy Chief Minister in the coalition government, I had taken the initiative to implement several pro-people and farmer-friendly programmes as the state'sFinance Minister. My two budgets have improved the condition of the people, farmers, women and other neglected sections of society. Development of infrastructure in Bengaluru and other tier-two cities like Mysore, Hassan, Hubli-Dharwad, Mangalore had been given a new push while rural areas, particularly the backward areas of northern Karnataka, have been granted several new programmes and substantial hike in budgetary allocations. These have helped improve the condition of the people, particularly the poor.
Another reason was the betrayal by Janata Dal (Secular) by not allowing us to rule the state for the remaining 20 months.
Do you think the BJP victory in Karnataka will have its impact in other south Indian states?
Yes. BJP party workers and office-bearers in neighbouring southern states are in a jubilant mood and they are anticipating BJP rule in their respective states very shortly.
Some Congress and JD(S) MLAs have left their party and joined the BJP after resigning from the assembly. Is it that you are enticing them to join BJP by offering them allurements or is it the result of genuine change of heart on their part?
It is certainly change of heart on their part. The people have given a mandate to BJP to rule the state for five years. But, we were short of only three MLAs for a simple majority, which was filled up when all the six independents decided to extend unconditional support. But, unfortunately, the Congress and the JD(S) sought to take advantage of the situation and made a serious bid to topple my government instead of discharging their duties by sitting in the opposition.
The people did not like the unscrupulous destabilisation attempts by the discredited Congress and JD(S). Even the MLAs in the opposition parties did not tolerate the attitude of the leaders of their respective parties in not allowing the BJP to complete its term. There was also enormous pressure from the people on these MLAs to support the first-ever full-fledged BJP government in the state, and consequently, they decided to quit their respective parties and joined BJP. I have welcomed leaders from other parties, when they wanted to support our government and accepted the party'sprogrammes, ideals and leadership. Ours is a growing party and we must accept leaders from other parties to establish our base to grow on a firm footing across the state.
In this connection, I must also point out that the people were not happy with the attitude of the Congress and JD(S) leadership in refusing to cooperate with the government, when we took a delegation to meet the Prime Minister and other central ministers seeking more supply of fertilizers. Instead of joining the delegation, the opposition leaders boycotted it, which was not taken kindly by the people. Naturally, the people advised the MLAs to teach their parties a lesson by resigning and joining the BJP.
You had made some poll promises to implement in a time-bound manner after assuming office, particularly on improving the civic life of Bengaluru. How far have you succeeded?
Yes. I am happy to inform you that my government has taken several concrete steps and initiatives to implement BJP'selection manifesto. You must remember that we had made the poll promises for implementation over a five-year period. But I am happy to report that my government has implemented most of the poll promises and come out with programmes, which were not even mentioned in the manifesto. These days, when political parties and elected governments conveniently forget their poll promises, I am proud to state that BJP has taken steps to implement 90 per cent of the promises in the manifesto, which is no mean achievement.
Not just Bengaluru, but all district headquarters and important towns in the state would see a new phase of development in the coming days. Infrastructural facilities will really see better days. The government would review the developments made once in 100 days and will report to the people after collecting information from all the ministers pertaining to their responsibilities. The district in-charge ministers would also do similar exercise in their jurisdictions and furnish the information to me for public review.
What is the difference the BJP government has brought about in Karnataka as compared to previous non-BJP governments?
My government has given priority to irrigation, power, rural development, health and family welfare and other departments. The various programmes and schemes initiated by the government have directly benefitted more than one crore people, that is one in every five or six Kannadigas have reaped the fruits of BJP rule.
The free supply of power to more than 15 lakh IP sets, agricultural loans from co-operative societies to farmers at the lowest interest rate of 3 per cent per annum with similar facility to weavers, fishermen and other vulnerable sections, Bhagyalakshmi scheme assuring a return of Rs 1 lakh to girls born in poor families when they turn 18 years of age, enhancement of monthly pension to physically handicapped and scholarships to backward class students, Sandhya Suraksha scheme to provide security to aged persons, free bicycles to all rural girls and boys studying in 8th standard are some of the schemes that have made a big difference in the lives of people. The main objective of the Bhagyalakshmi scheme is to ensure that all girls born in poor families are able to get education and a handsome amount to lead their lives. Even a collie'sdaughter should complete a degree and this is the ambition of the BJP government.
Your budget this year was hailed as path-breaking. What are the priorities you have set for the state?
