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October 8, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ S M Krishna

'Victory brings its own set of problems'

Mundina Mukhyamantri S M Krishna !" yelled the jeep full of middle-aged men waving huge flags bearing not Krishna's name, but that of their patron, R V Devaraj, the man who was minister in S Bangarappa's time. The large clusters of police officers, RAF personnel and traffic constables surrounding Krishna's palatial home in Rajamahal Vilas rushed to surround them.

"Avaru illilla (he is not here)," remarked a bystander laconically. His dry statement was more effective than all the policemen, and the jeep full of supporters promptly alighted quietly and slunk into the shamiana provided for them.

For over a couple of months now, the small cross road abutting Krishna's house on one side has been permanently blocked by a shamiana with chairs provided by Krishna for the huge stream of supporters and party workers who throng his house every day. They are provided tea, coffee, snacks and even meals regularly. The residents of the houses around have resigned themselves to simply avoiding that whole block and taking other routes to their doorsteps.

Earlier in the morning, the same house was quite empty and quiet, with only Krishna's ubiquitous secretary Prasad sitting almost relaxedly at his desk, and the large number of policemen outside standing around peacefully. Krishna emerged from his morning bath and pooja, the picture of sartorial elegance, reminding me of the breakfast chats I used to have with him five years ago, when he was deputy chief minister of Karnataka and busy stirring up dissidence and trouble for his chief minister Veerappa Moily.

After that, Krishna spoke to his numerous visitors for a while before he left to meet Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in the city. He returned to his house for a late lunch, and continued with a series of informal conversations and interviews with journalists and friends.

Dressed as perfectly as ever, this time in loose off-white pyjamas and kurta, with a black waistcoat, his mane of grey hair nicely coiffed, Krishna stopped for a moment to talk to his elder son-in-law Sidhartha, a coffeeplanter who also owns the city's best cyber coffee shop and café chain. The man who we are sure will be the next chief minister of Karnataka spoke at leisure and length to's M D Riti.

When can we hope to meet the new Congress chief minister of Karnataka?

As soon as the legislature party elects him, which should be on October 10, Sunday.

Elects? Or approves the choice of the high command?

The general secretary of the Congress should be able to answer that one, not me.

And am I now speaking to the future chief minister of Karnataka?

No, only the present president of the Congress in Karnataka.

But it has been Congress tradition that the man who leads the party to victory in the polls becomes its chief minister.

I would not like to comment on that myself, but a quick look at the newspapers over the past decades should bear out what you say.

Why then are so many others jumping into the fray with you?

Anything is fair in politics and nothing is ruled out.

Your supporters in Mandya and elsewhere have already taken it badly when you narrowly missed becoming chief minister at least twice before over the past decade. Will they now take it lying down if you are pipped at the post yet again?

Well, what else can they do? (laughs) They have their own compulsions, and will try to see that their own man, namely me, makes it. But if he doesn't, they will simply have to lump it, that's all.

Was your own victory in Maddur a personal mandate in your favour, or a part of the Congress wave sweeping that region?

The whole of Mandya and Mysore went the Congress way, by and large.

Did you win because of this wave then, or because your own personal equation with the people of Mandya had improved this time? Or did your family work the miracle, because we know you only campaigned there yourself on the last day, while your wife Prema and daughters Malavika and Shambhavi were really there working for you all along.

I am most grateful to my wife and daughters, who really worked for me there this time, and also to my large band of workers there who carried the fight for me there.

Do you think the Bharatiya Janata Party fared so badly because they aligned themselves with the unpopular Janata Dal-United?

You should ask them!

But weren't you the real beneficiaries of their disunity?

We were sure of winning, irrespective of whether they were united or divided. They were answerable for their miserable performance of the past five years. We were on very solid grounds when we said that this would be a referendum on the performance of the Dal government.

But the Congress was beaten badly at the last assembly election in 1994 because of its disunity. Have you taken care of this problem now?

We projected a united Congress party for the past year, and that paid us rich dividends. We undertook panchajanya where a bus took all the leaders to all the parliamentary constituencies. These were all exercises aimed at projecting the image of a united and resurgent Congress party in Karnataka.

What is the guarantee that infighting will not surface again as soon as you come to power?

We will be very careful and cautious, and make sure we work as a team, with a purpose and a goal. We will not let dissidence surface again this time.

Would you describe the present election mandate as an anti-incumbency vote?

Not at all. I would term it a positive pro-Congress, pro-Sonia Gandhi mandate.

So you think there was a Bellary factor playing a decisive factor in these polls in Karnataka?

Yes, of course there was. It electrified the whole of Karnataka. Soniaji's mere presence in the state was enough for Congressmen to get worked up and become upbeat.

There is speculation now that she will drop the Bellary seat and choose Amethi.

I don't give much credence to speculation. I spoke to her last night and made a special request on behalf of Karnataka that she should consider retaining the Bellary seat. She said she would consider it. Amethi has given her a resounding vote, but Amethi can always get taken care of because it is so close to Delhi.

But don't you agree that for the past two decades, the Karnataka electorate has voted anti-incumbency, not in favour of programmes or offers.

If that's the way it is, that's how it will be.

Veerappa Moily says that Janardhana Poojary sabotaged his chances in Mangalore, and that's why he lost to Dhananjaya Kumar of the BJP. Do you agree?

Not that I know of. I have neither heard this allegation nor am qualified to react to it.

But isn't that why you replaced DCC president Vishwanath there?

Oh no, its just that that man was always ill, and could not even be present when Madam Sonia Gandhi visited Mangalore because of his ill health. We decided to replace him as soon as the elections were over as Mangalore is a politically sensitive constituency, and we did.

So now that the Congress has swept Karnataka, are you all resting on your laurels?

Victory brings its own set of problems, like providing good governance to the people. I hope that we are all able to rise to the occasion and re-establish the supremacy of the Congress in Karnataka. We put together an implementable manifesto, and we should now put that into action. That is a gigantic task in itself, and the new Congress government in Karnataka should rise up to it as quickly as possible.

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