‘Polls will be tricky & tight, but we’ll make it’
BJP is claiming that it will win 140 seats.
Although many leaders from the ruling BJP have already claimed that the party will win around 140 seats, Health and Medical Education Minister Dr K Sudhakar chooses to be more realistic and modest about these claims. He reasoned that while it will be a tricky and tight election this time around, BJP would still come up trumps. Dr Sudhakar, who is also part of the team working on the BJP manifesto for the Assembly polls, had a free-wheeling interaction with the TNSE editors and reporters. Excerpts...
BJP is claiming that it will win 140 seats. What is your realistic assessment of the situation?
It will be a very important, tricky and tight election. I wouldn’t say that we will get 140 or 150 seats, but we are striving hard to form the government on our own. I strongly believe that it will happen because of two-three reasons. One is that the people of Karnataka have seen coalition governments in the past. Economic growth or the overall development of the state depends a lot on political stability. It comes only when a single party forms the government. Second, people of Karnataka have also realised that on many occasions, we have voted for parties in the state which are different from those ruling at the Centre. When that happens, we have suffered from lack of allocation of funds, development and smooth arrangement between the state and the Centre. When the same party is at the state and Centre, there is more support from the Centre for all our infrastructure projects. Just to give an example, the Railways allocated over Rs 7,500 crore to Karnataka, which is almost nine times higher than what was received during the UPA regime. If the state has to benefit, it has to be the same party in the state and Centre. This is what we call a double-engine government.
What is your assessment of the anti-incumbency factor working against BJP?
Every party, while they’re in power, will have an element of anti-incumbency and this government also has it. But whether you can beat this anti-incumbency and still form a government is the question. Even as an individual MLA, I’ll have some anti-incumbency in my constituency. Whether I’ll be able to beat that and convince my people that, yes, this is the kind of development, work that we have done in the most challenging times is the challenge. Governments under normal and extraordinary circumstances are two different aspects. I always feel that the pre-Covid era is different from Covid and post-Covid era. This government had a unique responsibility of not only saving lives, but also saving livelihoods. We never reduced the salaries of any of our employees even during those turbulent financial years. There was a lockdown, there was no GST, no taxes were coming in and there was no revenue. Despite that, the government ensured social security to the people. Healthcare, education and all the necessities … we ensured that people had it. Of course, we had to face two floods consecutively when Yediyurappaji was the chief minister. He had not even formed the cabinet. He was the only minister… and he had to handle the floods in 2019. Then again in 2021, we faced floods. They were the two biggest floods. People should give credit to this government that it has done its best. Today, our economy is much better than in pre-Covid times and that speaks volumes about this government. We are getting our fundamentals right. Our chief ministers — Yediyurappa (earlier) and Bommai (now) — ensured that this government adapts to the situation and provides the best care and best development.
You were at the helm during the Covid pandemic. As a health minister, what were your apprehensions and challenges at that time?
To begin with, we were clueless. As doctors, we were clueless; and as healthcare professionals, we were clueless. You can imagine what the government went through then. I should congratulate Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) for his vision, and the kind of commitment and statesmanship he showed. He took all the states together although there were several states with different political parties at the helm. To face Covid was a war-like situation. We handled symptomatically how we deal with diseases or infections. When things evolved, we were trying to learn from the world. Fortunately, India was about a couple of months later than other countries. For example, Covid started in China, it went to Europe, certain Far Eastern countries, the US and then came to India. Those two months were pivotal and we learned from others’ mistakes and their experiences. Luckily, we could handle the first wave flawlessly. I do agree that in the second wave, we had to struggle a lot because nobody had a clue that the Delta variant could create such havoc. The oxygen usage was unbelievable. We upgraded our facilities and infrastructure by at least 5 to 8 times in six months. We showed the world that India — when it comes to taking challenges, when it comes to saving the lives — can do better than any other country, better than even the most advanced countries. Our Prime Minister showed statesmanship by donating vaccines to dozens of countries. When you talk about vaccines in earlier times, it would take 15 to 20 years to reach India from the West. But this is the first time in the history of medical sciences that a homegrown Indian vaccine was developed. This speaks volumes about our scientists as well.
Chamarajanagar oxygen mismanagement took 24 lives. What went wrong?
As an individual and as an administrator, I felt very bad and I feel pity for those who lost their lives. But that was a time when the administration of both the districts (Chamarajanagar and Mysuru) should have been much more active and alert, and they should have handled the situation. It was unfortunate and it could have been avoided if both district administrations acted efficiently.
Some MLAs who joined BJP along with you in 2019 seem not happy, and may switch their loyalties. What impact does it have on the poll prospects of BJP?
