With months to go before Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018, Brand Bengaluru gets a major push. Accounting for 28 of the 224 assembly seats, the silicon city of India is an important district to bag. However, aspirations to become the global innovation hub aside, India's IT capital grapples with basic issues like garbage, toxic lakes and crumbling infrastructure.
Priyank Kharge, the 38-year-old minister for IT/BT and Tourism in Karnataka- the youngest in Siddaramaiaha's cabinet, makes a realistic assessment of the city and the state. In an interview with OneIndia news, Kharge reasons why Congress government, despite all the criticism, will return to power in the state--a feat not achieved by any party for several decades. Edited Excerpts:
Creation of a great innovation ecosystem aside, how is the government trying to overcome basic issues like crumbling infrastructure?
As a responsible minister, I will not shy away from the fact that infrastructure is a major concern. Rs 8,000 crore has been allocated to the BBMP (Bengaluru's civic agency) to improve road network, completion of Metro lines (46 kms) and extraditing connectivity to the airport. Yes, our policies are playing catch up but I don't think any other government has ever had a Bengaluru specific growth and infrastructure story to tell. It is a constant work in progress.
What is the Karnataka model of development that your government has been promoting?
I am pushing the concept of 'Nava Karnataka', not 'Karnataka model of development'. How I take forward the five years of good governance, progressive policymaking and build upon it is my narrative. All our schemes attempt to economically empower people. Take for example Ksheera Bhagya (Free milk scheme for school children)- it is addressing malnutrition, drop out ratio in schools, dairy farmers are making more money. Isn't that empowerment? The term 'Bhagya' is misconstrued as doling out freebies but we are trying to ensure their economic and social stability. We are attempting to build and secure the future of Karnataka for its people.
How will your efforts in IT/BT help electorally?
The government does not frame policies for votes, it is to provide employment, attracting investments and creating more skilled population. In the last one and half years, we have become the centre for excellence in Aerospace, Internet of things, big data, animation and gaming among others. Union ministers like Ravi Shankar Prasad merely make statements,I have delivered. We do hope all our efforts translate into votes as no other government has genuinely tried to skill people for employability.
Karnataka has pioneered the cause of bringing out specific policies for different sectors. How has this helped?
We have encouraged more than 400 startups, 250 of them have got grants in one and a half years. That is two or three startups every day. The AVGC (Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming and Comics) policy is coming along and we have started setting up post-production labs. We are the first in the country to give grants to original IPs and have B2B meetings for homegrown studios for both gaming and animation.
Your Twitter persona seems to have taken on a more offensive role towards the BJP. Is this a conscious shift?
As minister for IT, I am expected to be on Twitter but it is not a political account. But I am in politics and have an opinion that needs to be shared. As a custodian of certain ideologies, I have to express. I do not think there is a shift but you perhaps see it since elections are around the corner.
#JhumleBaazi has begun in Karnataka with #ShahInMysuru . I dare Mr. @AmitShah to give the names, reasons & cause of deaths of RSS-BJP karyakartas who have been “murdered”. @dineshgrao has already filed a case on state BJP leaders for spreading lies like these https://t.co/Y1kiKJhzGo— Priyank Kharge (@PriyankKharge) January 25, 2018
Do allegations of Congress being a Dynasty-driven party bother someone like you?
Dynasty politics is not a real issue with any political party. BJP used to claim that they aren't a dynasty politics party but look where they are now. People get elected and not selected. I may be a fluke once but unless I prove myself, I won't be elected again. People like Dinesh Gundu Rao, Krishna Byre Gowda put in hard work, are progressive and their work speaks for them. Those accusing us of being paradropped don't see that I have put in close to 20 years in this party. I worked under 5 Youth Congress Presidents, 2 NSUI presidents. At times, I do hope people cut us some slack and be a little more considerate before pulling us up. The merits, if considered, would be great.
Will article 371 (J) be the Congress' poll plank in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region?
Development is on fast-track with grants of Rs 1,500 crore every year for infrastructure. One visit and you can see how tremendously infrastructure has improved in places like Kalburgi. Work has happened at the grassroots level based on Dr Nanjundappa report on regional imbalance. Places like Chittapur, Chincholi, Maski are improving. Reservation in education is ensuring that our children are going to good colleges, close to 30,000 jobs have been created. In 2013, people voted for us under the impression that article 371 is a game changer but this time around they are seeing the impact.
What measures are you as IT/BT minister taking on the slowdown in IT and other industries?
Why is there an economic slowdown in the first place? Demonetisation was a completely misconceived idea. The union government is attempting to fudge numbers. Only Mr Modi understands the Gujarat Model of development and Modinomics. It is affecting all of us but for the great policies, we have in place that has insulated us, stabilised and helped create jobs.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming elections?
This election is going to be the most vicious. A minister (Ananth Kumar Hegde) who is responsible for training youth, creating employment has never spoken about his vision for the country. He can determine the course of the future of India but he wants to speak about changing constitution and Hanuman Jayanti. I hope people don't fall prey to polarisation that the BJP has outsourced to people like Yogi Adityanath. Let him compare Uttar Pradesh with Karnataka on industries, jobs, social skills, technology, infant mortality rates and women's social standing. Polarisation is their only agenda.
How do you view BJP's Dalit outreach programs led by B S Yeddyurappa in Karnataka?
Irrespective of party and leaders, I believe such programs should be stopped. The BJP claims to hail Dr B R Ambedkar but wants to subvert the constitution. The PM remains mum when his ministers talk of changing the constitution. Dalits are being thrashed in the country and I do not see Dalit appeasement working for the BJP. People are aware of where the BJP stands. We will base our politics on our strengths and not on BJP's weakness.
|Karnataka Assembly Election dates|
|Date of notification||April 17|
|Last date to file nominations||April 24|
|Last date to withdraw nominations||April 27|
|Date of polling||May 12|
|Date of counting||May 15|