Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who met top BJP leaders in the national capital Wednesday, said he has left the decision over the timing of the much-awaited expansion of his Cabinet on the party leadership. In the course of a wide-ranging interview with The Indian Express, Bommai denied that there was an atmosphere of fear or hate in the state, saying that his government has reined in “troublemakers” to uphold the rule of law and that good governance should be based on “equality, equal opportunities and fairness”. Excerpts:
You have been preparing to expand your Cabinet for some time. What’s going to be the criteria and what is the status now?
Yes, Cabinet expansion has been in the offing for quite some time. I had one round of discussion with the national leadership. Today, I will have another round of discussions with Home Minister Amit Shahji and party president JP Naddaji to take a call on that. I am talking to Amit Shahji about the developments taking place. This being election year, the party has been moving fast on the organizational activities at the ground level. I have been touring the state. Besides, we have got Supreme Court judgments – one (of which) is to create reservation for backward classes after due empirical data study. So we have constituted a committee under Honorable Judge K Bhakthavalasala. On Tuesday, we have another judgment directing that the local body elections be held irrespective of the status on delimitation or reservation. So, I have to discuss the situation with these backgrounds to take a call on the Cabinet expansion.
So, is it going to be delayed further?
I am not sure. It’s a political decision that the central leadership has to decide. I will put my situations before them.
What’s your criteria for picking ministers or dropping some?
It is a combination of regional representation – all communities should get represented – and the good governance requirements. We need experienced people to give a good governance record.
Recently, the central leadership asked you to focus on budget proposals’ implementation so that there can be an impressive report card to go to people. What are your priorities?
I have presented a budget which was accepted widely by all sections of the society as the priorities have been well set. Agriculture is the top in our priority list, where we have given a lot of programmes. The state is going to have a Ksheera Abruthi Bank (milk development bank) – it will be one of its kind in the country. For the dairy farmers, with Rs 360 crore equity we are expecting about Rs 25,000 crore sanctions (annually) which will benefit the farmers, and there will be schemes to uplift them to diversify their economic activities.
Second is to bring more women to be shareholders of the state’s economic growth. Only 30 per cent of women are contributing to the per capita income and 70 per cent are working for their livelihood. I want to bring them into economic activities by giving them monetary support, schemes and end-to-end marketing support. In one year, I am trying to get more than 5 lakh women into economic activities.
Third is our focus on infrastructure. We are trying to build ports, airports, roads and industrial townships. We are getting airports in Raipur, Bijapur, Hasan, Shimoga and Davengere. I am trying to upgrade seven engineering colleges to institutes of excellence at the level of IITs. We are also going to have sectoral investments – taking cue from Prime Minister Modi’s aspirational district programme, we have decided aspirational talukas. We have taken up 104 talukas for health, 97 for education, and 100 for malnutrition and women and child welfare. It’s a well-planned scheme.
Amit Shah has set a target of 150 seats for the Karnataka BJP for the April 2023 Assembly polls. Isn’t it too ambitious a target considering that this is one state where the Congress is rather strong?
The growth of the BJP which started in 1996 has been going on. The graph never came down except once when the Congress came to power in 2013 because of the split in the BJP. Last time we were 104 seats and this time 150 is possible because of the response of the people in southern Karnataka, where the BJP was not so strong. This time, I am confident that we will have a major electoral gain in southern Karnataka and it is going to add at least 25-30 seats to our kitty.
In 2018, though it got lesser number of seats, Congress got more votes (38.61%) than BJP (36.43%). So, taking the state as a whole, more people preferred Congress to BJP. Now that the state has been under the BJP rule, what makes you confident about the BJP’s prospects?
Sometimes it happens. It’s the support from the entire state that brings a party to power. We have to gain new grounds while retaining the existing ones. We will consolidate where we are strong and we are going to gain new ground.
Karnataka has been in the news for communally-sensitive issues in the recent past – be it the hijab controversy, halal row or the use of loudspeakers at mosques. You took a stand that the government will follow court orders. But, we have seen senior BJP leaders, including some from the national level, who had made remarks that worsened the situation. How do you handle them?
