Interview: Freebies aren’t the way to go but governments have social obligation, says K Sudhakar

Minister for health and convenor of BJP's Manifesto Committee, Sudhakar vows to ensure BJP gets 20% vote share in Kolar, Chikkaballapur and Bengaluru Rural.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published May 06, 2023 | 9:50 PMUpdated May 06, 2023 | 9:50 PM

Interview: Freebies aren’t the way to go but governments have social obligation, says K Sudhakar

By 9 am on Saturday, there is a beeline of supporters, workers and voters outside Dr K Sudhakar’s palatial residence in Chikkaballapur. It is a common sight these days, Sudhakar’s aides tell South First.

Some are there to get cheques signed for election expenditure, others to introduce their “good friends” from rival parties who can “wean away votes”, some are in queue to highlight the issues people raised during the BJP’s outreach programme, while others are waiting to accompany the Karnataka health and medical education minister to his next campaign spot.

The only beings unbothered with all the election heat are the two goats tied in the lawn.

South First caught up with Dr K Sudhakar enroute his election campaign to talk about the BJP’s manifesto, allegations of corruption against his government, and why he is accused of “engineering defections” in the JD(S)-Congress coalition government. Edited excerpts.

Q. You created history for the BJP by winning the saffron party its first ever seat in Chikkaballapur in the 2019 bypolls. The party has now made you responsible for three districts here. How do you see BJP faring in a region where it has no base?

A. I am grateful to the people of Chikkaballapur. When I contested from the BJP, Opposition parties ridiculed me and said that BJP has only 2-3 percent vote share and I will end up in third place. But the people of Chikkaballapur gave me a historic victory, with a lead of almost 35,000 votes.

The BJP has given me a lot of opportunities, including management of Covid-19 crisis as health and medical education minister. In three decades, there was no minister who handled both ministries together. After three decades, then chief minister BS Yediyurappa reposed hope and trust in me and gave this opportunity. We were awarded as the Best Covid-19 Combating State in the country.

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The party has now given me the responsibility to take care of the electoral prospects of three districts — Kolar, Chikkaballapura, and Bengaluru Rural. I am district in-charge minister for Bengaluru Rural, while Kolar and Chikkaballapur used to be a single district earlier. I am in constant touch with the leaders and people here. This is my backyard.

This region is a political desert for BJP, but still we are going to put up a very good fight. I am hopeful we will bag at least five seats, at worst, and eight seats, at best, in these three districts. In 2018, we got zero out of the 15 seats in these three districts. From zero to winning five or eight will add value to the party. That will be the deciding factor for us to cross the magic number. Minimum vote share in each seat in these districts will cross 20 percent. We will go from two percent to 20 percent.

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Q. You come from Congress and joined the BJP in 2019. Where do you stand as far as ideology is concerned in the BJP because your stance on the Uri-Nanje Gowda issue was diametrically opposite to other Vokkaliga leaders in the BJP.

A. Ideologically I am in sync with the BJP on many issues. I am a “true Hindu”. I believe in Hindutva. I always feel that this religion is the only religion in the world that preaches unity in diversity. I don’t think this religion is too religious. I don’t want to comment on other religions, but Hindu religion is very unique. The principle is of living with everyone, of all beliefs, all faiths, to respect and love people for what they are and how they are. That is the true sense of Hinduism, in my opinion. A true Hindu is someone who is a global citizen. This was taught to us thousands of years ago through our scriptures.

I am very happy and proud to be a Hindu. This is the only Hindu-dominated nation we have. This is a Hindu nation, so why not protect them? Ninety percent of country is occupied by Hindus. The BJP is committed to Hinduism and Hindutva philosophy, which I am totally in sync with.

When it comes to Uniform Civil Code (UCC), I think there is nothing wrong. We are all Indians first, religion and caste come next. We shouldn’t be disillusioned by cultural and religious practices. Nation stands first. As an Indian citizen, why should somebody be treated specially for belonging to some religion?

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Q. You just spoke about the UCC. As Manifesto Committee chief, do you not think including UCC and the NRC (National Register of Citizens) in the manifesto, especially when there is no representation of a single Muslim in your candidate list, is communally emotive?

A. We are not doing anything against anybody. We are trying to protect the local sentiments and local nationals. That is our legal obligation also. If you are going against illegal immigrants, why should Indian minorities bother about it? We are protecting Indian minority and majority interests. I don’t think they will have any issues in that. Narrative should be propagated in the right way. The intent with which we are doing this should be communicated to the last person.

Q. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is irritated by “freebies” and deems it “Revdi culture”. But your manifesto promises free LPG, millets, milk. Where does this stand in Modi’s scheme of things on “freebies”?

