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September 21, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Anant Nag

'Manipulators get exposed in due course'

This is a new constituency, so I am keeping my own accounts," said Anant Nag, looking up briefly from the school exercise book he was writing into in neat, precise Kannada letters. Beside him lay his black canvas tote bag containing his wallet, a sheaf of the day's newspapers, and a couple of books and pens. Dressed in a blue kurta, his trademark blue jeans and scuffed black canvas loafers, Nag looked more like an ordinary worker than like a minister and a film star.

Sitting absolutely alone in one of the many small dining rooms of the old, very lower-middle-class New Modern Hotel on the busy K R Road, Nag looked relaxed as he planned his programme for the afternoon ahead. Excerpts from M D Riti's interview.

So what are you contesting as now, the official Janata Dal-United candidate, an ex-Dal rebel or an Independent?

I am, of course, the official Janata Dal-U candidate. I would never contest as a rebel. I have Ramakrishna Hegde's blessings, and the approval of Chief Minister J H Patel and State Dal-U chief C Byre Gowda. How much more official could I get?

During the initial talks, the BJP and the Dal-Shakti combine were to split up the assembly seats equally, each taking 112 seats. The BJP backed down on this and reduced us to 95. Now, its actually only 91. As Hegde pointed out in Delhi they are suffering from greed and over-confidence. I told my chief minister, that since the BJP has not maintained the sanctity of the agreement and fielded a rebel Vadnal Nagaraj in Patel's constituency, I had every right to stake my claim to this seat (Basavanagudi). The BJP system has collapsed here, and this will be reflected once the results of the Lok Sabha are declared here.

Then why did Hegde say that the NDA was backing Reddy (the official BJP candidate), and let Nag try his luck on his own?

That remark has appeared in one newspaper. I would not give any credence to it.

Are Hegde and Jeevaraj Alva really actively supporting your candidature?

I am from the JD-U. I have spoken to my party leaders and they have assured me of their support. I don't have to bother about anyone else in Lok Shakti. Hegde has given me the green signal, that is why I am contesting. And all the Shakti party workers are with me.

How does Hegde explain the earlier confusion? But for the postponement of elections here, you would not have been able to contest at all from any constituency this time, thanks to Lok Shakti's manipulations.

I would not blame Hegde for that at all, now that I know the truth. I was a victim of manipulations by some others in Lok Shakti. He did not even know that this was being done to me.

After my outburst, Patel spoke to Hegde and got me this seat. Yet I was not comfortable with the thought of meeting Hegde. So I first sent him a hand-written letter. A regular politician would never have bothered to do that! Patel was the only person who spoke out against Hegde's expulsion three years ago. And I was the only person who met Hegde at the airport when he returned to Bangalore after that.

Why don't you name the people you consider responsible for conspiring against you?

It is quite obvious. Who is there in Shakti after Hegde? It is obviously the man who has contested from Shivajinagar, Malleswaram and Bangalore South (Jeevaraj Alva). Apart from him, there are three or four others as well.

Why did they do this? Out of personal enmity?

What other reason could there have been?

You and Jeevaraj were once perceived as Hegde's two shishyas, the men who would carry forward his ideologies and ideals. What happened between you two?

I think I am the genuine shishya of Hegde. Though Jeevaraj has always been Hegde's blue-eyed boy, he can't be classified as his true disciple. I am proud of that fact that I am Hegde's rightful political heir.

Considering that you have been a member of the Janata Dal for almost a quarter century now, do you think the party is treating you well? After all, Hegde, Jeevaraj and many others switched parties several times during this period....

The real leaders have been very good to me at all times. Hegde made me an MLC in 1988. Then, when Sivarama Karanth refused to join the Dal, he allowed me to try for the Lok Sabha from Dakshina Kannada. The next time around too, Hegde wanted me to contest for the Rajya Sabha, but Jeevaraj and company prevailed upon him to nominate Trehan.

