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NICE Man Ashok Kheny admires his bete noire for his own reasons!
By Vikram Muthanna

Click here to go to the main page of Star Of Mysore.
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Ashok Kheny has been making news for a while now and this election season he has once again come out strongly against H. D Deve Gowda. Just as hard as Deve Gowda has come out against him. On May 6th, JD(S) released an advertisement in a national daily refuting allegations and questioning the motives of Ashok Kheny’s NICE project. As it is known, Ashok Kheny’s company Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE) has taken up the project of developing the Bangalore - Mysore Infrastructure Corridor (BMIC). When I went to Windflower Resort to meet Ashok Kheny, I was pleasantly welcomed by his Personal Assistant Master Manjunath, who is enjoying a renewed popularity. Manjunath was the popular child actor, who played Swami in the popular TV serial based on R.K. Narayan's book Malgudi Days.

The first thing that struck me when I met Kheny was his sense of humour and how approachable he was. He seemed genuinely pleased to meet me, a press person and readily asked me to walk with him to the restaurant to have breakfast. As we were walking towards the restaurant exchanging pleasantries, we suddenly came across a troupe of monkeys fighting with each other and Kheny immediately said, "Look, like Deve Gowda’s party, these monkeys too are fighting and trying to form a coalition to beat the other group" and then suddenly stated in disgust "We must stop this Ravan" referring to Deve Gowda. Once we sat down for breakfast, Kheny got right down to business, his other business that is Deve Gowda bashing. So I started my questions.

So what is really the problem with NICE project? Our reporters say that you were close to Deve Gowda during the proposal of the NICE project and …
Even before I could finish the question, Kheny started...

See, Deve Gowda's family is fooling the poor farmers. The problem started when around 26 government officials' land was notified under the BMIC project. These 26 fellows went and told Deve Gowda that I had become partners with a few Congress leaders and named D. K Shiva Kumar and S. M. Krishna as being among them. Immediately, Deve Gowda called me up regarding this. I told him there was no such thing but he did not listen to me. He was foolish enough to listen to them instead. Then the Gowda family members in 2004 started making large sums of money and they wanted to invest in real estate. So they bought land in benami names all along the NICE road but then when they realised that their land will not hold much value as the NICE road would have two huge walls running all along the stretch in order to avoid crossing of farmers and cows, they got other ideas. So the issue was — land. Deve Gowda has tried a lot of tricks but it did not work. But I must say this, I admire the man, I admire his crookedness and cunningness. I don’t think any of his four sons can be as crooked and cunning as him, they can't even come close.

Vikram Muthanna with Ashok Kheny

The JD (S) in its advertisement has stated that the issue was not excess land...
Now they are saying there was no excess land issue. Wasn’t Deve Gowda the one who said that we had got excess land? Now they say the issue is not about excess land. Ridiculous. Why doesn’t he just come out and say it is not about excess land but about money?

So is the NICE road going to be completed at all?
The Supreme Court has ruled in our favour. It has clearly stated that our documents are correct and also that we do not have excess land. We have the umbrella of the Supreme Court over our heads and it is as strong as the Indian Constitution. We will finish the Mysore - Bangalore road in two years time.

There were issues of excess land and townships. Why don't you just build a road and collect toll? Why do you need townships?
It is not viable. Moreover we are finding it hard to get land for even the road now.

If JD (S) forms a coalition and comes to power, do you feel your project will be stalled?
Absolutely not. No matter which government comes, be it a government that dislikes us or hates us, the NICE road will be completed. We have nothing to fear.

You are a Lingayat hailing from North Karnataka. So people tend to associate you with BJP. Do you think being a Lingayat was a problem?
To a certain degree, yes. See, Deve Gowda is a man frozen in time. He does not realise that the world has changed. His party is named JD(S) – Janata Dal - Secular. How secular are they? If a man is secular, he treats all religions equally and as a secular leader, he goes to all places of worship. You tell me, Deve Gowda keeps going to every other temple. Have you ever seen him visit a Mosque or a Church and pray? So how secular can he be? And if you are secular, you don’t have to keep saying it. It is like this, if you are a man you don’t go around shouting I’m a man, I’m a man. Hijras may go around shouting I’m a man, I’m a man. It’s the same way; if you are secular people will know. You don’t have to go around shouting I’m secular, I’m secular. Just like how a thief steals and says he is innocent. Deve Gowda plays caste politics and says he is secular.

This is election time and you are giving press conferences and travelling talking of the NICE issue. Are you doing it for your hatred towards Deve Gowda or to get the road done?
Actually I came to Mysore for Basava Jayanthi. Suttur Swamiji had invited me last year also, but I could not make it. So this year I came to attend it. I also came to discuss with the Swamiji about erecting a statue of Lord Basaveshwara at the Basaveshwara Circle. But then I called a press conference yesterday because JD (S) gave an advertisement talking about our project negatively and I wanted the people to hear my side of the story.

In your press statement day before yesterday you requested people to vote for a national party as there will be stability and not for a family-controlled local party. Now aren’t the national parties also very dynastic and forming coalitions?
Having a national party rule is like having an insurance policy. It’s like this, we buy a car insurance not because we want to go and bang our car. We buy insurance so if something happens to our vehicle we will be able to fix it without much of a financial burden. Same way if we have a national party ruling in our State and if the people are unhappy, then the CM can be changed. Say, if Yeddyurappa becomes the CM and people are unhappy with his performance, then this disapproval can be conveyed to Mr. Rajnath Singh in Delhi and the problem can be fixed with either a replacement or by changing certain party policies. Whereas in a local party run by a family, nothing can be done. It is like colonial rule.

