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|April 23, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/ Padmaja Venugopal
Veteran Congress leader K Karunakaran has remained a king in Kerala politics and a kingmaker in national politics. But at the age of 83, the seasoned Congress leader is not ready to say good bye yet. Having groomed and seen his son Muralidharan emerge an astute politician by becoming a member of Parliament thrice and now vice president of the Kerala Congress Pradesh Committee, Karunakaran now turns his attention to daughter, Padmaja Venugopal.
So on the eve of assembly election in Kerala, the Congress remains divided because the party high command refused a ticket to her. Hurt and miffed, Karunakaran resigned from the Congress Working Committee. Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened and recast the assembly seat by giving three more seats to the Karunakaran faction, but still rejected Padmaja's candidature.
Karunakaran claims his demand was not the candidature of his daughter, but the discrimination meted out to his supporters. But the crisis in the party has made Padmaja's a marked name in Kerala politics.
Married to the well-known paediatrician Dr M Venugopal in Kochi, Padmaja, 40, who runs a television production company and a number of other business establishments, feels it is time for her to enter politics. "Because politics is in my blood. And Kerala needs young leaders like me." She speaks out for the first time in an exclusive interview to George Iype.
Why is it that you have found a sudden interest in politics and elections?
It is not a sudden interest. Politics has been in my blood since my birth because I am K Karunakaran's daughter. I loved politics from my childhood because all around me what I saw, heard and smelled was politics and politics. I think I was more interested in politics than my brother Muralidharan. Then I got married and decided to keep away from politics because I wanted to bring up my children.
I started participating actively from 1998 onwards, when my father contested from Trivandrum for the Lok Sabha. I was behind the scene during the Trivandrum election. Then when my father contested from Mukundapuram constituency in 1999, I managed the whole election campaign.
You said politics is in your blood. But you have kept a very low profile all these years. Why did you keep away from politics for so long?
I told you I wanted to bring up my children first. My father and brother have been in active politics and I stayed behind the curtains for my children and my business. My children are now grown up and I am free to dedicate my time to active politics.
Everyone says the factional war that plagues the Congress on the eve of elections in Kerala is because of you. Don't you think it is the Padmaja factor that is going to affect the chances of the Congress in the elections?
That is incorrect. The very fact that my father has agreed to abide by the Congress high command's decision itself is an indication that what he demanded was not a ticket for me. You should understand that my father is the man who has built the Congress in Kerala. But when the assembly seats were distributed, his supporters were denied tickets. My father has now compromised after his supporters were given three more seats. My father never wants to upset the unity of the Congress.
Who denied tickets to your father's supporters?
Everyone knows it. A K Antony and his group wanted to cut my father to size.
Was your name in the list of candidates submitted to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi?
Yes, my name was very much in the list. But when the final list came from the Congress high command, my name mysteriously disappeared. That the Antony faction scuttled my candidature is an open secret. Antony and the Congress high command finalised the assembly seats without consulting my father and my brother.
It is alleged that you tried to influence Sonia Gandhi through her staff members to ensure your candidature?
Why should I do that? I have met Sonia Gandhi a number of times. I can personally take up issues with her. Why should I influence her through some unknown staff members? If my father wanted to propose my name, he could have easily done it by personally requesting Sonia Gandhi. But he did not do it because he never goes beyond a limit. He does not want to be seen and blamed as promoting his children. My father and my brother did not press for my candidature before Sonia Gandhi.
But didn't Mr Karunakaran resign from the CWC because your name did not figure in the Congress list?
No. My candidature was not my father's demand. He was hurt because the party high command humiliated him. He was hurt because he was treated badly by the party high command and the Antony faction. The Antony group then dragged my name into the media alleging that Karunakaran resigned because I was not nominated.
Are you now hurt that you are not contesting?
I am not hurt because I did not get a ticket. But I very very hurt because Antony and his supporters dragged my name to insult my father. I am hurt because they dragged my family into the controversy. I am hurt because they spread lies to ensure that my father, my brother and me fight among ourselves. I am not entering politics just to contest elections alone. I do feel that if I can prove my abilities, I can become a great politician like my father. If I can prove my abilities, I am sure I will get recognition in the Congress. So whether I am contesting or not does not matter much.
Are you happy with the settlement that Sonia Gandhi has brokered?
Yes. I am very happy about it. It is paramount that both the Karunakaran and Antony groups stay together to win this election and throw out the Marxist government. But it is a fact that it is Antony who often talks about "groups" and he always wants to remind the party workers that there are many groups in the Congress.
Do you think the Padmaja episode will affect or damage the UDF poll prospects? Initial poll surveys said the UDF would get nearly 90 seats. Now reports suggest that it will come down to 80 because of the crisis.
I do not think the crisis will affect the chances of UDF coming to power. Everybody wants the Marxist government out in Kerala. Therefore, I am sure the UDF has a good chance of winning 90 seats even now.
Do you plan to take up politics as a full-time career?
Yes, sure. I am all set for that. I see my future as a politician.
It is alleged that Mr Karunakaran wants to promote his son and daughter into the Congress politics in Kerala. Don't you think the era of family rule in politics is over?
The only minus point today I have in politics is that I am the daughter of Karunakaran. I was denied a ticket to fight the elections not because I am not able and efficient, but because I am the daughter of Karunakaran. How is it that I cannot enter politics because I am the daughter of a politician? If my father had promoted me in politics, I would have been big in politics today. I do not want to enter politics because my father is Karunakaran. I want to be a politician because I am confident that I can prove my ability in public life.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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