April 12, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Former Kerala Chief Minister
A K Antony

Karunakaran should forget and forgive

Former Kerala Chief Minister A K Antony, the Mr Clean of Indian politics, is unhappy and upset. Unhappy because the Congress-led United Democratic Front is in dire straits following the revolt by K Karunakaran -- his rival in Kerala. And upset because Karunakaran has blamed him of scuttling his daughter Padmaja Venugopal's candidature in the forthcoming assembly election.

The differences have become ugly, resulting in a war of words between the two veterans of Kerala politics. Karunakaran wants the Congress high command to recast the assembly candidates' list to include his daughter and other supporters, while Antony and his supporters have refused to accept those demands. This factional squabble, in turn, is threatening to damage the prospects of the United Democratic Front.

In an interview to George Iype, Antony -- considered close to party president Sonia Gandhi -- lashes out at Karunakaran and charts out what needs to be done for the unity of the Congress in Kerala.

K Karunakaran said he resigned from the Congress Working Committee because of you?

That is utter nonsense. How can I force him to resign from the CWC? Karunakaran is the senior-most Congress leader from Kerala. But in the recent past, his conduct has not been that of the stature of a senior leader. He resigned because he is upset that his daughter was not nominated for the assembly election.

But Karunakaran says he was humiliated by you and the party high command during the allotment of party tickets.

Let me tell you the truth. I had no role in the so-called humiliation of Karunakaran. How can Karunakaran accuse me over the denial of a ticket to his daughter? He is a senior leader and could have impressed upon the party high command to allot a seat for his daughter. Why should I have been involved in it?

But Karunakaran says he wanted you to propose his daughter's name to Sonia Gandhi?

I deliberately decided not to propose her name because I did not want to be humiliated and hurt as in 1989. In 1989, Karunakaran proposed his son Muralidharan's name for the Lak Sabha election. Most members in the parliamentary board then opposed his son's name because the Congress leadership did not want father and son to contest from Kerala. But it was me who pacified Karunakaran and ensured that the names of both of them were included in the list.

The very next day, Karunakaran turned against me and told the press that he was not aware of his son's selection and did not propose his name. The blame for promoting Muralidharan then fell on me.

Did Karunakaran propose the name of his daughter to Sonia Gandhi this time?

I do not know. Karunakaran personally did not tell me of his daughter's candidature. But nobody -- even the supporters of Karunakaran -- suggested her name. So how can the party high command be expected to award any favours to Karunakaran without any formal request?

The Karunakaran faction alleges that it is not a question of Padmaja alone. They say your faction denied seats to many of Karunakaran's supporters?

The high command allotted 34 seats to the Karunakaran faction out of the total 88 Congress seats. If he is not satisfied with these many seats, then the Congress high command is not ready to accept his demands. Kerala is the only state where the pradesh Congress committee has one vice president, who is Muralidharan. This was done to satisfy the Karunakaran group.

But Karunakaran says he and you had agreed that each group would be given 50 per cent of the seats. That is 44 each.

There was never any agreement between us on seat allocation. I had never told him that 50 per cent of the seats would be given to his faction.

What is it that makes both you and Karunakaran quarrel always? Don't you think the factional squabbles will upset the party's chances in the election?

I have never in my lifetime taken up a fight with Karunakaran. I respect him as a senior leader of the party. The quarrelling and rebellion have always come from him. I do not know why. It could be because of his ego. But what I am trying to do now is to ensure that the crisis in the party does not affect our chances in the election. I do not think Karunakaran will work against the party. We will work together for the victory of the United Democratic Front despite our difference of opinion.

Why is it that the party high command is keeping quiet on the rebellion in the state Congress? Sonia Gandhi has not yet sent any mediator to resolve the crisis.

Karunakaran has such impossible demands that it is not easy for the party high command to solve the problem. There is only one way out. Karunakaran should forget and forgive. I am also ready to do that. But a solution to the crisis will come soon. We are also working towards it.

Aren't you upset that Karunakaran has attacked you and revolted against the party high command?

I do not want to pick up a fight with him now. He is the chieftain of our Congress family in Kerala. So it is natural that he scolds others. I am taking his revolt and his anger towards me in a brotherly spirit. I was the one who always took the initiative to satisfy Karunakaran and even made him the chief minister four times. But yes, I am upset that he is behaving towards me without any kindness.

Are you ready for a compromise with Karunakaran?

Yes, I am always ready for compromises. But this time, we cannot accept his demands. We are ready to take other initiatives to ensure that the Congress stands united. I have only one request to Karunakaran -- please don't present the crown on a silver platter to the Marxist party again by adding fuel to the fire.


Bee in Sonia's bonnet
Sonia deputes Ambika Soni to mollify Karunakaran
Karunakaran refuses to compromise

The Rediff Interviews

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