In 2004, when the NDA government was voted out, and A.B. Vajpayee and Chandrababu Naidu held the Gujarat riots responsible for the defeat, I wrote a column for my then paper, Vijaya Karnataka, saying they were looking for a sacrificial goat in Narendra Modi. The resulting demonisation of Modi by the media only convinced me more that my instincts were right.
Cut to 2008. Four years later, after collecting information on the Gujarat CM, I wrote a book titled ‘Narendra Modi: Yaaru Thuliyada Haadi (The Untrodden Road)’. When the BJP held the national executive meeting in Bangalore that year after winning the Karnataka elections, my editor Vishweshwar Bhat sought an interview with him. Modi agreed but said, “Come with Pratap.” He had met me once before. This time when he saw me, he hugged me and said: “Aao bhaiyya, kya kamaal kar diya!” Many people have now written on Modi, but back then, it was the first biography, introducing Modi to Karnataka.
So, months ago when I saw the national mood for change, I decided to plunge head-first into politics. If changing the system is the cry of the hour, why not be an agent of that change? In February, I wrote to Team Modi indicating my desire. I wanted a ticket for the Udupi-Chikamagalur constituency, because my family has deep connections there and my columns are very popular. But a combination of factors, including the reluctance of some party bigwigs, resulted in my getting Mysore.
I was nominated as the BJP candidate for Mysore on April 13. I resigned from Kannada Prabha at 9.45 am on April 14. At 10.15 am, I had joined the party. There were 21 aspirants for the Mysore seat and not all of them were happy that an “outsider” was entering the fray. On top of that, there was the small issue of money. As a journalist, I had thought that if one stood for elections, the party organisation would kick in, but with exactly Rs 22,000 in my bank account, it was not exactly music to most party workers.
In one assembly constituency, when I met the local leader for help, he said he would require Rs 1 crore to lubricate the system. I never let money, or my lack of it, bother me too much. When I hit the streets, people could instantly recognise my face and my voice. I had never seen the sun rise in my days as a journalist, but here I was campaigning from 6 in the morning to midnight, addressing crowds as small as 20 and as large as 5,000.
The first key moment in my campaign came in TV debates when I stumped my Congress opponent to the extent that he dropped out of them. The second was when Modi came to Mysore. Of the 15 meetings he addressed in Karnataka, I was the only candidate he hugged, whose hand he lifted before he thundered to the crowd. With three days to go for the election, my opponent realised the writing was on the wall. He rehashed old tabloid stories to spread canards about me. But it was in vain. When counting day dawned, I had a lead over him in every round of counting, eventually getting over five lakh votes, the first time it’s happened in Mysore for any candidate. In 33 days, I had gone from columnist to parliamentarian.