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      Velvet Czar to the Fore

      Watch out, Naidu. S.M. Krishna is winning both panchayat polls and =

      It's the kind of popularity every political leader yearns for. But =
it seldom happens that all these traits are bestowed singularly upon one =
individual. Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna is one of those rarely =
blessed personalities.

      His appeal, it seems, is universal - well-liked by the rustic as =
well as by the urbane. He is a leader who's not tainted by blemishes of =
moral turpitude or brazen deeds of favouritism. And that is precisely =
why he has the moral courage to unabashedly ask political foes to pitch =
in for accelerating the mechanism of development. It has taken Krishna =
eight months to express each of these attributes in their entirety.

      The upshot: Karnataka is not only regaining its lost sheen as the =
most favoured destination for investors, but has actually taken a step =
forward. The chief minister's style of functioning sets him startlingly =
apart from his predecessors. A man with a perennially unruffled =
composure, his vision doesn't merely envisage a place in the sun for the =
state's infotech sector. He is equally committed to an increase of per =
capita income in the agrarian sector.

      Krishna's popularity can be gauged from the fact that one of his =
predecessors, Ramakrishna Hegde, has praised the new CM's initiatives =
much to the chagrin of his own Lok Shakti people as well as the BJP =
leaders. Their contention is that Krishna has the "advantage" of =
succeeding a somnambulant J.H. Patel. Says Karnataka assembly Opposition =
leader Jagadish Shettar: "It's sheer media blitz that's helped the chief =
minister take credit even for routine decisions."

      In early June, Krishna faced his first crucial test as leader of =
the Congress party and chief minister - elections to zilla and taluk =
panchayats and the first Global Investors Meet (GIM). The score-sheets =
were telling - the party won 26 of the 27 zilla panchayats (649 of the =
889 seats) and 2,099 of the 3,252 taluk panchayat seats. And at the GIM, =
the state government signed MoUs for investments - which are supposed to =
bring in Rs 17,000 crore more than what was targeted - in sectors as =
varied as power generation, cement, automobiles, vegetable oils, =
infotech and infotainment (Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp plans to set up a =
Rs 1,000 crore facility near Bangalore). As Ravi Uppal, head of the =
state unit of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and managing =
director of Volvo (India) Pvt Ltd, said: "The government is building a =
unique platform of trust between itself and the industry."

      But well before the GIM's valedictory on June 30, Krishna is =
scheduled to visit Singapore to firm up on phase II of the $208 million =
International Tech Park Ltd (ITPL) near Bangalore, and to invite =
investments from the government there. Avers the chief minister: "I want =
them to invest their surplus resources in Karnataka."

      The follow-up on projects approved at the GIM is perhaps =

            The Reliance Group sought 80 acres for an infotech park near =
Bangalore. The government sanctioned 70 acres inside the Electronics =
City the next day.=20
            The entire phase II of Electronics City with a sprawling =
campus of 240 acres was allotted to entrepreneurs during the GIM.=20
            In the case of G. Manoharan Naidu, music director and =
managing director of Lahari Recording Co Pvt Ltd, who signed an MoU with =
the state government for setting up a Rs 110 crore audio and video =
cd-rom facility near Bangalore, an approval came within two days. Gushes =
Naidu: "It's been an extraordinary experience for me. At the GIM, I told =
the officials that I need an approval for conversion of agricultural =
land for industrial use. I got the clearance within two days, without =
having to pay bribes. In the evening I got a call from the industries =
department, asking me if any formalities were pending. I am told that =
all the requisite approvals will be granted by June 24."=20

      So, Krishna's clear focus on development and constant monitoring =
has helped the state to draw in more investments than those set off even =
by President Bill Clinton's visit to the country. And if his much-feted =
Andhra Pradesh counterpart thought that he had won after Clinton graced =
Hyderabad at Bangalore's cost, Krishna's coup by wooing the =
Hyderabad-based Sathavahana Ispats Ltd to sign an MoU to start a Rs =
400-crore coke-oven plant for generation of 50 MW of power near Bellary =
has shown Naidu that he was mistaken.

      Officials say Krishna actually made a remarkable impression on =
investors during the World Economic Forum summit at Davos three months =
ago. During his presentation, he reportedly explained that though =
finance minister Yashwant Sinha and he were from political parties with =
diametrically opposite ideologies, both agreed on the policy of =
development. The process of liberalisation was initiated by a Congress =
government in 1991, but was being continued by the one being led by the =
BJP, and "we (both the parties) want you to come to India." At the GIM, =
he had Sinha for the inauguration and Arun Jaitley at the end of the =
two-day meeting. Even his predecessors, Hegde and Veerappa Moily, were =
there among the invitees - a rare feat.

      His colleagues find him different from other chief ministers - one =
who has clarity in thought and is democratic too. According to a senior =
minister, at cabinet meetings, the CM doesn't bulldoze his way through, =
he listens to his colleagues. For instance, when the cabinet was =
discussing the threat of Mangalore Power Company (Cogentrix's joint =
venture) to pull out, the CM was initially perturbed at the slow =
progress and bureaucratic hurdles which were responsible for the =
pullout. Eventually, however, he was convinced that it was good as the =
state was not in a position to afford the power generated by this =

      Krishna is democratic but he is no softie. He continues with his =
surprise visits to various government offices to jolt the bureaucrats =
into action. Recently, he visited a granary of the state food and civil =
supplies corporation, and found rice supplied by the Food Corporation of =
India unfit for consumption. His retort that the rice should be dumped =
at Krishi Bhavan, Delhi, has had his political adversaries, the BJP in =
particular, baying for his blood. They have dubbed it a political stunt =
because his visit and subsequent criticism of the public distribution =
system deprived the BJP of support even in districts which had been =
traditional strongholds of the party. "The campaign that the BJP =
government hiked the prices of commodities affected our prospects. The =
turnout was poor because the elections were held soon after his visit to =
the granary," frets Shettar. (The BJP, incidentally, has slipped to the =
fourth position in this month's polls to the local bodies, registering a =
single-digit show in seven of the 27 districts.)

      Krishna, however, continues to ignore such barbs. "The fact that =
we did not shy away from holding elections, but held them at the =
earliest was one factor that helped us win. The credit for this victory =
will be shared with all the Congress workers. Also, the earnestness with =
which we are going about implementing our promises has really impressed =
the people in rural areas," said Krishna.

      As president of the PCC, Krishna is leading by example. He visits =
the party office at least twice a week. His ministers too have been =
forced to emulate their leader and interact with party workers. As a =
consequence, his detractors within the Congress have little opportunity =
to raise the banner of revolt. And when they do - like during the GIM =
when three ministers opposed investments by mncs and later retracted =
their statement - he has a firm message for them: toe the government =
line or quit.

      The chief minister's vision is to create multiple growth centres =
so that the entire state develops in a uniform fashion. "I would like to =
scale greater heights. If you think I am satisfied with the way I have =
performed over the last eight months, I am not; I feel a bit depressed =
because I could have done better. I want Karnataka to be prosperous and =
make it a state that is surplus in power generation by 2004." Should he =
succeed in making it a power-surplus state, his political power too =
would increase exponentially.

      By B.R. Srikanth

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