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August 28, 2000
Krishna, Veerappan put god in a dilemma
M D Riti in Bangalore
A cybersavvy technopol? Or a conventionally superstitious ageing chief minister? The Karnataka electorate no longer knows quite how to label S M Krishna, who seems to swing from one extreme to the other, depending on circumstances.
Just when all thought the only mantra that Krishna ever mouthed was his internet password, forest brigand Veerappan kidnapped Dr Rajakumar. Did Krishna get on the Net right away, trying to ask hostage negotiators for advice or involve terrorist fighting organisations in his battle? Not really.
The very next day, Krishna, wife Prema and elder daughter Malavika took off by car to the temple on Male Mahadeshwara, to pray for Rajakumar's speedy release. They returned that evening, and Prema promptly gave the Parvathamma prasad from the temple, as well as good news that the ruling deity of the hills had given her the good omen of a flower, portending Rajakumar's safe return.
M M Hills is beside the Satyamangalam forests frequented by Veerappan.
His e-mail accounts got clogged with frantic messages from Kannadigas the world over, asking for the government's stand on the abduction. For once, Krishna ceased to be prompt, as he was too busy talking to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, shuttling between Madras and Bangalore, gracing poojas praying for Rajakumar's return and working out strategies to raise money to meet the brigand's ransom demands.
Talk that Krishna had to round up a couple of crores from traditional Congress funders, like business lobbies, have not helped his image greatly. Unconfirmed reports also spoke of how Rajakumar's youngest son Puneet, who used to operate quarries in Veerappan's territory, gave up quarrying before clearing his bribe dues to Veerappan, which led to this abduction.
The timing could not have been worse for the Congress government, which had managed through tremendous image-building exercises, to be perceived as the first performing and working government in more than five years. Nobody in the state government will admit it officially, but work at the Vidhana Soudha, the state secretariat, has come to a standstill now, as ministers and bureaucrats are busy waiting and watching.
No major finance outlays have been made for developmental work in three weeks. Progress on projects like flyovers and ring roads has also slowed down, as there is no pressure from above.
Krishna seems to be able to do nothing right just now. He faced criticism from the business and information technology sectors on over-reacting to an ordinary hostage crisis, which warned that India's reputation in the international business community would be mud if he did not restore a semblance of normalcy in the state.
When the Japanese prime minister visited Bangalore last week, he had the Vidhana Soudha lit up, as is done when dignitaries visit the state. But, Rajakumar fans came down heavily on him for that, when the state was practically in mourning over the abduction of their icon Rajakumar.
Krishna is in no mood to consider requests of throngs of petitioners who crowd corridors outside his chambers on the third floor.
He also had to postpone a business trip to the United States, to draw investments.
Until the abduction, Krishna had begun to plan his agenda in two distinct parts -- before and after his US trip. His critics wonder whether he and his government will ever regain the lost momentum.
There are no cabinet meetings of consequence, or major review meetings. Krishna has been compelled to keep his days fairly free, as he never knows when he may be summoned to Madras for talks with Karunanidhi about Veerappan's demands.
The tension he is under is evident at press conferences and even casual exchanges he has with the media: Krishna has stopped smiling and looks hassled, as he knows the outcome of this drama could make or break his eight-month-old Government.
For the rest of the Karnataka government, the past three weeks have become an extended sabbatical, with no serious work being done, as all ministers and top bureaucrats are preoccupied with planning strategies for Rajakumar's release.
To add to his woes, a public interest litigation filed by English professor and Kannada actor G K Govinda Rao, questioning the money spent by Krishna on making his official residence vasthu-friendly, has come up for hearing.
His critics are quick to point out that in 1992, when S Bangarappa was dethroned by Narasimha Rao and Krishna was in the running for the chief minister's chair, Krishna rushed to MM Hills to pray that he be appointed. But Veerappa Moily became chief minister and Krishna had to wait for eight years to realise his ambition.
Veerappan too is known to be a devotee of the deity of MM Hills. There are reports that he too prayed for the success of his abduction endeavour. Which of its two celebrity devotees will the god of the hills smile on now?
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