The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald, He is also a visiting professor to a number of universities and colleges and writes for NYT. Currently, he is Bureau Chief (South) of Parliamentarian
HN Ananth Kumar is one of the luckiest politicians in south India today. He has been a six-time MP continuously from the prestigious Bangalore South Lok Sabha constituency. Not because of any great service he has done or has a clean record. Yet the people of south Bangalore have been electing him term after term.
And he is a very shrewd man. First inducted into the Vajpayee cabinet, he was totally loyal to both Vajpayee and LK Advani and used to proudly say both were his mentors.
Vajpayee had even given him plum portfolios like Civil Aviation, Culture, so on. But it is a thing of past for him and he has totally shifted his loyality to Modi. His bête noire in Karnataka, former chief minister Yeddiyurappa who literally used to spew venom at the sight of Ananth Kumar had even compared him to chameleon which changes colours at the smallest provocation.
Since 1996 he has represented Bengaluru South constituency and in 2014, he defeated none other than the Aadhar man, Nandan Nilekani of Infosys, by a big margin of nearly two lakh votes and his major poll plank was that there was a major scam in the implementation of Aadhar. Ironically, his own government now banks heavily on Aadhar for various transactions and is trying justifying the dire need for it in the highest court in the country.
South Bangalore constituency mainly comprises the old Bangalore areas such as Jayanagar, Banashankari, Basavangudi etc. These areas have been predominantly occupied and dominated by the forward communities, especially the Brahmins, and Ananth Kumar being a Brahmin has found it quite easy to retain his vote bank.
Until 1996 he was Minister for Civil Aviation and it was during his time that India’s first low cost airline, Air Deccan, took wings. Launched by another Bangalorean GR Gopinath, Air Deccan changed the course of civil aviation in Indian and brought in the popular slogan, ‘Anyone can fly’.
Ananth Kumar is at present holding two key ministries Chemicals and Fertilisers since May 2014 and Parliamentary Affairs since July 2016.
He had been a hardcore RSS karyakarta though he cannot be classified as an RSS fanatic. During the Emergency, he was imprisoned along with thousands of other RSS student’s wing ABVP by the Indira Gandhi government.
He was the State Secretary of the ABVP and later, became its National Secretary in 1985. In BJP, he was nominated as the State President of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and then made National Secretary of the party in 1996. He became the President of the Karnataka state unit of BJP in 2003 and led the state unit which became the single largest party in the Legislative Assembly and won the highest number of Lok Sabha seats in 2004 in Karnataka.
So, he had had a steady rise in the party hierarchy. He has had an easy passage into the LS in all the elections, but for 2009 when he had a formidable opponent in Krishna Byre Gowda, presently Minister for Agriculture in Siddaramaiah cabinet. Gowda lost by a few thousand votes only. Incidentally, BJP as a party has held on to this constituency for more than 25 years.
In his website, he claims that as Fertilisers minister, by moving to 100 per cent Neem-coated urea, he has helped to save over Rs10,000 crore. He also claims credit for the price cap of 85 per cent on cardiac stents, leading to savings of over Rs 4,500 Cr per year.
Another area he can rightfully claim credit for is striving to provide affordable quality healthcare for all, by opening over 1900 Jan Aushadhi Kendras since June2017 from mere 80 in 2014.
There are many claiming credit for the historic launch of the GST bill and its midnight launch in Central Hall of the Parliament. A soft spoken man, not known for tantrums or losing temper, Kumar was really successful in forging consensus across all parties to get the bill passed in both the houses of Parliament.
Back home in Karnataka, he has been a lightweight politician and could not match the cunning and shrewdness of Yeddy, or Sidddaramaiah or the Deve Gowda clan.
But through the Adamya Chetna Foundation, spearheaded his wife, he has done his best to support the less privileged children by ensuring that they get food everyday in schools.
The launch of Green Bengaluru 1:1 (to get Bengaluru back to its 1 tree per human ratio, from the current horrible 7 humans per tree) and Eco Chetana initiative to promote Green Lifestyle all over the state, is another impressive work being carried on by the foundation.
He is also pushing for promoting Kannada culture and Kannada language. Incidentally he was the first to speak in UN in Kannada.
He has adopted Ragihalli village as part of SAGY (Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana) and has been ranked as one of the top 10 due to its development focus.
But he has not able to completely satisfy the common man. Jaya Shankar, a professor in the Government Science College says though he is the MP he is unable to do much work in his constituency, especially a busy locality like Jayanagar. “The blatant commercialisation of this once residential haven due to greedy developers has had no response from him and we even suspect his collusion with them” he says.
Though as a member of the National Infrastructure Task Force, he ensured inclusion of Bengaluru in the Golden Quadrilateral highway project, the poor connectivity of Bengaluru to other state capitals as well as to other important cities of Karnataka continues to anger many of his voters.
