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August 27, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ B S Yediyurappa

'Our first priority is to ensure that a foreign woman must neither win in India or push our country towards foreign rule again'

B S Yediyurappa with Ananth Kumar A small counter outside the building displayed a variety of stickers, flags, key chains and other propaganda material. Sauntering party workers sported a variety of garments in the trademark saffron and green -- jackets, T-shirts, even sarees.

The Bharatiya Janata Party office in Bangalore is located in an old bungalow in the heart of Malleswaram, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. Voices raised in anguish and anger could be heard from deep within the building, as state BJP president B S Yediyurappa broke the news to the waiting crowds of party workers that a dozen ticket holders from amongst them had to make way for their coalition partners, the Janata Dal (United).

The pandemonium subsided slowly, and an organised kind of chaos descended on the premises again. "If it had been any other party, there would have hodethaata (exchange of blows) by now," said Yediyurappa in flawless Kannada, emerging from the middle of the milling crowds and apologising for making us wait. "Our culture of party discipline stands us in good stead at such times."

It is an open secret that the Karnataka BJP was dead against their party aligning itself with the Janata Dal-U. It had the alliance virtually forced on it. Yediyurappa, known to be quite an outspoken and sometimes an aggressive politician, admits readily that the parties are fighting the election together only because of extraordinary circumstances.

If the coalition wins -- since the BJP is the more equal partner here -- it is almost certain that Yediyurappa will become chief minister of Karnataka. The only other possible contender, Ananth Kumar, is far younger and more junior, and has already opted out of the race by agreeing to contest only for the Lok Sabha.

For many years now, Yediyurappa has been the de facto leader of the BJP in Karnataka. For a brief period, K S Eashwarappa of Shimoga was party president, but even during that time, it was obvious to everyone who was really in charge of party affairs. Ananth Kumar was, for all those years, Yediyurappa’s right hand man, always working on the sidelines, never standing for election himself.

Their critics even accused them of ganging up together and playing favourites in the party. However, the fact remains that Yediyurappa has been largely responsible for gaining popularity for his party in the state, and has been unwavering in his political stands and convictions.

Yediyurappa belongs to the majority Lingayat community. Like H D Deve Gowda, he has always been perceived more as a champion of the rights of the farmer than a techno savvy or pro industry politician. However, those who know him well say that he will probably support himself with the right kind of advisors on these issues, and follow the BJP line.

The man who may soon be chief minister sat behind a shiny, laminated table in a small bedroom which served as a conference room, and spoke to's M D Riti:

Until the BJP came to power at the Centre, the Karnataka unit of the party functioned almost like an autonomous unit, with a loose affiliation to the central command. How do you now like becoming a centrally driven party that has to toe the Delhi line? You even had to abide by an alliance set up in Delhi…

At one time, the BJP was on one side and all the other political parties on another. Now, it is the Congress that has become alone, with all the others wanting to be on the same side as the BJP. Nobody has faith in the Congress any longer, and we have come to a situation where we have to go to the polls every couple of years. So our first priority was to ensure that a government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee comes to power at the Centre, and to see that a foreign woman must neither win in India or push our country towards foreign rule again.

To achieve this major goal, we have unavoidably made this rapprochement with other parties, even if it goes against our own personal likes or wishes. This is all for a great cause, and to save the nation. Secondly, the BJP is in the first place in Karnataka today. We have the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. 13 out of 28 seats. We have functioned as a large sized Opposition in the assembly. All the surveys place us as the leading party in the state now.

We can easily win a majority and form the government in Karnataka now. However, we have sacrificed our personal interests in the larger cause, at the request of our national leadership, and agreed to join forces with the Dal-U and Lok Shakti, who voluntarily approached our leaders in Delhi and asked to align themselves with us.

Our sole aim in this is to win even more seats jointly for the Lok Sabha, to strengthen Vajpayee than we might have alone. Together, we are confident of winning 22 or 23 out of 28 seats. In the state, our coalition will definitely form the next government.

