'Our ideology is not casteism, but nationalism': BJP leader C.T. Ravi

National general secretary Ravi says BJP is targeting 150 seats in Karnataka

38-Ravi C.T. Ravi | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

A former student leader in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, C.T. Ravi, 55, rose through the ranks to become an MLA from Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka. He was a minister in the B.S. Yediyurappa cabinet when BJP president J.P. Nadda asked him to work for the organisation. Ravi accepted the new role and resigned from the cabinet in 2020. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he shares his thoughts on the BJP's poll prospects and defends the saffron party’s policies and ideology. Excerpts:

Q Some surveys are estimating a clean sweep for the Congress in the polls. What is your assessment?

A The Congress is known to make sound rather than work on the ground. After the Goa polls, a senior Congress leader from Karnataka flew to Goa in a special aircraft to install their government, but who finally formed the government? In Uttar Pradesh, they created enough noise during the ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ campaign. The Congress contested in 399 seats and lost its deposit in 387.

Q What are the BJP's internal surveys saying?

A We will comfortably cross the magic number. Our target is 150 seats. In Old Mysuru, we are hoping to get 20-25 seats. In Kalyana Karnataka (formerly Hyderabad-Karnataka), we hope to win 25. In Bengaluru, we have 15 out of 28 seats and we will scale it up to 20. In the Coastal Karnataka and Central Karnataka we intend to retain existing seats. In Kittur Karnataka (Mumbai-Karnataka) we want to increase our tally to 40 from 30.

Q BJP has emerged as single largest party twice but hasn't attained majority.

A We have started work early as we realised there was a need for course correction. In Old Mysuru region, the party was weak but today we are in a strong position. If the opposition parties are targeting us today in Mandya Kolar and Chikballapur, it is because we are in the mainstream now.

Q How will you improve your performance in Bengaluru, which is known for its ‘adjustment politics’ between sitting MLAs? 

A Bengaluru has party-based voters who have confidence in Modi’s leadership, BJP and its policies. We just need to focus on picking the acceptable candidates to reach our target. 

Q Will the election plank be development or hindutva?

A We are going to the people with our development report card. In every assembly segment, 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the people are beneficiaries of central schemes, be it toilets, gas connection, electricity, ration, free health insurance or the free Covid-19 vaccines. It is now the party’s responsibility to take this message to every home and convert the support into votes. Hindutva is cultural nationalism and it has been part of our ideology since the Jan Sangh days and we do not need elections to push forward our ideology. Hindutva is not communalism. We honour the likes of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Shishunala Sharif and Ibrahim Sutar, who are Muslims. But the Congress patronises the 'tukde tukde' gang. There is a big difference between what the Congress and the BJP patronise as role models.

Q Hindutva is considered a political tool to push through your ideology.

A No. We do not subscribe to extremism or resort to force. We push through our ideology within the framework of democracy. We have faith in the ballot and not bullets, but the leftists neither have faith in the ballot or the Indian Constitution. We go to people and place our ideology before them. The fact that we are in power shows there is acceptance of our ideology among the people.

Q How has the state benefited from double-engine government?

A The Centre gives similar funds for highways and railways projects wherever the state proactively provides land through acquisition. This time, Karnataka received record amount as development funds from the Centre as both levels of the government have the same mindset towards development.

Q So, will the Modi government refuse development funds if Karnataka is ruled by a non-BJP party?

A No. The Centre will always want to provide adequate funds to the states for development irrespective of the party in power. But the lack of interest on the part of the state government has affected development. For instance, the Siddaramaiah government did not send the beneficiaries’ (farmers) data for Kisan Samman Yojna. Even the West Bengal government did not show interest in the scheme for political reasons. The farmers in these states were deprived of the direct benefit transfer for want of data. The state governments in question did not want the Modi government to get credit for the scheme. Those state governments chose politics over the welfare of people.

Q You may deny the “40% sarkar” allegation citing lack of evidence, but the BJP seems to have lost the perception battle.

A The Congress is indulging in toolkit politics and is the director, producer and actor in the case. I will not claim that there is no corruption in the system. It has impacted our government, too. But can the corrupt Congress be an alternative to the BJP? How can a tainted party make allegations of corruption against others?

Q So, you are admitting there is corruption. Who should the citizens vote for when there is no proper alternative?

A In a democracy, people always select the “far better” option though they need the “good” option. By all means, BJP is better than the Congress, be it in our nationalism or policy implementation.

Q Madal Virupakshappa’s arrest in a a bribery case gives an impression that BJP is no better than other parties.

A Madal Virupakshappa resigned from Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited immediately after the allegations cropped up. He cannot quit as an MLA pending inquiry. If Congress was in power, they would have given a clean chit to their tainted MLA by now. They weakened the Lokayukta so that their houses are not raided. They created the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which is not an independent body.

Q What action has the party taken against Virupakshappa?

A The party’s disciplinary committee will certainly look into the issue.

Q What are the challenges to delivering corruption-free and good governance?

A DBT or Sakala (time-bound government services) was brought in by the BJP to fight corruption and ensure transparency. The “Commission sarkar” charge is not justified as we have appointed a Tender Scrutiny Committee headed by a retired high court judge Justice Ratnakala to scrutinise tenders above Rs 5 crore. This is also part of good governance. We must not forget that the lawyers, police, teachers, journalists, just like MLAs and MPs, come from the society. So, there is need for an overall transformation in the society to curb corruption. Our education reforms aim at bringing in this change through moral education. One Modi cannot eradicate all corruption. If our party is in power for a few decades, it can certainly bring about visible changes.

