‘I am nobody’s stooge; I will not prostitute myself’

Bangalore: Popularly known as Captain, G.R. Gopinath is into his fourth business and second political venture. Last week, he announced that he would contest the general election from the Bangalore South constituency as an independent candidate.

Gopinath has been a military man, an award-winning farmer and a pioneer in Indian civil aviation. He launched a helicopter company called Deccan Aviation Ltd in 1996, Air Deccan in 2003 that introduced low-cost flying in the country and is now managing a cargo carrier.

Gopinath contested and lost elections in 1994 on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket from Ghandsi in Hassan district of Karnataka. This time, he will pit himself against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar, a former civil aviation minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet and four-time member of Parliament from Bangalore South.

The day Mint met him in his colonial bungalow adjoining UB Group chairman Vijay Mallya’s house, it was buzzing with activity. Amid all the preparations for the poll battle, Gopinath spoke about the reasons that made him contest. Edited excerpts:

What was the trigger (for jumping into the contest)?
I was in Mumbai when the dastardly terrorist attack took place. I also saw the attacks on churches and minorities in Karnataka and how the administration failed to act. The recent attack on women in pubs at Mangalore was the final trigger… When a clerk in my office told me that instead of complaining, we should act, I decided.

You were earlier with the BJP. Why as an independent now?
Even this time around the BJP offered me a ticket, though from a different constituency. Other parties, too, approached me to contest. But I feel that the (political) parties have failed the people. All of them state lofty ideals but none of them sticks to it. In 1994, I was a progressive farmer when the BJP, which didn’t have much presence (here), approached and convinced me to contest elections. I toured 410 villages in a short time but lost elections. Eventually, I became disillusioned with the party and quit in the same year.
We have to change the political system. We want our children to be engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs—anything but politicians. We have to change that.

There is talk that you are being propped up by Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to defeat his internal party rival Ananth Kumar.
(Angrily) I am nobody’s stooge; I will not prostitute myself.

Why Lok Sabha? Karnataka has sent several industrialists such as M.A.M. Ramaswamy, Vijay Mallya and Rajeev Chandrasekhar to the Upper House. Wouldn’t that have been the easy route ?
Let us be clear. It is no secret that most of them bought their seats either by funding parties or selling their souls. I want the people to elect me.

How do you intend to fund your campaign?
With my own money. I will spend Rs25 lakh. The interesting thing is that young and old people across caste, class, community barriers are volunteering their time and money for the campaign.

Have you got support from your fellow entrepreneurs?
NRN (N.R. Narayana Murthy, non-executive chairman of Infosys Technologies Ltd) is travelling but has expressed support. Others such as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (chairman and managing director of Biocon Ltd), Ramesh Ramanathan (co-founder of non-profit institution Janaagraha and a Mint columnist), T.V. Mohandas Pai (human resources head of Infosys), Pradeep Kar (chairman and managing director of Microland Ltd) and Prasad Bidappa (fashion designer) are actively participating and brainstorming for the campaign.

What impact would it have on your business interests?
None. In fact, I am expecting to take deliveries of planes for my cargo venture next month. I am sure all of us are capable of doing more than one thing at a time.

Venkatesha Babu


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