P Muralidhar Rao, 53, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national general secretary, is the in-charge of election-bound Karnataka for the party. A former volunteer of the Rashtriya Swaymsevak Sangh (RSS), the Telangana-born leader worked with the Swadeshi Jagran Manch before the RSS sent him to the BJP. A tech-savvy politician, Rao has operated out of a guest house in Bangalore for the last four months, closely monitoring every minute detail that may influence the outcome of the May 12 polls for the 224-member assembly of the only southern state that the BJP has won in the past. Before starting an action-packed day, Rao spoke to Kumar Uttam on the BJP’s prospects in the state and its challenges. Edited excerpts:
How is the BJP doing in Karnataka two weeks ahead of polling?
There is no doubt that the BJP will form a government. The Congress has given us so many issues to highlight, and several reasons to the people of Karnataka to vote them out. The performance of the previous BJP government in Karnataka and the trust that the people have in Narendra Modi are working in our favour. Compared to this, there is sheer confusion in the Congress. Its leadership is divided. How will the people trust chief minister Siddaramaiah when he doesn’t enjoy the confidence of his own party? The rampant corruption under his nose is a big issue.
You have made corruption a big issue. How does the BJP defend its decision to field some tainted faces? We do not have tainted faces.
The BJP has given ticket to Reddy brothers from Bellary who are accused in the mining scam. Will it not impact the party’s anti-corruption plank?
The BJP has not given a ticket to Gali Janardhana Reddy. Gali Karunakar Reddy and Gali Somasekhara Reddy are workers of the party and have been elected representatives in the past. They do not have cases against them. Where is the question of fielding tainted faces?
The Karnataka government has recommended a separate religion status for Lingayats, who have been loyal to the BJP. Will it hurt your prospects?
The community understands the politics behind it. Why was it not made an issue four years ago by Siddaramaiah, and raised only before the elections? If they were genuinely committed to it, why was it rejected when the Congress was in power at the Centre? It is a brainchild of Siddaramaiah to divide the people of Karnataka. Even the Congress does not subscribe to his opinion on this. If the Congress is united on this, why hasn’t Rahul Gandhi spoken about the issue? Why haven’t leaders such as Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge spoken on this? They know this has backfired on the Congress and now want to maintain a safe distance from the issue. Do you think that the community will desert BS Yeddyurappa because someone else (Siddaramaiah) is trying to play tricks?
But Yeddyurappa is reported to be angry over ticket distribution. Is it not detrimental to the BJP?
Who told you that Yeddyurappa is unhappy? This is speculation.
There were protests after the BJP denied ticket to Yeddyurappa’s son from Varuna.
Ticket distribution has been done carefully. A worker of the BJP has got the ticket there.
The BJP gave tickets to two MPs, Yeddyurappa and B Sriramulu. The third Lok Sabha MP, Shobha Karandlaje, who is a close confidant of Yeddyurappa, was denied a ticket. Will that not upset him?
She did not ask for a ticket. Where is the question of denying ticket to her? She is working for the party.
There are allegations that the BJP is clipping the wings of BS Yeddyurappa even before the elections. Is he going to be the chief minister after the results are declared?
The BJP has declared BS Yeddyurappa as the chief ministerial candidate of the party. We have announced on several occasions that he will be the chief minister after the BJP wins the election. He will be the chief minister for a full five-year term. Where is the confusion in this? Any controversy or confusion in this regard is unnecessary. The BJP is winning the election and Yeddyurappa will be the next chief minister. It is very clear.
There are some reports that the RSS is also unhappy over distribution of tickets in the coastal region. Will it affect the outcome of the election?
There is no truth to these allegations.
Siddaramaiah has played the sub-nationalism card through decisions to have a separate flag for Karnataka and on the language issue. Will it not put the BJP on the back foot?
These are desperate bids by the chief minister to arrest the rapid decline of the Congress. The Congress has been in power for most of these years. They did not wake up to these issues when in power. Now suddenly he is trying to invent some issues. People can see through it. Just on the eve of the election, you are trying to make a non-issue into an issue. These things do not work.
Still, will it not affect the BJP?
It would affect only if the BJP had a different stand from the Congress on the issue of Kannada pride. Is there any difference? No. We respect the sentiments of Karnataka. We are equally sensitive about the language issue. We respect the sentiments about Kannada pride. But remember, Karnataka is not a state where regionalism can be promoted. Kannada pride is a different subject. Regionalism is different.
What is your biggest advantage in Karnataka?
Narendra Modi’s popularity and the trust the people of the state have in him.
When is he going to start his campaign?
From May 1.
There are reports that he will address only 15 rallies. Is the Prime Minister trying to distance himself from Karnataka sensing a trouble?
Where is the question of distancing? He has already held about half-a-dozen pre-election rallies, covering most parts of the state. Now that election dates have been announced, he is going to hold more rallies. You cannot compare the number of rallies he held in bigger states such as Uttar Pradesh with what he will have in Karnataka, which has about half the number of assembly seats than Uttar Pradesh. His rallies are going to change the mood in the state and give a big boost to the party’s campaign.
When will the BJP declare its manifesto?
What are its main highlights?
You will come to know when the manifesto is released. What I can tell you now is that there will be many game-changers in it.
Will the BJP announce a loan waiver for farmers like it did in Uttar Pradesh?
Farmers have suffered in Karnataka under the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government. Cases of suicides by farmers have increased in the state because of the insensitivity of the state government.We have plans to change this situation after coming to power. There will be relief for the agrarian community.
There has been a protest by the Scheduled Castes over issues like the alleged dilution of the SC/ST act and statue vandalism. How will the BJP deal with it?
The atrocities against the SCs have been on a rise in the present government. Incidents like rapes and murders are rampant. The Scheduled Castes are not going to vote for the Congress. They want a change.