An exclusive interview to mark two years of the BJP-led NDA at the centre
Editor-in-chief, daijiworld weekly
Pics: Joshwa D'Souza
Mangaluru, Jul 21: Two years ago on May 26, for the first time in 30 years, the BJP came to power with an absolute majority. Narendra Modi who was sworn in as the Prime Minister gave hope to a disgruntled nation and ushered in a climate of hope and change. His slogans like ‘Acche Din Aanewale Hai’, ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas’, are as famous as some of his popular projects like ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’, 'Swachch Bharat Abhiyan', etc. While his initiative in making ‘Yoga’ an international day was lauded worldwide, his candid talk on radio, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ was equally well received.
Besides, the NDA government engaged itself with such gigantic tasks as evacuation of Indians stranded in Yemen, Libya, LPG subsidy reforms, introduction of Real Estate regulations, the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India resolves, so also other nationalist initiatives that have brought the government to international focus.
The government in its two years had its own setback as well which included its failure to tackle inflation and rising prices, the falling investment rates, its failure to join NSG, the Pathankot terror attack, escalating India-Pak relations, conflicts in Kashmir and so on.
While the government's poll promise to bring back the black money from foreign off-shore accounts is still a misnomer, its promise on implementing of GST Bill and Land Ordinance, introduction of long awaited Women Reservation Bill, Smart City Plans, Ganga rejuvenation and implementation of Bullet train project have only given hopes of a better future and a business climate amidst it’s communal rhetoric and caste based agenda.
In view of the government's two years performance we met the face of the parliament in our district, Nalin Kumar Kateel, member of parliament with a number of questions on both the past, present and the future of his government and how the remaining three years will look like.
In a free-wheeling interview to Daijiworld Media that lasted more than one hour, Nalin Kumar was quite candid and forthcoming in responding to queries on different topics, than during his first term as an MP, for which we are thankful to him.
DW: As one of the members of parliamentary standing committee on agriculture you recently visited the North-Eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya. As per our information, you met the farmers and agricultural scientists there. What was the purpose of this visit and how it will benefit the farmers of our coastal region?
NKK: There are many similarities between the coastal districts of Karnataka and North-Eastern states of Assam and Meghalaya, which I was myself surprised to observe. Not only in terms of geography and ecology, but as far as the occupation of its population is concerned. Both these places are dependent on agriculture as the main occupation and they also produce not only paddy but coconut, areca nut and other cash crop products like us, although the living standards of people and the method of farming are different. I believe they adopt a more scientific method compared to us so also the cost of production is less.
Their production at any given time of the year is more than double in the same area of farming. Coconut trees grow widely in the vast jungles without much attention. While in farming they are much ahead of us, their life style and infrastructure is behind us by 20 – 25 years, possibly because this region is not given much attention by the previous governments at the center.
Our focus was on studying the better practices adopted by them, pest control, how they market their produce and so on. Besides agriculture, even the poultry farming and piggery is very prominent in regions like Meghalaya, etc. They have achieved scientific advantage by rearing pigs that give an average income of Rs 1 lac per pig for a family over a period of 8 months and the produce is hugely exported.
We have made our observations and the results of our studies will be made available to all the states (not just our districts) through CPCRI who organized this visit from the central government.
DW: Is it not contrasting that while the most neglected North-Eastern region is making inroads into modern farming, our twin districts are marred by dwindling prices for agricultural produce like coconut, areca nut, banana for which there are no buyers in the open market? The coconut is sold at Rs 20 in big malls whereas the farmers don’t even fetch Rs 5?
NKK: These problems are created by the middlemen who play spoilsport in our agrarian life. Secondly, the imports and the strident excise regime by the state government may have affected the market.
I am a member in the Coconut Board and have discussed many avenues as to how we can generate demand for coconut. Apart from banning import from countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka, who supply coconut at cheaper rates, there is a need to create market for coconut through by products like coconut milk, oil, neera, etc. You are aware that we had met the Union Minister for Commerce, Nirmala Seetharaman and impressed upon her to ban the imports of coconut and areca nut and also to fix the support price for both these items. At the same time the state government can think of keeping coconut by products outside the purview of excise duty, in which case there will be automatic demand for coconut in the open market. We are working honestly in this direction. Further, the local APMC’s have a role to play in extending the market for local products.
DW: You have been assigned with an additional responsibility by giving overall charge of the Kerala state BJP election campaign as a coordinator. Do you think this role will deprive us of your contribution to the district?
NKK: In my opinion, this role will make me more proactive and open to the services that I am supposed to offer beyond my jurisdiction. I have a responsibility towards my party and obligation to serve in whatever position it sees me fit to achieve. I cannot disregard my party’s expectations as long as I discharge my duties truthfully for my people. In my seven years term, I have never taken leave and always tried to be approachable and transparent in my job.