Q The BJP government has not fulfilled a majority of the poll promises made in its 2018 manifesto, alleges Congress. So, what is the development report card you are referring to?

A Our schemes have focused on building basic infrastructure and providing schemes to ensure social justice. The state government is providing Rs 4,000 to every beneficiary of the Kisan Samman Yojana - minimum income support of Rs 6,000 given to small and marginal farmers by the Centre. The Raita Vidya Nidhi (scholarship to farmers’ children), interest-free loan of up to Rs 5 lakh or the enhanced reservation for SC/ST community are all new programmes which were not in the manifesto.

You must not forget that the BJP government came into existence only in 2019 after some members of Congress and JDS got disillusioned with their parties and joined the BJP. We have not been able to focus on delivering some of the promises as there was an urgent need to design new schemes based on the changing demands. During Covid, we had to invest in healthcare infrastructure in short time to save lives and post-pandemic, we had to invest in rebuilding the lives of people. So, naturally the priorities changed. Despite these challenges, we tabled a revenue-surplus budget.

Q Anti-incumbency is a factor in Karnataka. While you seem to be banking on development and welfare schemes to win this elections, we have seen Siddaramaiah government’s populist schemes like Anna Bhagya failing to bring the Congress back to power.

A Elections are fought on three aspects – ‘neeti’ (policy), ‘netratva’ (leadership) and ‘neeyat’ (integrity or credibility). The Modi government’s policy is inclusive – Sabka saat, sabka vikas. But Siddaramaiah government had come up with ‘Shaadi Bhagya’ scheme for Muslim girls to appease the Muslim votebank. Another scheme - Pravasa Bhagya, free excursion for students of Class 5 and 6, was meant only for children of particular communities. This kind of discriminatory scheme was an attempt to seed hatred in young minds. But none of our schemes are based on caste or religion. Siddaramaiah was found to favour a communal party like SDPI. He is accused of being responsible for his party colleague Dr Parameshwara’s defeat in the last polls.

In BJP, our leaders – Modi, Yediyurappa and Bommai - have acceptable leadership. Our commitment is towards the country and Congress’s is towards its votebank. In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi who was the PM, had said that out of every rupee spent by the Centre on welfare, only 15 paise reached the intended beneficiary. Ironically, it was the Congess party that was in power from panchayat to the Parliament.

Times have changed under the Modi leadership. Today, the Centre has distributed Rs 25 lakh crore through direct benefit transfer into the Jan Dhan accounts of nearly 45 crore beneficiaries, nearly 12.5 crore BPL families have got toilets under Swachch Bharat, 11 crore farmers are availing benefits under Kisan Samman Yojna and Ayushman Bharat (health insurance) covers 90 crore families and not a single rupee is being siphoned off. These reflect the BJP government’s honesty and integrity.

Q If BJP is pro-poor, why did they reduce the Anna Bhagya (free rice) quota from 7kg per person to 5kg?

A It is common knowledge how much rice an individual consumes in a month and we are fulfilling that need. There is no question of any shortage or scarcity. Freebies are a temporary solution to poverty. We believe in permanent solutions and intend to make every Indian self reliant. ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is possible through Skill India, reforms to education, focus on infrastructure development and by attracting investments that create jobs.

Our slogan in the state is ‘Udyami aagu udyama needu’ (Become an entrepreneur, become an employer). Earlier, people used to run around looking for a job. Today, youth have enough confidence to become entrepreneurs as there is a provision like Mudra (loans) scheme and Start-up India.

Q A major allegation against the RSS-BJP combine is that they are anti-reservation as their policies favour privatisation. This will reduce the government jobs, which mostly impacts communities availing reservation benefits.

A No. The BJP government has enhanced the reservation quota. All communities can now aspire to be entrepreneurs and job creators as there is a provision to avail loan up to Rs 1.5 crore without guarantor.

BJP believes in changing the mindset of people to make them job providers rather than job seekers. The Congress believes in making people dependant by giving alms as they consider people as mere votebanks.

Q B.S. Yediyurappa is the last of the mass leaders in the state. Is BJP relying on him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to win the elections?

A Modi is a blessing to our party and country. And Yediyurappa has taken up the responsibility of ensuring the party’s victory in the polls though he himself is not contesting this time. We will certainly benefit from his able guidance. The party is going to the polls under Basavaraj Bommai’s leadership as he is our chief minister. No two leaders are the same.

Q Has Yediyurappa announcing his son Vijayendra’s candidature from Shikarpura embarrassed the party?

A In the BJP we follow a system to pick the candidates. Even Yediyurappa is on the parliamentary board that finalises the tickets. The state committee only recommends the names and the decision of the parliament board is binding.

Q The BJP, known for its Lingayat-centric politics, now seems to be trying to reduce its dependance on one community. Have you succeeded?

A There is no doubt that the Lingayat community has supported the BJP in a big way. But, it is wrong to say other communities have not. Our ideology is not casteism, but nationalism that unites all.

Q Karnataka is ruled by caste-based politics. Can you overlook this reality?

A Once we stabilise, we can think of social justice and equal representation. In Gujarat, too, we faced allegations that only the Patel community enjoyed power. Slowly, we changed the rules of the game. In Karnataka, too, all communities will get power and justice.