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The Rediff Interview/Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna
'Development has become a casualty in K'taka'
May 05, 2008
Former Karnataka Chief Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna talks to Rakesh Prakash about his role in the coming elections in the state.
From the lush green lawns of Raj Bhavan to the bumpy rides in poll-bound Karnataka, how are you toughing it out?
I have done it for years. As Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi [Images] has entrusted me with the task of coasting the party to victory at the hustings, it is quite challenging.
Why were you brought back to Karnataka? Was the Congress weak without you?
A party need not be seen as a weak one when the brass decides to bring back a person with a proven track record to head a mission. Moreover, that is a negative perspective. I am more interested in the politics of pluses than negatives.
There was more opposition from within the party to your return. How have you handled it?
These are some self-centred people, who made a hue and cry about my return and appointment as election co-ordination committee chairman. I am not bothered about their opposition. When the Congress top leader requests me to resign and take up newer responsibilities, what is the credibility of these people who oppose me? Does Sonia require a clearance from these people to depute me to head the mission? Their claims are rubbish.
Wasn't it too late for the Congress to depute you to fight? What are the challenges you face in the mission?
I only wish I had more time. But sometimes events overtake you and your planning goes for a toss. I am struggling to make up for the loss of time by hopping from one constituency to another, requesting people to vote the Congress to power. If I had more time, I would have visited many more places.
The 2004 elections were a disaster for you. What corrective measures have you taken this time?
I don't call it a disaster. It is just that we missed victory by 2 per cent. In terms of seats won by the party, it can be read as a debacle, but in terms of gaining popular support, the percentage of votes polled by the Congress did increase. The sad part was that smaller parties with lesser percentage of vote share managed to get more numbers. This time, we want to add 3 per cent to 4 per cent of votes and get an absolute majority.
How confident are you of gaining a majority?
People are disillusioned with coalitions. The two experiments made in the state were a total disaster. Hence, I have a feeling that people will vote for a single-party government this time. That is where Congress becomes important, it will occupy the driver's seat.
But your party was also a part of the coalition set-up. In fact, development took a back seat when your party leader N Dharam Singh headed the Congress-JD-S coalition. With such a history, how can you sell hope to the people?
It is true that development suffered. But the reality is that the coalition partners never thought of development. Most of the energy and time of these coalitions were devoted to survival. As a result, development became a casualty. On the economic front, Karnataka has seen a downward slide.
We need a government that will exploit Karnataka's potential by focusing on areas where we are slipping and strengthening areas where we are strong. On selling hope, the Congress has a track record of providing stable governments. It gives us credibility when we talk of a stable government. That is why we are asking people to vote for stability.
But this election does not have major issues for the political parties to fight it out...
It is quite true. Unlike the 2004 elections where the threat of drought and restlessness of the farming sector dominated the electoral battle, this time the polls are being held under normal circumstances. So, development, which should be the offshoot of stability, has become the issue.
BJP insiders claim that the party's performance would peak in the third phase of polls. How does the Congress read it?
Overall, we will get a majority. All the phases put together, we will do well.
But why have you chosen not to contest this time?
By contesting, I did not want to send out a signal that I am tied down to a particular constituency. Now, nobody can accuse me of belonging to just one single geographic location. I belong to all the 224 constituencies.
By not contesting, are you defining your future role or are you scared of losing?
(Laughs) There are nearly half a dozen constituencies in the state where I would have won without campaigning. My home constituency, Maddur, was eagerly waiting for my arrival. I would have won from any of the 28 constituencies in Bangalore.
Some of your family members in your home constituency are working against the Congress. Isn't it a pointer to the weakening of your home base?
It is true that there have been problems in the family in Maddur. Hopefully, these will be sorted out. Moreover, we do not belong to the regimental kind of set-up where family members have to toe the line of the elders. We have to give liberty to them to take their own stands.
What about the top-heavy state Congress unit? Won't it affect the party's performance in the polls as there are too many leaders aspiring for a few posts?
I don't think so.
Do you aspire to become the chief minister if the party comes to power?
Normally, the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president becomes the chief minister. Does it mean that the present president Mallikarjuna M Kharge gets a chance to become CM?
The Congress has certain set procedures. We will go by them.
What if the Congress high command insists on you becoming the CM?
I am not contemplating beyond elections now. Let the party get a majority, we will decide then. I have come here with a special mission -- to ensure the party's victory and set the stage for the Lok Sabha elections.
What if there is a fractured verdict?
I don't think so. People have seen what kind of disaster coalitions can cause.
But your political b�te noire H D Deve Gowda has been saying that no party can come to power without his help...
It is sheer frustration that is speaking. Every political party should aspire to form a government on its own, but here is a political party head who says nobody can form a government without him. It is nothing but sheer wishful thinking.
You dreamt of making Bangalore another Singapore, but there has been no mention of it in the manifesto this time.
Bangalore did not become Singapore, but it became the Silicon Valley, and that is my greatest contribution. I think I have done better by making it the technology hub than making it Singapore.
What is your agenda for Bangalore now?
We need to go all out to develop infrastructure. A crash programme for development of infrastructure has to be taken up.
This time, there are a lot of mid-level realtors in the fray in Bangalore. What kind of vision or commitment will they have for Bangalore?
It all depends on the leadership that emerges after the elections and the kind of vision they have for Bangalore.
Your daughter Shambavi has joined you on the campaign trail. When do you plan to launch her political career?
I don't plan her future, she is only travelling with me.
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