During my first term, I had two hindrances, one was lack of experience second it was not our BJP government, which inconvenienced me getting the plans and projects approved for my region. But in the successive years I became aggressive and thanks to my colleagues for their support in getting the due from the central government, in particular in infrastructural development.
In terms of infrastructural development, today you will see four lane roads right across our all regions – BC Road to Attavarhole, Kulshekar to Karkal, Talapady to Kundapur, Mani to Mysuru, Bantwal - via Polali - to Kateel to Mulky, Batwal to Siddakatte to Karkal, Melkar to Konaje up to Thokkottu. Again the four lane roads between Dharmasthala – Guruvayanakere to Karkala that connects Udupi.
I can happily declare that more than Rs 10,000 crore has been invested for these projects and you will see somewhere my direct or indirect efforts in these projects.
Now that Shiradi Ghat is opened for pubic passage, Padil underpass railway bridge is completed, Hassan – Subramania – Sakleshpur route is underway, the central government so far has released 1500 crore to the extension of airport for which the state government has to provide land.
DW: Many people allege that being a representative, you are not accessible to the people of your constituency. They say, you are visible only within the city and found inaugurating shops and facilities but not in villages where you have failed to organize ‘Meet the people’ programs.
NKK: This statement is far from true. I am always available for the people of my constituency and they are aware of this. Only technical problem is I have eight legislative assembly constituencies under my jurisdiction which comprise of 1000 villages. You will be surprised to know that I am the only parliamentarian who has visited all the villages during my first term itself. There are 1866 booths in my constituency and I have tried to attend them on some or the other occasion. As an MP of such a huge area, it’s not possible for me to visit all the places all the time but I do it as and when I am called for some specific assignment.
DW: Your party in the district has vowed to win all the 8 legislative assembly seats in the 2018 elections, while the differences among top leaders have come up in the open already. If this continues, how you will devise a strategy to attract the people towards your party?
NKK: BJP believes in development agenda and it is going to be our only Mantra. At any cost we will win all 8 seats here. Issue based differences are common in a democratic set up which will be settled through mutual discussion and dialogue.
DW: There is a general perception that being a member of a majority community you have scant regards for the people from minorities. You are seen mostly visiting the temples and meeting the Swamijies but seldom seen in the company of religious leaders from other religions?
NKK: First of all let me make it very clear, I am not indifferent to any minority community. I visit as many places of minority communities as I visit Hindu places of worship or the people. Except for Kateel Sri Durga Parameshwari temple which is my house deity, which I visit almost daily before resuming my chores, otherwise, in my last seven years I have visited most of the important churches and masjids and met the religious leaders. I have never turned down invitation to visit any religious place, so far unless I am travelling.
You should appreciate that as an MP it is not practically possible for me visit any place without any purpose or occasion.
I have made it a point to visit the Bishop of Mangalore, every month or once in two months. He is one of my best friends, and I have high regards for him. I regret that could not be present during his 75th birthday celebration as I was away in Assam but within soon I will make it up.
I have visited the places and released funds as required whether it’s for churches like Mudipu, Kulshekar, Udupi, Pompei, Balkunje or elsewhere. I have even visited Protestant churches in Kadaba and Beltangady and released funds for the renovation of churches. Recently I have released funds for a mosque near my house in Chennavar, which never received any funds from anywhere, even not from their own community. For me all are equal and having taken oath to discharge my duties as a public servant of a secular nation, I cannot divert from my oath. But people will have their own perception and they are free to have it in a free democracy.
DW: PM Modi gave hopes to India, we have heard such campaigns as 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas', 'Swachh Bharat', 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' and so on but many feel they have remained mere slogans on the wall, without much being achieved on the ground. How long will your party let us live in a fantasy world?
NKK: Today the whole world looks towards India and our Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his vibrancy and leadership. Once he was refused visa to visit US but today the President Barak Obama has become his fan. Both of them vibe and relate to each other so well. While there are threats looming large across the word India is getting free from terror activities. (This interview was conducted prior to the terrorist attack in Kashmir). After NDA government came to power, have you seen terror strike in Bengaluru, our Mangaluru, Coimbatore, Mumbai, Kashmir, Delhi, Assam, Nagaland or elsewhere for that matter?
On the infrastructural development front, while UPA government was in power, its target for road construction was only 2 km’s per day, under NDA’s government it is gone up to 21 km. Under Jan Dhan Yojana almost 12 crore people have made financially inclusive by opening their bank accounts, a feat that has surprised the well established banks worldwide.