The party is very clear – both at the Center and in the state – that we should go by rule of law. Yes, there were statements. But the party had advised everybody to be in tune with rule of law. Our leaders then said we would follow the rules. It’s the Opposition that is stirring the controversy. On the hijab issue, it was not raised by the BJP but by PFI and SDPI. The Congress was very close to them but did not utter a word. That issue had become a big one. However, we have seen that it did not turn into a law and order issue. The court has given the decision, but they are not ready to obey the high court orders. So they don’t respect the court, they do not respect the law – the Congress supports them indirectly. People are really annoyed with that. However, our administration has been very, very fair. Even on the azaan issue, I said the Supreme Court’s order will be followed. In the case of halal or azaan, the orders were issued during Congress rule. There was an order on azaan in 2002 when the Congress was in power. We are telling people that we are implementing them. But the Congress people are not ready to obey their own orders. Due to political reasons, the present Congress party is not ready to follow them. But I am following the rule of law. Despite the noise in the media, there is peace and law and order on the ground in the state.
But there are Hindu groups which tried to play loudspeakers in the temples. Aren’t such moves embarrassing the government? Do you think a party section and their remarks also boost them?
There are certain organizations that are doing it – they are not connected to the BJP. They are in the forefront of all these controversies. But we have taken action, given them warnings – and we are very clear that rule of law will prevail. The rules are for everyone. There are extreme elements on both sides. We have to rein them in and control them. My governance idea is good governance in the sense that it will be a governance of equality, equal opportunities and fairness. I am determined about it.
In Uttar Pradesh, the party campaigned on how it maintained law and order. In Gujarat, PM Modi is stressing on the Gujarat model, for instance, in the education sector. What is there for Karnataka to project as a model for other states to emulate?
Karnataka is a forward state. We are developing Karnataka in all sectors. We will be models of development in the farm sector, education, women and infrastructure.
In the BJP-ruled states, bulldozers have become symbols of good governance and law and order. What’s your view on it?
People are getting confused with removal of illegal constructions. The sound of bulldozers is not new to Delhi – right from 1977 Turkman Gate to Sanjay Gandhi’s efforts.
But the BJP had criticized it and now wants to do the same?
Wherever there is obstruction to normal life with illegal construction, action has been taken. Now the normal administrative activity has been interpreted by the Opposition as bulldozing and creating uproar. That’s why the Supreme Court has come down heavily on the parties. What the Supreme Court said is the reality and it’s the rule. Everyone has to follow it. It was proved it was a simple administrative action, which was given different political names. Bulldozer symbol is not created by the BJP, but by the media.
BJP leaders have said on record that in Karnataka the party is trying to bring in leaders from other parties. Poaching leaders from other parties cost you dearly in Bengal.
It’s not poaching of leaders. A large number of youngsters want to join the BJP. Not just the leaders, but also people from different walks of life want to join it.
Naturally, leaders in the BJP will get annoyed, seeing their space getting shrunk. And, leaders without Sangh background are always a problem in BJP state units. Your comment?
But we are getting leaders from the area where we did not have much stakes. For example, in southern Karnataka.
Industry leaders have expressed concern over the law and order situation in Karnataka. We see controversy after controversy, mainly on communal issues, gripping the state. Can a city like Bengaluru, where people from different states and even foreign countries come for work or studies, afford to have a climate of fear and communal divide? Don’t you think these controversies have affected or can affect the state’s image?
Not at all. There were small issues that were in the news. But on the ground there is law and order and peace. The investments are growing – we are number one in FDI in the last four quarters. Forty per cent of FDI in the country comes to Karnataka. We are well-placed internationally.
When it comes to new technologies, electric vehicles, semi-conductors, defense R&D and sunrise industries are in Karnataka and they continue to come to the state. I have signed an MoU semi-conductor plant, we have signed a deal with Toyota for a Rs 5,000 crore expansion plan. If the law and order were bad, would they continue here? I have signed another MoU with Exide company the other day. A big FMCG cluster is coming up in the state and there are new agreements in pharma and EV industries also. There’s an investment meet in November and I met ambassadors of many countries and they are keen to come to the state. Karnataka is a leader in the industrial, service, IT, unicorn sectors… (and) we are going to remain so.
So, you mean to say there is no politics of hate in the state nor atmosphere of fear among its industrialists?
Opposition does not have any other issue and these claims are not going to stay for long.
With women being the focus, how would you tackle the issues linked to inflation, especially the high cooking gas price?
The inflation is due to international developments. Once it is settled, it will be a thing of the past.