Rajeev Chandrasekhar EXCLUSIVE! 'Truly an incredible honour to be part of PM Narendra Modi's team'
Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, nearing the end of his Rajya Sabha tenure, reflects on his two-decade-long career. Known for advocacy against the 2G spectrum scam, promoting laws like UAPA, and championing causes like net neutrality and veterans' rights, he discusses achievements, public projects, and challenges in Karnataka politics.
Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who has been serving as an MP for nearly two decades, is nearing the end of his current Rajya Sabha membership. Throughout this time, he's been recognized for various achievements such as raising his voice against the 2G spectrum scam, advocating for the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and raising his voice on issues like net neutrality, and data protection, and internet governance. He's also been involved in projects like constructing war memorials, advocating for suffrage for veterans, and fighting for one rank-one pension. Additionally, he's been active in protecting children's rights, combating corruption in the construction industry, and preserving Bangalore Lakes. As his Rajya Sabha term comes to a close, he spoke to 'Kannadaprabha' about his experiences, the government's achievements, public projects, and the challenges in Karnataka's current politics.
During your recent speech in Parliament as your Rajya Sabha term was ending, what were the emotions you were feeling?
That morning, I found out there would be a farewell session, giving us all a chance to say a few words. Condensing 18 years of work into a few minutes was tough. I felt proud and honoured to have served Bengaluru, Karnataka, and India. I'm grateful to my family, party workers, leaders, and supporters who've backed me. Memories of the work, struggles, and achievements flooded my mind.
You mentioned spending 8 years as an opposition MP and 10 years as a ruling party MP. What differences did you notice between these roles?
In my first 8 years from 2006 to 2014, I was learning the ropes of parliamentary politics. It was a tough time for India economically and politically. When I started in 2006, the UPA government, now known as the INDI alliance, was in power. It was a coalition led by the Congress with support from other parties and the Communists. I remember taking oath from Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, despite facing mockery from some MPs like Brinda Karat. But that criticism fueled my determination to prove them wrong. You've seen the rest.
The UPA government's tenure was marked by scandals and corruption. I often wonder where India would be today without the UPA's corrupt politics. As an entrepreneur, I could see the impact of their governance through financial scams. I spent those 8 years exposing scandals like the 2G scam, spectrum auction issues, net neutrality, NPAs, and bank lending scams, despite facing opposition from pro-government individuals.
I also brought to light their shameful policy of not celebrating the victory of the Kargil war, calling it BJP's war. I urged them to recognize and celebrate Kargil Victory Day. Although I respected then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during those 8 years, I witnessed unprecedented corruption and exploitation. For the first time, I saw a government where Sonia Gandhi was leading from outside the official government. The situation in Karnataka is similar now.
Those 8 years from 2006 to 2014 were a nightmare for India. People's dissatisfaction, boredom, and desire for change led to the Congress losing power. This brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power in 2014. A lot has changed in the past 10 years under his government. The political landscape has shifted towards development, growth, and opportunities for all. However, Congress and some of its allies are still stuck in the old ways of divisive and corrupt politics. The country has moved forward, leaving behind the old ways. These 10 years have been the most thrilling moments of my life as an MP and public servant.
You were previously an MP and now you're a minister. What's your perspective as a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government?
It's truly an incredible honour to be part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's team, a leader who's bringing significant change to the country at an unprecedented pace. In his second term, the Prime Minister has not only focused on economic growth, security, development, and equal opportunities but also protected every Indian from the COVID-19 pandemic for two and a half years. Under his leadership, India has moved from being one of the weakest 5 economies to being in the top 5 globally, becoming the fastest-growing economy.
Initially, I held dual responsibilities in the Ministry of Technology and the Ministry of Skills, both crucial for young Indians. Prime Minister Modi has prioritized the digital economy and skills as part of his development strategy. Achievements include fostering over 1,00,000 startups, and 112 unicorns, enacting new data protection laws, setting new IT norms, and expanding technology and innovation across various sectors like IT, AI, semiconductor, electronics, and quantum tech. India has made significant progress in the last 10 years under Prime Minister Modi's leadership. Our new policies aim to hold platforms more accountable for the safety and trust of Indian Internet users.
As a result, Karnataka and Bengaluru have witnessed significant investment and growth. In 2014, India imported almost all smartphones from abroad. However, today, 100% of the mobile phones used in India are manufactured domestically. India has emerged as the second-largest mobile manufacturer, exporting more than 1 lakh crore smartphones every year. Large factories have also been established in Karnataka, thanks to the foresight of PM Modi who implemented PLI policies for electronics.
