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October 11, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ M D Riti

'If I make mistakes, correct me. But please stand by me'

Bursts of colour flew through the air as Somanahalli Mallayya Krishna's supporters threw bombs of tricolour powder outside the Vidhana Soudha to celebrate his being chosen as the Karnataka chief minister.

"One almost expects to see Rajakumar emerging from behind a pillar singing a patriotic song," exclaimed a disgusted police officer, wiping traces of powder off his starched khaki shirt.

Krishna was sworn in Monday morning amidst much pomp and ceremony in Bangalore.

Cynics joke that Karnataka is witnessing the Krishnavathar, or the grand resurrection of Krishna. After five years on the sidelines, this Dallas-educated politician has been chosen by the high command to head the Congress government in Karnataka. Party general secretary has already promised that Krishna will not be replaced or changed from this position for the next five years, as frequent displacing of chief ministers has cost the party dearly during its last term in power.

Happily for the people of Karnataka, who are quite jaded with the Janata Dal's lethargy and non-performance in the past five years, Krishna announced that he hoped to get off to a quick start and maintain the pace of development throughout his tenure. In fact, he even set himself a positive goal by saying that the people could judge the intentions of his government by assessing their achievements during their first 100 days in power.

He had already made an attempt to abort the beginnings of unhappiness amongst disappointed party colleagues who had coveted his chair by making surprise late night visits to their homes. "If I make mistakes, please correct me," he is reported to have said, quite humbly. "But please stand by me and the party."

The man who was named Krishna by his proud parents because he was their eighth child (and only son) has never been regarded as a great leader of the masses, or as a man whose rhetoric touches the hearts of humble farmers. His forte has always been garnering support amongst his party men and lobbying in Delhi. Whenever confronted with this fact, he would say:

"If I can get the representatives of the people (that is, the MLAs) to follow me, I am obviously a mass leader, right?"

Now, however, he has taken to getting huge crowds of farmers to attend all rallies and public functions involving him to prove that he does have huge mass support.

Krishna has been in the Congress for a long time now, and is one of the few politicians to have stood by the party consistently through good times and bad. He was born at Somanahalli village on May 1, 1932. After completing a basic BA degree from the old and prestigious Maharaja's College of Mysore, he did a BL degree at the Government Law College in Bangalore and then went abroad for further studies as a Fulbright scholar. After acquiring a master's degree in comparative and international law from Southern Methodist University, Texas, he came back to Bangalore, where he worked as a professor of international law at the Sri Jagadguru Renukacharya Law College for six years, from 1962 to 1968.

Meanwhile, Krishna had also been elected to the legislative assembly in 1962 from the Praja Socialist Party. After serving one term in the assembly, he moved on to Parliament in 1968. Then, he came back to Karnataka politics as an MLC in 1972, and also became a minister for the first time, with the portfolio of commerce, industries and parliamentary affairs. When the first Janata government led by Ramakrishna Hegde came to power in Karnataka in 1983, Krishna was back at the Centre, serving as minister of state for industry and then, minister of state for finance. Then, when the Congress swept back to power in the state a decade ago, in 1989, he became the speaker of the Karnataka assembly.

He held that post until 1992, when he was pipped in the race for chief minister's chair by Veerappa Moily, and hence had to be mollified with the position of deputy chief minister. Meanwhile, after he lost the assembly elections five years ago, he was elected by his party to the Rajya Sabha instead. Sonia Gandhi made him the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee this February.

His main claim to power until now was that he belongs to one of the state's two majority communities, the Vokkaligas. (So does H D Deve Gowda.) Before him, the Congress in Karnataka was led by two backward class leaders: Dharam Singh, who simply lacked the charisma or following to improve the party's standing, as party president, and Mallikarjuna Kharge as legislature party leader. The man himself is always quite open about the need for his party to appease his community.

"We cannot afford to alienate the majority communities," he would say, munching a crisp dosa at his neatly laid-out breakfast table, his crisply-starched white angavastra folded neatly and placed beside him.

Krishna's wife Prema is a housewife. He has two daughters: Malavika, who is married to coffee planter and cyber café chain owner Sidhartha, and Shambhavi, who is married to industrialist Vijay Mallya's stepbrother, who holds a senior position in Mallya's UB group.

Krishna himself has two main hobbies: tennis and designing men's clothes. However, he says he has little time for tennis since he became party president. But his penchant for well-designed and elegant clothes should stand him in good stead now, in this new role which will certainly give him high visibility at all times.

The Rediff Election Specials

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