A. I totally respect the views of our honourable PM because freebies are not the way forward for growing nations like India. But at the same time, elected governments have certain social obligations. If you are giving free education from KG to PG, it is your social obligation. Education is a powerful tool for empowering your youth. As a doctor and as someone who handled the health ministry, I know a lot of people suffer from undernourishment, malnutrition and anemia. I had to take this call of providing 5 kgs of millet, milk for the health of children and women. In the entire nation, this is the first time a party is offering millets along with rice. This was our social obligation.

This isn’t like Congress wooing voters with bogus promises that hurt the exchequer and the state’s economy. I believe that as a government which was in power for five years, they should have given their report card rather than bogus guarantees.

The third assurance is of three gas cylinders to women. Under the Ujjwala scheme, Prime Minister Modi promoted clean energy, saved the health of women, and saved the environment and forests. I realise that under the circumstances, due to the war in Russia-Ukraine, international crude prices have gone up and gas prices unfortunately have increased.

Yet, given all prevailing conditions, I am thankful to the prime minister for the kind of decisive leadership and timely decisions he has taken to control inflation. When compared to other nations, where inflation has gone up, we have done well. Inflation during the UPA regime, when everything was normal, was 8-9 percent, but today it is 5.4 percent.

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Q. Many pre-poll surveys predict that Karnataka is headed for a hung Assembly with the Congress as the single-largest party. What is your impression of such polls?

A. I don’t believe in pre-poll surveys. There are also a few pre-poll surveys that have predicted a clear majority for the BJP. I firmly believe that the BJP is going to form the government on its own without the support of anyone else. I have visited many constituencies across the state. I know the pulse of the people. In the South, this will be the first time the BJP will come to power on its own.

Q. A lot of pre-poll surveys also point to inflation, corruption, unemployment as huge concerns. Have they marred BJP’s chances, corruption especially?

A. The Congress, out of desperation, stooped to new lows in the political space by trying to create a false narrative about corruption, deeming our government a “40% commission sarkara”. In 2018, I remember Prime Minister Modi, during his campaign in Karnataka, said Siddaramaiah’s government is “10% sarkara” and asked if people wanted a 10 percent government. That stuck in people’s minds and the Congress was rooted out. The Congress has realised that when somebody makes an allegation even without evidence and proof, people will believe it. If a lie is repeated 100 times, the common man thinks there is an element of truth to it. The false narrative that Congress has tried to spread is far from the truth.

In the last 10-15 years, this government, despite being under tremendous pressure with Covid-19, rain havoc, floods, has given exceedingly great governance. We have also done exceedingly well economically. We stand No 2 in GST collections and No 1 in FDI (foreign direct investment). How does FDI come in if our government is into 40 percent commission? If we are corrupt, why would FDI think Karnataka is haven for investments? Why has Bengaluru become the IT hub and defence hub of India? Lot of good things have happened. Unfortunately, they are trying to market a false narrative. I feel the educated Kannadiga will not yield to such false narratives.

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Q. You are pinning it all on Opposition parties but others have made similar allegations too, like the contractors’ association. 

A. It is a defunct contractors’ association with people who have not undertaken any work in the last 15 years. They have made a 85-year-old as president who doesn’t even have a contractor’s license. He handed it over 20 years ago. You can understand the motive behind it. When my Cabinet colleague filed a defamation case against him, the court issued a notice to him, but he hasn’t appeared till now. He hasn’t submitted any proof. The common man can tell that this is a false narrative.

Q. You came to BJP from Congress. How has the BJP welcomed you? Is there an outsider vs insider tussle?

A. The BJP really respects and honours the talent of people with substance and commitment. This is my personal experience. A person who came only four years ago, he gets an opportunity as convenor of the Manifesto Committee. What more recognition and responsibility can one can ask for? This is huge respect, trust and confidence that my seniormost leaders have reposed in me. Like me, there are many young, talented people with dynamism and they will get the right opportunity at the right time.

Q. You were accused of engineering defections that led to the collapse of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government. Why did you exit it and did you influence others too?

A. From day one I was against aligning with the JD(S) because, for me, my political rivals have always been the JD(S) in Chikkaballapur. I could not accept it. There was no pre-poll alliance; the Congress should have sat in Opposition, in my opinion, when it lost the election. On the day Congress announced the alliance, and declared HD Kumaraswamy was going to be chief minister, I was shattered. I was the first person to say to the media this is going to be an unholy alliance and this is unacceptable to me.

There were local issues like cancelling sanctioning of a government medical college in my constituency at the last minute. They took away that institution to a taluk in Ramanagar. I had to fight politically. Though I was offered chairmanship of the Pollution Control Board by the then AICC president, Kumaraswamy didn’t issue an order of appointment even after six-eight months.

I thought such people should be taught a lesson. A party of 80 MLAs lent a supporting hand to make him chief minister, despite him having only 37 MLAs. He became chief minister because of our hard work, and he disrespected us — that is an understatement, he humiliated us.

Q, What if the BJP decides to go with the JD(S) in case of a hung verdict?

A. I won’t be happy. We should form our own government. We will form our government. We will cross the magic number without any kind of issues.