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August 31, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ S M Krishna

'Ridiculing a widow does not bring great credit to Hindutva'

S M Krishna As the election draws closer, his sartorial elegance improves correspondingly. From the traditional white dhoti and kurta, starched crisply and worn Mandya style, to the creased white kurta pyjamas, a brown checked scarf of the kind worn by villagers draped in a new style over both shoulders, state Congress chief S M Krishna looks perfectly groomed, poised and in control of the situation at all times.

It is Congress custom that if the party wins Karnataka, then the man who led it to victory is made chief minister. Even Veerendra Patil was accorded this privilege when he led the Congress to victory in 1989, although he was not in the best of health. This implies that Krishna could become the next chief minister if his party wins the assembly election, thereby fulfilling his greatest dream.

He was a hot candidate for the post at the end of the last Congress regime when the party forced S Bangarappa, who succeeded Patil as chief minister, to step down in 1992. The high command finally opted for Veerappa Moily, reportedly because he belonged to the Backward Classes, like Bangarappa.

Visitors to Krishna's official home on Resthouse Crescent in Bangalore immediately after that announcement reported it was full of wailing supporters from Mandya. Furious, Krishna lost no time in leading revolts against Moily, despite the attempt to mollify him with the post of deputy chief minister.

Krishna has been in the Congress a long time; he even served as Union minister under Indira Gandhi. He waited on the sidelines all through the Janata years in the 1980s and returned to influence after that exile. Krishna's main claim to power is that he belongs to one of the state's two majority communities, the Vokkaligas. As does H D Deve Gowda.

In between quick trips to Bellary to help Sonia Gandhi campaign, whirlwind tours of other parts of the state and strategy sessions in Bangalore, Krishna spoke to Rediff's M D Riti at his office at the Congress Bhavan on Queen's Road in Bangalore, just before leaving for his home constituency of Maddur.

This is your first election as state party chief. Do you find the atmosphere any different this time? What is the mood of the electorate, in your assessment?

There is a definite anti-establishment swing. The people by and large are in favour of the Congress. They are tired of the kind of government that they have seen in the past five years. They are now in the mood for a change.

Do you think the Congress is in for the toughest fight ever this time, since all your enemies have come together on the same platform?

It has always been tough for the Congress. I don't buy the idea that they are all united now. They are as disunited as ever. They still have to sort out a lot of cobwebs and confusion.

What, then, is the most important promise that the Congress offers to the people of Karnataka this time?

The promise of stability. We believe in a single party government at the state level, unlike the BJP and its associates, who all only talk of coalition governments. The BJP is, in fact, only contesting 115 seats, thereby conceding at the start its inability to form a government on its own.

We do, of course, have very specific proposals in key areas like power (farmers to have 12 hours of power a day), irrigation, helping agriculture go hi-tech, empowerment of dalits, women and religious minorities. Our manifesto is entirely implementable, and does not contain any false promises.

Stability in itself is not a great virtue. A government should be able to perform, govern and achieve for its people.

Obviously. I am certainly not talking of stability as an end in itself. Look at the outgoing Dal government. It lasted for five years, but is now viewed as the most non responsive government ever! We intend to achieve stability for the purpose of that leading to prosperity for the Karnataka government.

Despite the manifestos and issues being discussed, don't you think this election is being fought mostly on the basis of personalities?

Yes, personalities have become the key issue in this election, and genuine issues are not being focused on. This election should actually be about the serious issues facing our country today. Instead political leaders are busy making personal attacks against each other.

We too can descend to this, and attack Ramakrishna Hegde or George Fernandes personally, as they have been attacking Soniaji. We are deliberately holding back from doing that, because otherwise, these polls will become the murkiest in the history of Indian politics.

But is it ethical or morally right for you to keep telling the Bellary electorate to vote for Sonia because she is a poor widow with two children, instead of telling them what is her experience in politics or what issues your party stands for?

She is only relating facts to the people, to her electorate. What else do you expect her to do? When her opponents are attacking her widowhood, she has to tell the people why she is a widow, and that is what she has been doing.

And don't you admit that it is the Congress that brought the personality cult into Indian political culture in such a big way?

S M Krishna Yes, you are right, I admit that I cannot differ with you on that! But we are not guilty of the kind of stuff that is going on in Bellary, for example, which I saw for myself when I was camping and campaigning there for a couple of days recently. The kind of filth that is being flung around is just shocking. Ridiculing a widow does not bring great credit to Hindutva. George Fernandes's campaign is despicable.

Why did you choose Bellary for Sonia?

We wanted a constituency that we were sure of, and we found it in Bellary, which is a Congress stronghold. We have been trying to get her to contest from Bellary from a long time, and it finally came through.

But are you (the Congress) not guilty of indulging in the worst kind of political opportunism yourself in putting Sonia up in a traditionally Congress bastion like Bellary? Are you so unsure of her inability to win from neutral territory, on her own merit?

Why, where did you want us to field her from? Which other constituency in Karnataka? You tell me! We chose a constituency for Sonia Gandhi, and that happens to be Bellary. That's all. Right?

Do you think Sonia is in for a tough fight in Bellary?

I would not call it tough. But she certainly has a fight on hand. And we are going to ensure that she wins it.

Do you think you face a tough fight, personally and party-wise, on your home turf in Mandya this time?

Mandya has always been a tough battleground for me. This is going to be as tough or as easy as any other. I have implicit faith in the people of Mandya, and I am confident that we will win all eight assembly seats, as well as the Lok Sabha seat, which film star Ambareesh is contesting.

Former MP G Made Gowda, whom many view as quite a power in that region, has publicly promised to ensure your defeat, after he was refused an assembly ticket from Kirugaval in Mandya this time. Do you feel threatened by him, or by your other fellow Vokkaliga, Deve Gowda?

I have great respect for the people of Mandya, as it is the place in which I have eaten my salt and drunk my water for the past half century. They have far too much self respect to be swayed by the tongue of any Gowda, including me! I certainly do not feel threatened by anyone.

Do you think that we will see you as the next chief minister of Karnataka, then?


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