Minutes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the stage in Santhemarahalli to address a rally, a sheaf of papers was thrust into Ganesh Yahji’s hands. Already nervous, Yahji quickly flipped through 12 pages with highlights of Modi’s speech, which Yahji was to simultaneously translate. “I was shuffling through the papers when Modiji walked up to the microphone. There was no time and I just had to listen to every word and translate it to Kannada for the audience,” Yahji said. That it was Modi’s first speech in Karnataka added to Yahji’s anxiety.
The speech began with no incident, he recalled, and in minutes he was confident. “I just thought to myself, I have done this many times. Translating was never the problem, I just had to make sure I put the same emotion into the speech as Modiji,” he said. “I realised after the speech that I still had the papers in my hand, but never used them. Also, the papers did not match what Modiji was saying, so it was better to listen and translate.”
Yahji is among a small team the Karnataka BJP has put together over the last few days. His next assignment with Modi is over the weekend. “I have worked with several BJP leaders. I translated a speech for Rajnath Singh six months ago and then for Amit Shah,” he said.
State BJP general secretary N Ravikumar said the party had narrowed the list down to six people. “The translators need not only have good command over Hindi and Kannada but understand politics too. So certain party members were picked for certain regions,” he said. While Yahji covers southern Karnataka, Union Minister Ananth Kumar translates Modi’s speeches in Bengaluru and around. Others include MP Prahlad Joshi and Manjunath and Mahesh.
The first time Yahji translated a politician’s speech was in 1993, when Farooq Abdullah was in Karnataka for a meeting with local leaders. He was never trained nor did he formally learn Hindi. “I watched any Hindi movies that were available and picked up the language… I learnt its politics in Delhi under L K Advani,” he said.
During the Emergency, Yahji said, he was 19 and in jail with Advani and H D Deve Gowda, later PM. “When we were released, I went with Advaniji to Delhi and worked with him for six years,” he said.
Office secretary of the state BJP, Yahji was also editor of the Jay Kamala Patrike for 12 years. “That’s when my Hindi improved. I have translated Deendayal Upadhyay’s works for this newspaper,” he said.
May 1 in Santhemarahalli was the first time Yahji spoke with Modi. He recalls:
“Aap karenge?” Modi said.
“Ji,” Yahji replied.
“Aap kahan se hain?”
“Accha Bengaluru se.”