Will this coalition, which you say was formed primarily to strengthen Vajpayee at the Centre, be able to function effectively on a day to day basis in Karnataka, and provide a unified state government? Since it is publicly acknowledged that yours is a reluctant partnership, how will you translate this into a performing state government? Both the Lok Shakti and Dal -U have several strong leaders who are likely to have their own agendas in various matters.

This confusion and conflict that you see in our coalition now is bound to continue for a while more. But we are determined to prevent the Congress -- which is just trying to advance using Sonia as a façade -- from gaining power in Karnataka. We see the same old corrupt and false leaders still prominent in the Congress, the same people who are still facing CBI enquiries.

You may well ask how we propose to overcome our own differences and give the people a good state government. We have formulated a combined manifesto in consultation with our poll partners, and this is the real promise that we would like to place before the voters. Our manifesto is ready, and we will decide shortly whether it will be combined with the others or released jointly along with theirs. However, we have several common programmes.

The ability of the BJP leadership to take several coalition partners along smoothly has already been proved at the Centre. With the exception of Jayalalitha, Vajpayee was able to take along 14 or 15 parties for a good amount of time. We think a coalition government led by Vajpayee at the Centre and a BJP led government in the state will be able to solve all the problems of the people after these polls.

Is your party also becoming personality oriented, like the Congress? You always accuse the Congress of using the Gandhi name to promote themselves. Now, all of you talk only of Vajpayee as your one great figurehead.

Vajpayee is a national leader who is universally liked in our country. But he is backed by a strong workers cadre with principles and beliefs, unlike parties like the Congress with Sonia. Political parties are usually personified by one popular leader. We are projecting Vajpayee as that leader, and I think he will live up to everyone's expectations of him.

Do you have any special focus or programmes for Karnataka, or are you just promoting your party’s national agenda?

We have definite programmes meant specially for Karnataka. Power is our first priority. As you know Karnataka is reeling under a severe power shortage, which is crushing industry here. Farmers can't use their pump sets. We want to stop the ongoing power theft, harness power from all possible sources and make Karnataka self sufficient in power. We now estimate that we are losing about Rs 100 crores on power loss.

Irrigation will be our second priority. The public perception of it is just about building dams. We have a much wider perspective on this. Our third target is to earmark more funds for SC/ST programmes. Then, we hope to start a special bank for the SC/ST/BC women and minorities, for which we will earmark about Rs 50 crores as funds from both the Centre and the state. All this to help them stand on their own feet.

Over all, we want to give a clean, corruption-free government that keeps the people as comfortable as possible.

And do you expect to be the chief minister of this exceptional government?

No, none of us has any thoughts as of now about who will become chief minister. However, as of now, we expect that the BJP will be the party with the largest number of seats in the assembly here. As we have partnered with the JD-U, we will jointly give the state a good government and together choose a mutually agreed upon person as chief minister.

Do you really think this coalition, which began with such a rocky start, last the full five years?

Yes, I am absolutely sure that we will easily last right through our tenure, and also work together most efficiently.

The BJP is a very disciplined party. Your coalition partners are not. I still remember that when Jeevaraj Alva was with you a couple of years ago, your party workers did not like it when his supporters crowded your office premises. How will you resolve this problem of contradictory party cultures?

All the parties in our coalition have their pluses and minuses. They have vast political experience to their credit. We have our discipline on our side. I think the combination will work well.

Why did you have to bring down a lady politician from Delhi to fight against Sonia Gandhi? Is there nobody of that stature in your party in the state?

Sonia Gandhi is a foreigner. The question before the people now is whether a foreign woman should become prime minister or an Indian man like Vajpayee should occupy that position. Sonia has thrown a big challenge to the whole of Karnataka by choosing to contest from here, and she has obviously chosen a constituency in which the Congress has never ever lost. We wanted to present the voters with a straight comparison between a foreign woman (Yediyurappa repeatedly uses the quaint Kannada phrase 'hennu magalu') and an Indian woman who practises and preaches Indian values and principles.

We chose Sushma Swaraj because the whole country knows her well, and she has a flawless record. Let the people see for themselves directly how an Indian woman conducts herself, and how a foreign woman conducts herself. Making this a straight fight between two such women simplifies the issue. And we are confident that the verdict will be in Sushma's favour.

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