“As a central minister, he could have done much in the areas of infrastructure like building expressways like the Trans Yamuna Expressway or the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. But Bengaluru still suffers and to reach even Mysore one has to spend close to four to five hours due to various bottlenecks,” says regular road users like Suresh Menon.
Cauvery River has come handy to many politicians to spar over and take credit too. Ananth Kumar says he was instrumental in getting Cauvery 4th phase to Bengaluru, which ultimately added 500 MLD to the existing water supply of 900 MLD. But this is disputed by many in the present government.
There are also grey areas like the sale of the iconic ITDC Ashok Hotel for peanuts to a big industrial house in Delhi. There were many allegations of corruption and favouritism but nothing could be proved.
Former Minister Kapil Sibal had charged that Ananth Kumar had a hand in the sale of Hotel Ashok to a private person. Sibal said the NDA Government had committed irregularities in the sale of all government-owned hotels such as Hotel Centaur in Mumbai.
He demanded an inquiry into the sale of all hotels that had been owned by the ITDC or the Hotel Corporation of India. But later, for some mysterious reasons, the two UPA governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had pushed the issue under the carpet. And in both the governments, Sibal was a key minister!
Ananth Kumar’s name was also linked to the Nira Radia episode and Supreme Court lawyer RK Anand says Nira Radia’s first political link was Ananth Kumar .
Says Anand: “When she met Ananth Kumar, both of them needed each other. Kumar was a first time minister handling Civil Aviation and she had little political links but had excellent knowledge of the aviation sector. So both benefited and were very close to each other.”
Nira always thought big. She was not satisfied with petty assignments. Her ultimate ambition was to start her own airline. To achieve this target she needed the help of the new Aviation Minister. Ananth Kumar became Aviation Minister in March 1998. In April 1999, the BJP government was defeated in a no-confidence motion but swept back into power a few months later and Kumar remained Aviation Minister until October, 1999. During this year he had additional charge of the tourism ministry.
According to Anand, the BJP’s return as well as Ananth Kumar’s regaining his former portfolio allowed her to continue to fly loftily in the aviation skies. Nira had her sights set. At whatever the cost, she wanted to sell helicopters to the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka. With his help she managed to clinch the deal for the two state governments, it was stated.
There are many damaging comments in Anands’ book on Nira Radia and her connections to the ministers.
A serious allegation in the book was that as civil aviation minister, Ananth Kumar changed the acquisition policy to favour Airbus on the specious ground that Indian Airlines and Air India no longer needed large capacity long-range airplanes but rather only short capacity long-range ones — which the Boeing company was not manufacturing.
The deal, roughly worth Rs 22,000 crore, at a 10 per cent commission, would have fetched Nira Radia a windfall of Rs 220 crore.
There was also a case against Ananth Kumar in the Supreme Court with regard to the `HUDCO loan scam’. Among others it was alleged that HUDCO had been paying Kumar’s telephone bills and meeting the expenditure on a fleet of cars he owned in Bangalore. Flouting lending norms, HUDCO had funded the Tapti project in Gujarat, Sibal had alleged.
On the positive side, it must be accepted that Ananth Kumar had spent his MPLAD scheme in several health-related schemes and constructed small hospitals his constituency where patients can get their BP checked for Rs.5. have an ECG for Rs.25. and blood test for Rs.10.
Free eye camps are also organised throughout the constituency. Free spectacles, operations at a heavily discounted price and also free eye surgery for over 2000 people have been performed. It is reported that he has been working on getting a separate power plant for Bengaluru.
Being a bibliophile himself, he has initiated reading rooms in slums and distributed thousands of books through “Pustaka Parishe”. Also, he has provided his support to many authors for the publishing of books. The foundation also publishes Chinnara Chetana – monthly magazine in Kannada focusing on news related to education, science culture and health. It reaches about 2 lakh children of around 1,000 schools.
A major part of his MPLAD fund goes to the Kannada medium government & aided schools in the constituency (more than 200). This is spent on construction of classrooms, providing drinking water, toilets and computers. A known sports buff, Ananth Kumar has also established Bangalore’s first women’s gym facility through MPLAD fund and constructed the Ambedkar stadium which matches national quality standards at Vijayanagar.
Through the MPLAD fund he has also developed Abalashrama, short-stay homes for women. Ananth Kumar also is extremely active on social media and keeps Media and party men informed about his activities through a bilingual mail—English and Kannada.
His future is tied with Modi’s, and he may be sailing along smoothly into the next Lok Sabha as well.
If he is to be defeated, Congress needs more than a well known Brahman face with a clean image.
As of now, it looks to be a remote possibility.
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