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September 9, 1999

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Campaign Trail/ M D Riti

Will the Gods of Somanahalli smile on S M Krishna?

There are barely 36 hours of campaigning left. And Karnataka Congress president S M Krishna was yet to start seriously campaigning in his constituency of Maddur in Mandya district. It was not as if he was going to have a walkover, either. The last time around, Krishna had faced an unexpected and crushing defeat at the hands of a doctor from Bangalore.

Besides, this time, personally he has a lot more at stake at Maddur. This is the first time he is a guaranteed choice for chief minister should his party form the government in Karnataka. Can there be anything more personally ignominous for him than being defeated yet again on his home turf, where his family had been zamindars for generations?

Where, then, was Krishna all these weeks? Trying his best to rally his party around, canvass for it all over the state.....and most importantly, trail Sonia around wherever she was.

In return, Sonia visited Mangalore and canvassed for former chief minister Veerappa Moily, and even popped in at Mysore, which is so close to Maddur and Mandya. But she did not stop by at Mandya, which is quite a first.

The last time around, P V Narasimha Rao made it a point to address a huge public meeting near Maddur, at which film star Ambareesh first joined the Congress. Even Rajiv Gandhi campaigned for Krishna in Maddur in 1989, and Krishna won that time.

But not Sonia, the star Congress campaigner, who hopped all over Karnataka, with Krishna trailing behind her. "It would have taken her less than half an hour by helicopter to go from Bangalore to Mandya, en route to Mysore," said an aggrieved Krishna aide yesterday. "It would have given the Maddur electorate a sense of importance, and of being on the centrestage of national politics just because Krishna came from the region. Now, it looks as if he was so busy holding her hand that he had no time to spare for them."

Krishna's campaigners rush to his defence. "He obviously could not attempt the kind of village to village rounds that he did last time," one of them says spiritedly. "This time, he had responsibilities extending to the whole state. We are campaigning on his behalf, amongst the people, " another remarks.

Krishna's absence was noticed keenly at Bangalore airport when Sonia left on Wednesday morning for Mangalore, as he was a regular backdrop for all the campaign photographs taken of her everywhere else. "Madam said it was time all party leaders attended to their constituencies instead of wasting time seeing her off or receiving her," said a Krishna loyalist to rediff.com

So Krishna finally left on Wednesday noon by road for his family home, a huge house situated in Somanahalli village, bang on the Bangalore-Mysore national highway. He did spend a few hours each for a couple of days there after filing his nomination papers, which he did a fortnight ago. But he had reserved his personal campaigning to the last minute, concentrating much of his energy on Bellary and other key constituencies in the state.

"I am not a newcomer to Maddur," he told rediff.com "I am not an absentee politician who has to rush to his constituency a month before polls, and camp there, to remind the people that he exists. I am a man who has grown up on Mandya's salt, food and land. I always owe my loyalty to the people of my region, and they in turn love me sincerely," Krishna explains.

The Maddur assembly constituency is a sprawling place comprising several small villages and hamlets. The dynamics of Krishna's relationship with the villagers there is interesting as one can see in many places that it is that of the big landowner to the small farmer or agricultural labourer, more than that of a humble farmer going back to his peers or superiors for support.

"Yeno, hegiddiya?" he asks a wizened old man in tattered shorts who is waiting outside his family home at Somanahalli to greet him, using a form of address that is that of a master to a worker, but is at the same time affectionate and not denigrating. "Chennagivni, buddhi'' (I am fine, sir)," the man replies with a toothless grin.

One is reminded of another time five years ago, and on a much more leisurely trail of Krishna for another publication. "I wish I had my sneakers on," he would groan comically, trudging down narrow village lanes in chappals. "The smell of these garlands and all this dust makes me sneeze," he said another time, dabbing his nose delicately with paper tissue, walking behind a crowd of dancing, drum-beating village boys.

The kind of crowds and the ambience were completely different from that encountered by other state politicians like C K Jaffer Sharief. Krishna's supporters somehow seemed more rustic, genuine and na´ve.

The pace is necessarily frenetic this time, and restricted to strategically placed and planned public meetings and group interaction. One misses the slow amble down village roads tarred with cowdung, the brief visits to the homes of ooru hiriyaru (village elders) who signalled their support by offering thambula (betel leaves and areca nuts in plates) to Krishna. Little was spoken then yet much was communicated tacitly.

A severe shortage of time now makes the interaction much more obvious and specific, the receptions more formal and crowded, the speeches more rehearsed. But the ambience remains unchanged as does the man himself, who is as energetic as he was five years ago, and exudes the same kind of aristocratic charm. Signs of fatigue are obvious on his face, but he presses on from one village to another, one meeting to the next, in a last minute attempt to make an impact on his people.

Will the Gods of Somanahalli smile on him this time? It is difficult to predict as the rivals he has to contend with are not really the actual candidates ranged against him in his assembly constituency but the men behind them: fellow Vokkaliga Deve Gowda, who is determined to bring him down this time; so too former MP G Made Gowda, who has always backed Krishna to the hilt, but is working hard to ensure his defeat now.

"I trust my people to think rationally and make the choice," he says wearily, with the characteristic smile, as his motorcade prepares to depart, on the last leg of the last day of campaigning in Karnataka.

Campaign Trail

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