We have successfully contained Naxalite activity, More than 2 crore people both rich and medium class have turned down the gas subsidy following an appeal from the Prime Minister. This is just second time after Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri where people all over India have responded to a clarion call by a national leader. Has any other prime minister reached a disaster site within 5 hours like Modi did when a huge fire took place in Kollam?
Let us not ignore the fact that our government is a two year old baby, please allow this baby to grow. In a huge country like India, it takes time to deliver the plans and projects to the door steps of the people. We have done sincere efforts to deliver, let the bureaucrats do their job in delivering the best schemes for the people.
DW: You were a reluctant politician. You came to politics through religious activity, first as an RSS cadet and then as a leader in Temple restructuring project. You have the distinction of being billed as the 4th Best MP in program implementation and funds utilization, you were ranked 6th popular MP by Times of India in terms of attendance and participation, you were awarded No 1 MP by Vijayavani Kannada daily for your overall performance. You won the second term with much ease and comfort. What we can expect from you in the next three remaining years? Also, how about your contesting for the third term?
NKK: As you know, I have never desired for a place or position. My party reposed faith in my ability and chose me as a candidate to run for parliamentary election. I have done my job as an obedient servant. I have taken my job as a vrata not a vratti. (As a duty not as a profession) Even in the future I will stand by the directives of my party.
My hands are full and there are many things that I wish to achieve. I wish to set up a coconut park for our coastal region. Second in line is the development of a Smart Port since we have great potential to utilize the huge coastal region that we are blessed with. Then we have Smart City scheme which is on top of our mind. There is a need to expand and improve the International airport, also a long pending desire to break away from Palakkad to form our own Mangaluru Railway division. There is also plan to set up Plastic Park for which I was able to get the approval, but I must stress here, unless the state government makes available the required land within stipulated time frame nothing of the above projects may materialize but I am hopeful that the Congress government seizes the opportunity of such large scale projects which will eventually change the face of our region.
DW: May I ask you something very personal - how do you manage to remain so stress-free, slim and trim? I have been seeing you for the past 7 years and you look the same. What do you do to keep yourself fit and fine?
NKK: I believe in simple life and maintain a simple diet mostly eating kanji (rice gruel). I don’t indulge in excessive eating, drinking tea/coffee or eating at public functions.
As far as my personal life is concerned, my wife and my family comes first. My friendly demeanour, my close connect with my wife, my children, family keeps me going. Although I don’t get much quality time to spend with them I keep connected with them, especially with my children who are small, through phone, etc.
DW: Let me come to a practical issue. A parliamentary subcommittee on finance has proposed revision of salaries and allowances of MPs by 100%. Is this justified in view of a common man not getting a 10 – 20% raise in salaries in years. Also recently the central government after much deliberation approved a mere 23.5 % hike for their staff? What is your personal view since this hike will cost the exchequer Rs 350 crore every year?
NKK: It’s not wrong for any committee to study the raise in the salaries and allowances of MPs but how much or when is finally decided by the government. Secondly, we do incur lots of expenses in managing our stay in the capital so also in the constituency, and we pay out huge expenses on housing, staff salaries, telephone service at two places, travel, refreshment both for staff and party workers, vehicles maintenance, etc. The salaries of people working in government and private are meant for themselves but in case of a legislator/parliamentarian it is to maintain the decorum of an office as an elected representative of the people.
Having said that, in my entire political life, I have never debated or appealed for any hike in my personal salaries or allowances, but it is done taking into account the position of an MP or a Government servant. In fact I have demanded to hike the MP's LAD (Local Area Development) funds from the present Rs 5 crore to Rs 25 crore as when we visit our constituency the people ask for more funds to implement plans and projects and if I fail to deliver they say that my performance as a MP is not up to the mark. I have 8 legislative constituencies under my jurisdiction and the funds presently made available are not at all sufficient. On the contrary, local MLA's get more funds through different schemes like NABARD, Coastal Development, Malnad development, etc.
Anyway, for the moment the government has turned down the proposal, hence there is no point in discussing about the proposal.
DW: You are in transport business, did you anytime feel that you could have made more money by being a successful businessman?
NKK: Yes, sometimes that thought comes to my mind. If I had continued only in business, there could have been a change in our luxury, lifestyle. But on the other hand I am not the one who will live for money but for inner satisfaction. I am happy with less money and more opportunities to serve my people.
DW: Like you already said, many people including from minorities are attracted towards the BJP, what is your message to them?
NKK: I am happy to observe that there is a great change or awakening in the mindset of people, especially youth from the minorities. They have realized that BJP means development and nothing else. You would have already observed that there are many leaders from different religions in our party and more and more are coming ahead to join and we welcome them with open arms. After all India is a vibrant democracy and everyone has the liberty to join the party of their choice.