Bengaluru: When Tejasvi Surya, 28, was announced as the candidate from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) long-held constituency of Bangalore South instead of the late union minister Ananth Kumar’s wife Tejaswini, there was much controversy. Ananth Kumar had won the seat during the last six elections.

Surya, a lawyer, is the secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a right-wing students’ organisation affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and is general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP. He is one of the youngest candidates in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

Surya courted controversy when he said in a speech that people “not with Modi” were “anti-India”. He also tweeted his opposition to reservation for women in parliament--only to later delete the tweets--and blamed the BJP’s loss in Jayanagar due to “complete consolidation of Muslim vote”. Following a sexual harassment suit, he approached a civil court for a gag order against the media. The case was dropped by the women’s commision recently after the complainant said it “was politically motivated to ruin the political career of Surya”.

In an email interview to IndiaSpend, Surya said he stood by his statement about those against Prime Minister Narendra Modi being anti-India, spoke about his party’s chances of winning a second-term at the Centre, and addressed the controversies surrounding his candidature.

Your candidature has been controversial. The previous candidate, late Ananth Kumar’s wife, was expected to be selected. How do you assess your chances in Bangalore South given the circumstances?

I feel blessed to be chosen by the BJP leadership to represent a prestigious constituency like Bangalore South. The late Ananth Kumar was my first mentor and guru in public life. Whether it’s the airport in Devanahalli or floating the idea of a suburban rail, his contribution to the constituency and this city has been immense.

The people of Bangalore South have shown great faith in electing the BJP for the last six terms. I can only say that I am honoured to be named for a constituency that has elected leaders like Justice KS Hegde, social reformer TR Shamanna, freedom fighter VS Krishna Iyer, administrator Gundu Rao, Venkatagiri Gowda, and an organisation builder and visionary like Ananth Kumar.

What is your vision for the constituency as a young candidate? What changes would you like to make and what are your priorities?

Bangalore is a unique city in the sense that it was founded way back in 1537, and now has one of the youngest populations. It is also the start-up capital of India. I think we need technology-driven solutions to problems such as traffic, infrastructure and environment.

A new Bangalore needs a unique plan that caters to urban problems that the city is facing. For this, I am mulling a Kempe Gowda institute for urban planning, which will be a think-tank that innovates on solutions for problems that are unique to Bangalore.

Do you stand by the speech you made where you said: “If you’re with Modi you are with India and if you are not with Modi you are anti-India.” You did clarify the context later, but you also said you remain unapologetic. Does it not polarise an electorate that has historically supported the BJP?

The speech was made before my candidature was announced so I don’t think it could have polarised the election. I do stand by it.

The statement was made on a different platform and has been taken out of context now. Anyone is free to criticise anybody in this country. But hatred towards the Prime Minister shouldn’t lead to hatred for the country and the idea of India. Opposition to Modi often transcends to opposition to India. This is what I am against.

The BJP has found strong Brahmin support in Bangalore South. The Akhila Karnataka Brahmana Mahasabha general secretary said “we support Brahmin candidates, irrespective of the party, in all elections.” What are your views on the caste-based support which has a tendency to take the focus away from a development-focused agenda as promised by your party in 2014?

I am not sure whether I was given support based on my caste by any religious body. Bangalore South did not vote for me based on my caste. They saw me as a 28-year-old lawyer who is the BJP candidate for the constituency. During my campaign, I have had elders tell me that they have a son who is of my age. Youngsters too consider me their brother, someone who can be the voice of the youth and Kannada voice in Parliament. The focus of my campaign has always been about my vision to develop the city and has not taken any other turn.

The sex ratio of Bangalore South (879) is lower than the Bangalore district average (916). Bangalore South (urban) is at 799, the lowest among all sub-districts including Bangalore East, North, and Anekal sub-districts. How do you plan to tackle the issue if you are elected?

One of the campaigns under the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' [save the girl child, educate the girl child] scheme is to improve awareness among the general public about the country's skewed sex ratio. If I am elected to power from Bangalore South, I will raise this point and make it part of the general discourse and improve the awareness about the sex ratio in Bangalore Urban and Bangalore South specifically.

Water stress is expected to get worse in Bangalore by next year according to a Niti Aayog report. Have you developed a strategy for your constituency to ensure adequate access and quality of water?

There are a host of measures one can undertake to solve water problems of Bangalore. For instance, better utilisation of AMRUT funds for cleaning our water bodies should be among our top priorities. We also have to think on the lines of subsidising rainwater harvesting units. The Godavari-Kaveri linking project needs special emphasis. I hope to contribute towards this project as well.

If you look at the way MPLADS [Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme] funds were utilised in the last couple of years, a lot went towards ensuring people had better access to drinking water. I would think on those lines. As for improving the quality of water, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi can clean a water body as big as the Ganga, why can’t we clean up our lakes? It’s possible.

While some surveys have claimed that the Balakot strikes have improved the BJP’s chances, others have claimed otherwise. What is your assessment of your party’s position in Karnataka and the country overall? What did you hear from your constituents?

Whether it’s the Ujjwala Scheme [clean cooking gas scheme] by which many families (about 60 million at least) got LPG cylinders or the Jan Dhan Yojana [financial inclusion programme] through which more than 353 million bank accounts were set up for individuals, Prime Minister Modi has worked for the progress of all.

There’s a huge Modi wave which is evident even now in the country and in Karnataka. I am sure that on May 23 [when the election results will be announced] the BJP in Karnataka will be able to record a huge success.

You obtained a gag order on the media recently, which the High Court lifted. Why did you feel the need to approach the court?

There was a smear campaign against me which was being carried out by my opponents right after my candidature was announced. As a citizen of this country, I was well within my rights to approach the court if I felt that my name was being tarnished with false information.

Moreover, it was not a gag order at all. The court restrained media organisations from writing news that was defamatory. The High Court too reiterated the same and even empowered me to approach the Election Commission if I felt aggrieved. The [Karnataka] Women's Commission dropped the case right after the second phase of elections in Karnataka was complete. The timing gives away the very reason why the case got instituted in the first place. It was 100% politically motivated. The facts are in front of us to arrive at this conclusion.

(Paliath is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

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