Bangalore: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last month completed a year in office in Karnataka—the first southern Indian state where it formed a government on its own. The party also turned in its best performance in the Lok Sabha polls from Karnataka when it won 19 of the state’s 28 seats in the 15th general election.
In the past year, incidents such as police firing on farmers demanding fertilizer and attacks on churches and pubs in the state may have grabbed national attention, but chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, 66, says his government has executed several development projects, too.
‘Disciplined soldier’: Yeddyurappa says the focus right now is to strive for the welfare of the people of Karnataka. He also dreams of transforming Bangalore into a city with world-class infrastructure. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Yeddyurappa, who is facing criticism from senior party leaders and legislators in Karnataka over his style of functioning, was known for his temper when he was in the opposition. As chief minister, he appeared much mellowed as he spoke in an interview about his government’s performance, rebellion in the party ranks and the crisis plaguing the BJP at the Centre after its defeat in the general election. Edited excerpts:
What have been the key achievements of your government?
We have done very good work in several areas like developing agriculture, infrastructure, human resources and providing social justice to the weak and needy. (Around) 1.2 crore families have benefited under various pro-people programmes like Sandhya Suraksha, Argoya Kavacha and Bhagyalakshmi. Thirteen lakh farmers have received loans worth Rs3,576 crore at the rate of 3%. For the development of Bangalore, we have spent Rs800 crore already and more is being done. I am happy with the overall progress by my administration though I am aware we need to do more.
(Poor senior citizens are given a pension under Sandhya Suraksha, free emergency medical care is provided in rural areas under Arogya Kavacha and under Bhagyalakshmi, girls born to poor families are given bonds that would yield Rs1 lakh when they are 18 for their education.)
The BJP won 19 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Is Karnataka the new fortress of the party, even more than Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh?
The state has opened the gates for the party to enter the south. We improved our vote share by 7% and compared to the May (2008 assembly election), when we won 110 seats, we had leads in 142 assembly constituencies. We are hopeful of improving our performance in the coming years. Our next goal is winning by-elections to the five assembly constituencies and the BBMP (Bangalore civic body) elections, which are due.
Bangalore has been severely affected by a lack of proper infrastructure. What is being done?
My dream is to transform Bangalore into a city of global standards with world-class infrastructure. I am serious about building “Brand Bangalore”. We have released a separate vision document for Bangalore’s development during the assembly election. We are implementing a blueprint to ease vehicular traffic, improve road infrastructure and ensure continuous water supply and better drainage system. The agenda for Bengaluru infrastructure development has been reconstituted. I have set up task forces and involved captains of industry like (Infosys Technologies Ltd co-chairman Nandan) Nilekani, (Biocon Ltd chairman) Kiran (Mazumdar-)Shaw and others. The Metro project has been accelerated, and Rs800 crore spent last year. BDA (Bangalore Development Authority) has taken up various works costing Rs623 crore. Four new hospitals are being built on the outskirts of the city. Various ring roads and flyovers are being completed.
In terms of attracting industries, Karnataka was losing its sheen. Have you been able to reverse that?
Since my government came to power, we have attracted FDI (foreign direct investment) of Rs8,376 crore, 354 projects have been cleared involving an investment of Rs110,447 crore...85 new IT (information technology) and BT (biotechnology) companies have opened shop in the state, taking their total number to 2,084.
While we did postpone the planned global investors’ meet (GIM) because of the current worldwide economic slump, I have invited overseas investors on a recent visit to the US to come (and) invest in the state. The GIM will also be held once things improve. My government is eager to support foreign investors in every field. Ours is an investment-friendly government. We are developing tier II and III cities and giving importance to cities like Mysore, Hubli-Dharwad and Mangalore. Six special industrial zones will be developed for diverse sectors like steel, cement, food processing, auto, garment and IT-BT.
To improve the power situation in the state we are adding 5,000MW of power generation capacity over the next five years. We intend to provide quality power to both industry and rural consumers.
Now that the BJP has a simple majority of its own in the assembly, will you halt Operation Lotus under which opposition MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) were encouraged to join the party?
It is the media which calls it Operation Kamala (lotus). We don’t. Many political leaders in the state accepted the ideology of the BJP and after seeing developmental activities being undertaken, voluntarily joined the party. This is political polarization and it happens everywhere. However, we are not actively wooing anybody. Our focus is on developmental activities.
The Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress have moved closer with the former announcing unconditional support to the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. Any impact on state politics?
They have been working in tandem for long, so no surprise there. But the people will teach them a lesson if they try to destabilize a democratically elected government.
What about dissidence within the party?
There is no such thing as dissidence. Differences, maybe. Honestly, you will have to ask those (dissidents) what the (issues) are. Legislators, party workers, everybody is welcome to meet me anytime with their requests and grievances.
Are you monitoring the performance of ministers? Will there be a cabinet reshuffle soon?
As CM (chief minister) I do keep an eye on developmental work being executed by various ministries. For the present, though, there is no intention (to reshuffle the cabinet).
What about protection to minority communities in the wake of attacks on churches?
Within hours of those incidents, (home minister V.S.) Acharya and I visited those places. Culprits have been booked and the law will take its course. The issue has been entrusted to a commission and the process of finding out truth is in progress. I want to assure the minority community brothers and sisters that they are safe in the state and complete protection will be provided.
With one in six BJP member of Parliament hailing from Karnataka, do you aspire for a national role in a post–Advani era?
Even when Atalji (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) and Advaniji (L.K. Advani) invited me to join the government in 1999 as a senior Union minister, I demurred. I have many more things to do at the state level over the next four years... My focus right now is to strive for the welfare of the people of Karnataka. However, as a disciplined soldier of the party, if required, I will work at the national level too.
You have complained of discrimination in the past from the Centre. You met the Prime Minister last week. Have those issues been sorted out?
Cooperation, and not confrontation, is my government’s mantra. While it is true that grave injustice has been done to Karnataka in terms of providing funds compared to neighbouring states, the Prime Minister and other senior Union ministers have assured me of all help.