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August 28, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/K C Kondaiah

'To be frank, people in Bellary do not know that Soniaji is originally from Italy'

K C Kondaiah is the happiest man in Bellary today. He says he has two reasons to be so excited. One, since the day Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked him to step aside so that she could file the nomination from Bellary, his political star has been on the ascent. Second, Sonia came over to his house last Wednesday and ate the modest lunch his wife Meenakshi prepared.

Since then there has been a steady flow of visitors to the Kondaiah residence. His friends, relatives and party colleagues pour in to ask him and his wife: "where did madam sit?" "what did she eat?" "what did she tell you?" and the like. One inquisitive relative is cajoling Kondaiah's daughter: "What did Soniaji say to you?" Which spurs the daughter into an excited step-by-step description of what Sonia did in the house.

Actually, for Kondaiah, a local industrialist-turned-Congress politician and twice-winner from Bellary, Sonia Gandhi's decision to contest from the constituency has not been a surprise. Over the last one year, he had been pleading with her to contest from Bellary when the time came. She finally relented and came over to the remote district on July 14 to launch the Congress election campaign. The more than one hundred thousand people who attended her rally must have enthused Sonia. But her secret wish was made known to Kondaiah only on August 17, the night before she flew into Bellary to file her nomination.

"You see the Sonia effect has enlivened my house. It will now electrify the people of Bellary," Kondaiah gushes. He talked animatedly to George Iype explaining how Sonia has changed his family and political life.

Why do you think Sonia Gandhi settled for Bellary to contest the election?

I think Soniaji decided to contest from Bellary on July 14 when she came here to launch our party's election campaign. She was pleased with the turn-out at the rally. Soon after the rally, she was in touch with me regularly, enquiring a lot about the constituency and its features. I knew that Soniaji would select only Bellary if she decided to contest from south India.

Isn't the fact that Bellary is the safest seat for the Congress that prompted Sonia to choose the constituency?

Yes, Bellary has returned 12 Congress Members of Parliament since 1952. So isn't it appropriate on our part that to show our gratitude towards the voters here, none other than the Congress president herself should contest from here? That is the reason why in the past one year I had been pleading with Soniaji, whenever I used to meet her in Delhi, to come over and be our candidate in Bellary.

Why do you think people in Bellary support the Congress in every election?

The main reason is that more than 70 per cent of the voters in the constituency belong to the backward classes and minority communities who have abiding faith and conviction in the Congress party. Secondly, the villagers here have an emotional attachment to the Gandhi family. Indiraji and Rajivji had come a number of times to the constituency.

I have seen people in villages breaking down and crying when Indiraji and Rajivji died. Moreover, the Congress in the past four decades has carried out so many development activities in Bellary. I and the other Congress MPs have succeeded in introducing social reforms and ensuring equality for everyone in most villages in Bellary.

You mean to say people in Bellary hold Sonia Gandhi on par with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi?

In fact, people are excited that Soniaji is contesting from here. They love Soniaji more than they loved Indiraji and Rajivji because for them Soniaji is their bahu.

Will Sonia win from Bellary?

There is no question about that. She won from Bellary the day she filed her nomination. I have told Soniaji to not even come for campaigning in this constituency if she is pre-occupied with other states. But still she is coming here to campaign on two days.

I am confident she will win comfortably from here. I expect the winning margin to be anything above one hundred thousand votes. Then of course, after the elections Soniaji will come here as our prime minister.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Sushma Swaraj is giving her a tough fight?

Nobody knows who Sushma Swaraj is. The BJP is non-existent in this constituency because people here hate that party. People hate the BJP because they know that it is a party that has been denigrating the Gandhi family all these years. I have nurtured my constituency well and there is no reason why anyone should doubt the Congress prospects here.

There has been a decline in the percentage of Congress votes in the last three elections. Swaraj is not a BJP candidate alone, but a combined candidate of all parties --- the BJP, the Janata Dal-U and the Lok Shakti. So don't you think Sushma can turn the tables against Sonia?

It is true that there has been a decline in Congress votes. But that is minor. The percentage comes down and goes up in every election. That happens in all the constituencies across India. But the Congress has been able to maintain 35 to 40 percent of core votes in Bellary.

Look at the BJP, Janata Dal and Lok Shakti. They are not campaigning for Swaraj, but fighting among themselves. I feel pity for Swaraj that she has been forced to contest from Bellary. This will be the end of her political career.

But won't the BJP's swadeshi versus videshi campaign affect the Congress prospects?

To be frank, people in Bellary do not know that Soniaji is originally from Italy. For them, Soniaji is as Indian as anybody else. Therefore, the swadeshi versus videshi campaign will only expose the BJP.

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