But then in the Centre too there is dynastic rule which is pretty much colonial in its attitude?
The national party in Delhi is like the Mughals, the State parties are like our local Maharajas. The Mughals could monitor their local kings assigned to different small kingdoms, which was more effective than a local king managing his own kingdom.

If the BJP comes to power, do you feel there will be more benefits for North Karnataka as most of their seats come from there? Will the development in the South of Karnataka slow down?
No, I don’t think so. Today a critical mass has developed. The ball is rolling and South Karnataka will continue to develop irrespective of which government comes to power.

You acted in a Kannada movie Marujanma. Why?
What to do Vikram, these fellows did not let me do my road work and I had to do something, so I did a little bit of acting (laughs). No, I like the process of film - making. So I just thought I’d try acting.

Do you plan on producing any movies?
I have plans of setting up a Media hub either in Bangalore or Mysore. I want to set up a full-fledged film city complete with stage studios and sound studios. A place where good cinema can be made. I predict that by 2010 content development and movie making will be bigger than IT & BT.

So are you producing any movies now?
Actually I am and I learnt one thing. There are a lot of frauds in the movie industry. I am producing a movie and roped in a very famous Kannada director. The initial production cost was Rs. 3.9 crore, now it has reached to Rs. 8 crores. The director has swallowed all the money. He has nothing to show for all the money spent. So I’m learning the film business the hard way.

What is your next big project as far as infrastructure is concerned?
I plan to develop a four-lane highway along the lines of the BMIC between Bidar and Bangalore. It is a 600 kilometers stretch. Today it takes nearly 12 hours to get from Bidar to Bangalore. Once this road comes up the same distance can be covered in 6 hours.

You seem obsessed with making roads?
I believe good road network is very important for the development of a nation. As the late American President John F. Kennedy said, "We did not build expressways because we are a rich country. We became a rich country because we built expressways." Roads are very important for the progress of a nation. It increases commerce and cultural exchange.

Speaking of development, is two-lane highway good enough for the growing traffic between Mysore and Bangalore?
It will not be and that is the reason we have an option to make it into a 6-lane highway. Three roads on each side. Even if this is not enough we have planned and kept enough median space to put an express train. The train can travel between Mysore and Bangalore in 45 minutes. This should ease the heavy migration of people from Mysore. In fact, people can live in Mysore and very comfortably travel to Bangalore to work.

What do you think of Namma Metro?
Metros are generally underground trains. Be it in England, the US or any other developed nation. But here we have put this ugly rail right in the middle of the most prestigious road of our State. It is going to be an eyesore. MG road's beauty will be gone. What is even worse in having overhead trains in a city like Bangalore is that underneath the rail track those open areas become a haven for beggars, vagabonds and riff-raps. MG road will be a mess.

Do you think development of Mysore is being planned with the future in mind?
Not at all. In Mysore there is zero planning. Nothing is being done the right way. Even the so-called NGOs involved in city planning and urban development are useless. They do not bring anything of substance to the table and nor do they bring any solutions, complaints is all they bring.
Quite a number of issues that these NGOs bring to the table are of third class value. It seems to me that these NGOs involved in City planning and developments are filled with people who could not succeed in life doing full - time employment. So now they are using the NGO platform for their own subsistence. I am not saying all NGOs are bad but quite a few of them are.

I know you won the US President's award for business achiever? Is it frustrating trying to do business here in India?
Well, India is like sweet and sour soup. A little bit of sweet and a little bit of sour. I love the soup and I love India.

Later in the day after the interview I got the news that the Election Commission has objected to a decision taken by the Executive Committee, led by Governor Rameshwar Thakur, with regard to NICE on April 25, 2008. The Commission had asked the government to cancel the decision. The Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswamy said the Commission has asked the government to cancel the decision and not to take any decision till May 28. I called Kheny and asked what he had to say about it. This is what he had to say: "Deve Gowda as usual has misled the Election Commission to take this decision. This is an ongoing project that has been going on for 12 years and the Executive Committee follows the Supreme Court orders. The Election Commission will see through this confusion soon."

Finally as I was about to hang up the phone, the otherwise calm and jovial Ashok Kheny suddenly sounding disgusted and desperate said: "Vikram you must write that Deve Gowda and his family is holding the people of Mysore and Bangalore hostage for their own greed." I said I will quote him, which I have done and hung up.

In this country today everyone, not just politicians, everyone has become obsessed with land and for a developing country, land is needed for infrastructure development. The national financial papers claim loudly that we will beat China in 10 years. I don't think so. In China when the government says there will be a road there will be one in the stipulated time. Here when they say there will be a road, you never know how much of a road they are talking about... I don’t just blame the politicians; we are all to blame even the businessmen who proclaim their commitment to nation building. By the time good projects are completed, many good companies would have moved to China or Eastern Europe and then the Indian Media will still be claiming that India will beat China. Well, at this rate never.

By Vikram Muthanna
Courtesy: Star of Mysore

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