From the very beginning, you were highly active in the administration and planning reforms of Bengaluru. You served as the convener of ABiDE in 2010. What has happened to Bengaluru so far, and what can we do?
Besides Yeddyurappa and Deve Gowda, Ananth Kumar is also one of my main mentors in Karnataka politics. Ananth Kumar shared my concern for Bangalore's development. With their early support, in 2010, I formulated a 10-year plan for Bangalore called Plan Bangalore 2020. We developed this plan after extensive consultations with individuals who envision the future of Bangalore and seek governance reform. Like many others, I dedicated significant effort to this endeavour. However, the political developments in Karnataka in 2013 derailed the project. Siddaramaiah's new government was not as focused on governance and reforms in Bengaluru then as it is now. Bangalore served as a hub for their financial gains, and they engaged in similar exploitative practices as they do now. When our government assumed power in 2019, there was an opportunity to reform Bangalore. Unfortunately, this was hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which diverted resources and attention. Nevertheless, even today, the Plan Bangalore drafted in 2010 remains the best blueprint for the sustainable and comprehensive development of our city. I am confident that in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's third term, he will address the issue of urban reforms and growth. I am personally collaborating with NGOs like our Bangalore Foundation. I have advocated for the punishment of illegal builders under the law.
How can we prevent law-breaking builders and their collusion with authorities who aid them?
This is the primary concern in Bangalore. Officials responsible for protecting and overseeing the city are involved with certain builders who seek to exploit our city. However, if members of the state government are themselves involved in land grabbing and building, it is challenging to expect a solution.
You were a staunch supporter of PILs even as an MP. Can you elaborate on some of the PILs you have supported?
My belief regarding PILs is that citizens of the city have the right to be heard. Our democracy revolves around the people. That is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasizes public consultation and dialogue with citizens before finalizing any policy. I also adhere to this principle in my ministry for every policy, law, or rule. PILs are essential in Bengaluru as institutions like BBMP and BDA often disregard public input and participation.
PILs are the only avenues for citizens who want to participate in the making of policies that determine their future. PILs or civil movements that I have supported include issues such as the steel flyover, Cubbon Park, encroachment of lakes, and deaths due to BBMP negligence.
What do you think about the Siddaramaiah government's recent protest in Delhi against discrimination against Karnataka?
I predicted this the day after the election results, stating that the lethal combination of Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar's irresponsible spending, promises, and corruption would transform Karnataka from a strong economy to a bankrupt one. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman exposed the lies of the Karnataka government and demonstrated how Prime Minister Narendra Modi has allocated nearly three to four times more resources to the people of Karnataka in the last 10 years compared to the UPA regime. As long as there was a BJP state government led by BSY and Bommai, there were no problems, and the state functioned well. But just because Siddaramaiah doesn't know how to manage budgets and plan financial strategies, it doesn't mean he has anyone to blame but himself and his ATM operator friends.
You have done a lot for senior soldiers and their families in Karnataka and India. Why the special focus on them, including the Bangalore military memorial, Kargil Diwas struggle, etc.?
I am the son of a senior Air Force officer. From him and many others like him, I learned many values of national service. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to serve them in any way I can. I take seriously the duty to always remember the service of individuals like Colonel Vasanth, Colonel Jojan Thomas, Lance NK Hanumanthappa, Major Unnikrishnan, and many others who have served or are serving our country. I believe it's my obligation, and I hope I have fulfilled it well.
What is your report card as an MP and minister? What grade would you give yourself?
The list of accomplishments is extensive. I will not give an exhaustive list here. However, a visit to my website www.rajeev.in will provide insight into the fact that I have not wasted a single day of the time people have entrusted to me to serve. As an MP representing Bengaluru and Karnataka and as a minister in PM Modi's team working on the digital economy and many other issues, I have a good work record. I attribute this to the people of Karnataka and Bengaluru who have supported me, along with all the activists. If asked to assign a grade, I hope I have justified the trust placed in me.
It is not uncommon for people from entrepreneurship and technology backgrounds to excel in politics and public life. How do you explain this?
Whatever I do, I take it as a life mission and commit to it 1000%. I always believed that we needed change to unleash the potential I knew existed. Instead of sitting back, I decided to leave my business career and enter public life, hoping to make a difference. I struggled for 8 years and saw no change; if anything, things got worse during that time. Then, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power, and all the changes I had hoped for and dreamed about began to materialize. Today, we are living in an incredibly exciting period in post-independence India. It is an honour to be a part of this thrilling phase in India's history and to contribute, even in a small way, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of a strong, prosperous India.