Just before the polls, such switches are bound to happen as a few may come this side and vice-versa. That will not have any impact. From the voters’ perspective, he will gauge what is good for the state and what is good for himself. I am sure that people are quite sensible, educated and aware of things. Unlike in the past, today, people are more aware and educated. I am confident the people are intelligent. They will take the right approach and vote for the right person and the right party since they know that it is a five-year game. In 2018, I was the person who was opposed to the idea of Congress allying with JDS to form the government. Though elected from a party, an individual should have his say. But the decision was taken without discussing it in the legislature party meeting. Before I reached the state capital, the alliance was announced. They had announced the leader. This is not democratic.
According to some surveys, none of the political parties is likely to get a full mandate this time. Will the coalition government repeat?
I hope better wisdom prevails in Karnataka. The last thing I expect is a hung Assembly. People should understand the wrath of the coalition government and how bad it will be for them. I appeal to the people to please vote for development stability and for ‘Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas’.
It is difficult to get beds in Nimhans, especially during emergency cases like accidents... Why?
That is because it is overloaded as they get patients not just from Bengaluru but also from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and other neighbouring states. Unfortunately, in the entire South India, there is just one Nimhans. Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Mansukh L Mandaviya, during his visit, responded positively to my appeal to set up a regional centre of Nimhans in North Karnataka. Maybe, in the next budget, it may be announced.
Many people from different parts of the country and world are looking at Karnataka for its health tourism. What plans do you have to make it a better destination?
Luckily, in Karnataka, we have a great healthcare ecosystem, for which I do not want to take credit as it has been there for a while. Today, there are very good hospitals where they are concentrating on health tourism. Bengaluru is the epicentre of good healthcare in the country. So, a lot of our experts and specialists in every domain of healthcare are good and people from abroad feel Bengaluru is a natural choice for healthcare. Now, we need to grow beyond Bengaluru by overcoming the challenges of healthcare that is urban-centric. This should change. Every individual should have access to healthcare.
After a gap, Covid cases have crossed 100. Is it a cause for worry?
A marginal increase has been seen in hospitals and a few ICU admissions. There is no need to panic right now. The health department is watchful and all necessary precautions are being taken. Death audits are being performed on the same day to confirm the cause of death.
Ambulance services were affected recently. Was any attention given to solve it?
We have taken note of the most successful system available across the world, in the USA, Israel, and Singapore. Certain practices have been imbibed from them and the department is trying to inculcate it in the state according to our demands. Several professionals have been brought on board to design the new model. I assure you that it will be a new benchmark in the healthcare industry in the coming years. The new ambulances are expected to be rolled out soon.
Last year, there was a drug shortage. What measures are taken to avoid it?
This year, we have bought the highest number of drugs from the Karnataka State Medical Supplies Department, including emergency drugs. Health-related procurement always gets into legal complications. Competitors often stall the process or use foul practices to get the tender which delays procurement or keeps bills pending. For the last one-and-a-half years, we are procuring drugs efficiently.
You are the convenor of BJP’s manifesto committee. What can people expect?
People can expect a realistic manifesto. Unlike other parties, BJP takes it seriously. We believe that the manifesto should be from the people, by the people and for the people. We have set a target of reaching out to at least one crore people across the state from different walks of life to understand their problems, get their suggestions, and address them. In my opinion, nothing should be offered for free. Our manifesto will look into the financial condition of the state now and how it will progress in the next five years, and draft it.
As a young politician, do you aspire to become a chief minister in future?
(Laughs) How can I aim to be a CM when my best friend Bommai is the CM? I want Bommai to continue as CM. It is not an easy task to fill in for a stalwart like Yediyurappa. The power transfer was smooth. For the work he has done in the last one-and-a-half years, in my personal opinion, he should continue as CM. But it’s left to the high command.
You have worked under BS Yediyurappa and Bommai. How different are their styles of functioning?
Both are great leaders. While Yediyurappa takes decisions instantly based on his instincts, Bommai takes time. Yediyurappa is a mass leader and emotional. Bommai is very strong in finance and weighs his options. As the son of former CM SR Bommai, he has worked hard to prove himself and attained this position.
Medical education is expensive in India, but looks affordable in countries like Ukraine and Russia.
Even in Ukraine, if you compare it with higher education, medical education is expensive. Medical education is expensive because of the facilities, equipment, and the kind of infrastructure that you need to put up. It is not easy to run a medical college. It costs anywhere between Rs 500 crore and Rs 800 crores. We spent almost Rs 600 crore to R 700 crore to establish one medical college. That is why our Prime Minister in the last 7-8 years has increased the number of government medical colleges in the country. Today, the number of postgraduate seats has doubled. There is a lot of supply of doctors. For a meritorious student, it is very affordable as Rs 50,000 is the fee under the government quota.
But having studied under the management quota, how many doctors are ready to serve in the rural areas?
It depends on what an individual needs. There are a lot of doctors that I know who say they do not want to come to Bengaluru. The level of health facilities you have in Bengaluru should be provided even in areas like Kalaburagi, Belagavi and Mangaluru. We are trying to do it, but it will take time.