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A recent exit poll predicted that the Congress would win the forthcoming assembly elections in Karnataka. However, some political observers feel that the Congress, like its rival Bharatiya Janata Party, is over-confident about its prospects in the state.
In spite of dissidence, leaders running parallel campaigns and no clear choice of chief ministerial candidate, the Congress hopes to reverse its fortunes in Karnataka.
Veteran Congressman and former chief minister of Karnataka Veerappa Moily believes that his party will bag anything between 130 and 135 seats in the 224-member Karnataka assembly.
Moily is chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission and spokesperson for the All India Congress Committee (media cell).
Moily, a lawyer and an author, is also an active member of the Congress campaign and manifesto committee for the Karnataka elections, 2008.
Vicky Nanjappa caught up with Moily at his residence in Bangalore to discuss the Congress's prospects in the elections and the various problems plaguing the party and its leaders in the state.
The Congress claims that it is united in its fight in Karnataka and it is the only party capable of providing a stable government. Is there stability within the party?
The very fact that we have not announced a chief ministerial candidate proves that the party wants everyone to work together. There are no complaints and this shows that there is unity within the party. The Congress is a big party with a great history. We have no favourites. Everyone here is equal and we will have to work together.
Even candidates who join us from other parties will have to work together. We have given everyone an equal opportunity and it is not as though new people joining the party can claim a stake to the top post. Had B S Yeddyurappa of the BJP joined the Congress, he would have been 110th in line and would have had to work in order to make it to the top.
You are saying that there are no disgruntled souls within the party and everyone is working together without any problems?
Yes, that is true.
If that is the case, then why are some leaders kick-starting their campaigns from their homes? S M Krishna started the campaign for Ramnagar constituency from his house at Sadashivnagar in Bangalore. A leader who had defected from the Janata Dal-Secular, joined the Congress at Krishna's residence. Has the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee office at No. 14 Queens Road in Bangalore become defunct?
S M Krishna heads the coordination committee of the election campaign in Karnataka. Why are you making such a big issue out of it? I do agree that the KPCC office should function better and the programmes should have been better organised. But does it really make a difference where the campaign starts? The Congress candidate from Ramnagar sought Krishna's blessings and started the campaign. What is wrong with that? Another leader joined the party at Krishna's residence. I feel this is a trivial issue.
You said the programmes should have been better organised. Don't you think it is time to crack the whip and bring all your leaders under one umbrella? Doesn't it send out wrong signals to the voters?
Please don't forget that the Congress is not running an army with a military rule. It is a marriage, which involves a bundle of compromises. Things will fall into place and all Congressmen will work together.
Speaking of disgruntled souls, what do you have to say about the resignation drama by C K Jaffer Sharief and his subsequent compromise with Sonia Gandhi [Images] at New Delhi?
You are demeaning Jaffer Sharrief by saying that he settled for a compromise. He is not a give and take man. Yes, he had certain grievances and he was given an audience by Sonia Gandhi. The meeting between them lasted for over an hour. He is a very loyal Congressman and will stay that way. There was no compromise between Sharrief and Sonia Gandhi. He had certain issues and she heard them out. Things are fine now.
Do you think you have been sidelined in the party in Karnataka? Are you happy with the responsibility given to you?
Congress work is God's work. Nobody gives any responsibility in the Congress. We just have to do our own work. I am happy with the role I am playing in the party. I am also chairman of the Administrative Reforms Commission and I keep myself busy with that work too. But politics is my oxygen, so I still make a lot of time for that.
What is the Commission's current focus and how has the reaction been to your earlier reports?
The next subject will be terrorism. We will focus more on resolving the issue. The response to the earlier reports has been very good and I am sure that the suggestions made in these reports will be considered and implemented. A group of ministers, who will look into the reports, has also been appointed.
Coming back to Karnataka, how many seats do you think the Congress will win this time?
We will win anything between 130 and 135 seats. You can mark my words, my predictions never go wrong. The people want stability and that is why they will choose the Congress, as it is the only party that is capable of providing a stable government.
In the 2004 elections the Congress fared pretty badly with just 65 seats. Where do you think the party went wrong?
The major problem in 2004 was that the Congress votes got distributed. The Muslims in Karnataka did not trust us because of the Datta Peeta issue. That is where we went wrong.
The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 79 seats. Do you think they can better their tally this time?
In 2004, the BJP was riding on the Vajpayee wave, which worked well for them. This year, however, the situation is different. The BJP will not come close to that this time.
Is there a secret pact between the Congress and the JD-S? BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu made a similar allegation at Bangalore a couple of days back.
Secret pacts are for the BJP and not for us. We are transparent and have made our intentions clear. We will fight the elections and form the government on our own. We do not believe in coalitions here.
Let us rewind. The first government formed after the 2004 elections was a coalition between the Congress and the JD-S.
The year 2004 was different. Deve Gowda approached the Congress to form the government as he wanted to keep the BJP away from power. This time it is different and we will form the government on our own.
So you are sure that there is no understanding between Gowda and Sonia Gandhi?
Yes, I am sure. There is no understanding between the two and such allegations, about a secret pact, are false.
What if you fall short of a majority? Which party will you approach then?
Firstly, we will not fall short of a majority. People will give us a clear mandate. They too realise that thanks to unstable governments, investors are running away from Karnataka. I laid the foundation for information technology in Karnataka when I was the chief minister. The state prospered after that. We will lose it completely if there is no stable government in Karnataka and the voter is aware of that. The people of Karnataka, in the past few years, have become victims of the mining mafia and the people want a change.
Why hasn't the Congress chosen a chief ministerial candidate? Do you have a shortage of leaders?
We have never projected a chief ministerial candidate before going for the elections. The CM will be a consensual candidate and the party legislators will choose him. If a person is chosen as the CM candidate, then he will not work for the party but will only think of his personal agenda. Let the man who is striving to become CM work and prove his worth. The post of chief minister has to be earned and nobody should expect it to come directly to him.
You belong to the coastal belt of Karnataka, which incidentally is a BJP stronghold. The opinion polls this year take the belt away from the BJP. Why do you think this has happened?
There is a silent revolution going on in coastal Karnataka. I have trained youths under a programme called Gandhinadige. This training programme is aimed at changing the mindset of the youth and we have called upon them to shift from saffronisation to modernisation. I have been undertaking this exercise for the past six months and have trained several youths, who in turn are training many others. The BJP is losing ground in coastal Karnataka and the results of the elections this year will prove that.
Photograph: Atul Chowdhary
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