The assembly polls are around the corner and the state’s population is watching the performance of the state government and its representatives carefully. More watchful in the current socio-political environment in this Christmas season are the Christians (around 3.5%) and the rest of the minorities (around 22.5%). It is in this context that Karnataka Today’s Harsha Gatty spoke to JR Lobo, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Mangalore-South, on a range of issues from his first stint as a legislator to an overall perspective of the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah led Congress government.
Although there are less than six-months to go for the assembly polls in Karnataka, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Mangalore-South, J. R Lobo is not among the ‘worried lot' of possible candidates in the upcoming election. "I have done my best and rest I leave to the people," he says on being asked about his prospect in the 2018 polls.
What according to you was the major milestone of the State government in the last five-years for ensuring the welfare of the minority communities?
See, since we got our poll-mandate in 2013, the honorable Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has done extremely good work for the backward, poor and minority groups. Every member of every underprivileged section has been the beneficiary of at least one of the 'Bhagya' schemes.
Could you list-out any measure that has benefitted the members of the Catholic community in particular?
Yes, during the tenure of the previous government, several Christian schools lost their minority status, as the government had added a rider: that to be declared as a 'minority institute’, an educational institution must have at least 75 percent of students from that community. Because of this, most of the Christian schools lost the minority 'tag' as it was not possible to have 75%, especially in the North Karnataka region. In places like Raichur, Gulbarga and others, it is difficult to get the required percentage as there are few Christian families. So the nuns and priests that started the institutions never get the benefits that were meant for the minorities. When Congress came to power in the state, we instantly reduced the minimum cut-off to 25%. Today most of the minority schools have got their minority-status back.
Any development on minority-status of such educational institutes since then?
Yes, we have now moved a proposal to the State cabinet to remove even the minimum 25 percent criteria. After all, it is the constitutional right of the minority group to establish such institutions, nowhere has it specified regarding the student proportion. All that must be verified is if the management is run by the members of the respective community. In the forthcoming meet, the cabinet will take a call on this matter.
The BJP leaders lay claim of their role in setting-up Christian Development Council (CDC) during its rule and that your government is simply riding on it. What is your take on the matter?
Following the reported attack on the Churches in Mangalore in 2008, the then BJP government in an attempt to woo the Christians had formed the Christian Development Council (CDC) with the allocation of Rs. 50 crore per annum. But during an enquiry I made, it was realized that the then government had barely spent Rs. 20-25 crore, whereas rest of the amount was getting lapsed. After taking to power, CM Siddaramaiah wanted minority affairs to be handled professionally and efficiently, and he quickly relinquished his ex-officio role and created a separate Chairman and Vice Chairman's position to look into the matters. Besides, the year on year allocation for CDC was raised from Rs. 75 crore (2014) to Rs. 100 crore (2015), Rs. 125 crore (2016) and Rs. 175 crore (2017). It is a major achievement that our government has done for the Christian community.
However at present, the CDC is a committee and not a ‘Board’. It does not have a legal backing. We don’t even have a staff of our own and cannot implement our decisions. We, in fact, depend on the staff from the minority department to run our office. But they are not under our control. Once a separate ‘Board’ is setup for the welfare of the Christians, we can formulate focused schemes. The cabinet will consider it and probably in the next budget, there may be few positive announcements on it.
Now that you have mentioned of Church attack, weren’t there some cases booked against the minorities’ community members during the attack?
Yes, some cases against Christians were booked. In fact, those arrested were in reality victims who were threatened and cornered by the unruly mob during the attack, some of them defended themselves. Our government rightly understood their spirit of defense and has already withdrawn all cases, which has provided them with great sense of relief. Also, compensation relief was granted to the victims by the state government.
Once again, take note that ever since our government has taken over, the law and order situation is very stable, such or similar incident never took place and the attack against minority members have reduced to a great extent. I personally feel this is another greatest feat of our government.
Besides, the State government has gone to great extent for the development of infrastructure of the minorities such as housing schemes. As against the last years earmark of Rs. 150 crore, this year Rs. 750 crore has been allocated for housing.
How do you view the upcoming poll prospects for the Congress Party?
We are hopeful that we will secure a majority in Karnataka. We have done work and people are happy and I don't see why they should not vote for us. The Central leadership (Congress) is good. Last time because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wave, a difference was seen because people sometimes prefer change. Now, they have also understood that PM Modi and his team are not living up to their expectations. He just talks, gives promises but delivers nothing. People have realized this and now they are coming back to the Congress. See Congress has expert, deep rooted leaders like former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. What was the country during 1947 and what is the present status? This was possible only because during the majority of these years Congress ruled the country - it can understand the pulse of the country. All in all I can only say that we have done our best and I leave the rest to the people.