Apart from Hegde and Patel, Deve Gowda too has been very kind to me. Last time, all three of them together gave me Malleswaram as my constituency when I insisted on it. In hindsight, I realise that I should have contested from right here and not from Malleswaram.


Because a conspiracy was hatched right from then on to try to keep me out of electoral politics. Last time, our party workers too were resentful that I was being fielded instead of a localite. But a localite was fielded and he did not get elected. This time, they offered me Bangalore (north) parliamentary seat initially. Bache-Gowda said if you give Nag that that seat, he (Bache-Gowda) would help the local candidate. Subsequently, they denied me that seat.

Then, they acceded to M Raghupathy's longstanding request and gave him Malleswaram, promising me Basavanagudi instead. Finally, they tried to cleverly cheat me out of that too! By some twist of fate, elections were postponed. That is when I insisted on this seat.

Now M V Sriganesh (of the Lok Shakti, who withdrew from the race in favour of the BJP) goes around putting on a long face as if I have denied him something. Who told him to withdraw from the contest? He told me he was backing out because that constituency was given to the BJP. I told him the BJP had fielded rebels in 20 constituencies and there was no way I was going to allow them to have their way here.

There is another factor that nobody is talking about. Basavanagudi is perhaps the only constituency in the entire country where the Brahmins are present in a big number. The president of the Brahmin Association here had asked all three major parties to give them Brahmin candidates. Nobody did. Now that I am in the running, this group has openly declared its support for me.

Being a son of a mutt administrator of Dakshina Kannada you have had a childhood steeped in Brahminism. You actually lived in mutts until you were sent to high school in Bombay. But yet, you have never spoken of your Brahmin identity until now. Why this sudden aggressive Brahminic posturing?

Nobody cares about the caste of a film artiste. Likewise, even when I worked in the background for two decades in politics, nobody asked me what my caste was. But once I entered the electoral fray, my caste suddenly began to get mentioned.

You spoke rather regretfully about not being given Bangalore (north) parliamentary seat. Would you have really liked to fight C K Jaffer Sharief, who has been winning that seat for years now?

Had I been assured that seat in advance, I would have worked towards it. I was minister for Bangalore City Development, you remember? Sharief is winning mostly on Muslim votes every time. He is not really bothered about the others. But if I say I am a Brahmin, vote for me, I am castigated by the Hindus! Do you know that Brahmins worked against me the last time in Malleswaram? I won in spite of them, not because of them!

Didn't all this harassment tempt you to switch parties finally?

No, I could never join either the Congress or the BJP. I am fairly close to the BJP, but never the Congress.

Why do you hate the Congress so much?

Because they never show their own face and win an election. They always show someone else's face. They are incapable of doing anything without the Gandhi family, dead or alive. Not even Arjun Singh nor S M Krishna show their own faces and go canvassing. They simply have no face of their own.

Are you veering more towards politics than films? Even when you were a full-time, popular movie star, one noticed you getting most animated when you discussed politics, not cinema.

I now admit that I have always been more of a politician than a movie star.

Will you continue to be an active politician, even if you lose this election?

I am very optimistic about the outcome of this election and would rather plan what I will do as an active politician.

What are your plans in cinema after this?

If I get good roles, I will accept them. I was to do a Kasaravalli film, but he (the producer) has yet to get all his finances together. Besides, after the postponement of elections all the films that I had planned have been temporarily shelved.

You haven't been acting for two years now, except for a supporting role in the recently released Vishwa. Do people on the streets still respond to you as an actor when you appeal to them for votes?

Yes, even more so than before, because my films keep getting aired on television. I was known before, but not all my films were being seen by everyone. Now I am in every home.

So have you given up all thoughts of quitting politics? You once told me you were seriously considering the option.

At that time I was emotionally triggered. There was Jeevaraj Alva crying because he could not give all his people tickets, saying he will not file his own nomination. He did finally file his nomination well in time. The man has changed from Janata to Congress to Kranti Ranga to Dal to Lok Shakti and then back to the Dal. And people like him orchestrate my removal. However, I now know that manipulators get exposed in due course of time.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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