If the media, planners and social scientists have hailed the budget as path-breaking, I feel the novel initiatives of giving a big fillip to dry land and organic farming must be the main reason. Nobody can deny the fact that majority of Karnataka'sfarmers depend on rain-fed irrigation rather than reap the benefits of huge investments on irrigation projects over the years, be it in Cauvery or Krishna basins, which are often described as the lifelines of our farmers. And, Karnataka has one of the biggest dry land areas in the entire country perhaps next only to Rajasthan. Therefore, with my years of experience in knowing the hard realities of our agriculture, I have launched a new programme to give a big boost to dry land farming in the state by offering a token grant of Rs 1,000 to each of our small and marginal farmers as a special measure for purchasing seeds, fertilizers and agricultural implements as an one-time measure. About 50 lakh farmers are proposed to cover under this programme, for which Rs 500 crore have been earmarked in this year'sbudget.
Another trend-setting initiative is the first-of-its-kind initiative by a government to encourage and promote the production of organic manure and adoption of organic farming through budgetary grants. We are launching this programme on a pilot basis in 1000 villages by providing monetary assistance of Rs 2,000 each to the farmers. I am sure these two initiatives will revolutionise Indian agriculture if adopted on a national scale. Agriculture, irrigation, industrial growth of the state, education, health care, and social justice are and will remain the priorities of my government.
After the BJP came to power, the farmers went on agitation because of shortage of fertilizers and seeds. How did you manage the crisis?
It is the duty of the government to ensure adequate and timely supply of fertilizers and seeds to farmers. But, unfortunately, the government failed mainly on account of the Centre'sfailure to meet the requirements of the state. I admit the state'sadministration, which was directly under the control of the Centre during President'srule, did not act in time. In less than a week after our government took over, the crisis erupted and farmers took to the streets to stage their protests. The unrest among farmers was sought to be exploited by anti-social elements and our political enemies. I don'twant to go into all these details now. I have personally met the Prime Minister and other central ministers on several occasions besides writing letters and even leading an-all party delegation. We also informed the farmers by conducting meetings and holding district-level conventions. We also told the farmers not to depend on chemical fertilizers and advised them to go in for organic farming. Though I regret the police firing in Haveri district and use of force by police against agitating farmers, I am happy to say that the problem has been effectively handled.
Karnataka is becoming a hub of terrorist activities. How do you plan to tackle the problem of religious fundamentalism?
I will tighten police department and streamline the security apparatus in the entire state. Allocation of more funds for securing sophisticated weapons and training to the force, strengthening the intelligence gathering system and giving special incentives and encouragement to the policemen to discharge their duties effectively and curbing the growth of terrorist and anti-social elements will get priority. Equal respect to all religions and appeasement of none shall be our policy. We will not allow religious fundamentalism to take roots in the state.
Do you think the opposition is trying to create law and order problem in the state?
Opposition parties are creating law and order problem in the state for partisan ends. My government is keeping a close watch on their style of working. They plan to instigate people to create problems for the government as they cannot stomach the growing popularity of BJP in the state.
What are the other problems confronting the state and your plans to solve them?
Power shortage is a major problem facing the state. We have drawn up plans for generating 5,000 MW of power additionally. Apart from taking steps to step up capacity increase, we propose to set up a 2,000 MW pit-head thermal power plant in Chhattisgarh and will be entering into an agreement with that government shortly. We are also buying more power from Chhattisgarh and encouraging setting-up of ultra-mega power projects in the state with state besides encouraging private sector participation in the power sector. Next priority would be for tackling drinking water problem and infrastructure development. Airstrips would be developed in all district headquarters and steps will be taken to improve road connectivity all over the state.
As you complete the 100 days of your government'srule, what would you describe as your government'sfocus area for the next six months?
I am just leaving for US for attending a Kannada conference there. I would like to ensure that Kannada gets pride of place not just in Karnataka but all over the world. We would like Kannada to get classical language status. More importantly, my main focus in the next six months will be on ensuring that all the budgetary programmes are implemented so that the benefits reach the people. On the political front, we would like the BJP to win all the by-elections in the state, which are due anytime now so that our party gets a comfortable majority on its own. The next biggest challenge will be to win the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka. Though my target is winning 25 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state, I will be realistic and will be more than satisfied if we can secure anything above 20 in next year'sparliamentary elections. I can go on adding to my wish-list. Perhaps, we will be able to discuss more leisurely and in details on some other occasion in future.