A few days ago, I was at the Global Communication Association’s (GCA) annual conference that was being held at Mysore. This conference was being held in partnership with the University of Mysore as part of its Centenary celebrations. Apart from delivering one of the keynote addresses, I was receiving the award representing GRAAM which was being conferred the GCA Award for Communication in the NGO category. The occasion also saw the GCA conferring the Lifetime Achievement Award on Sri S M Krishna, the former Chief Minister of Karnataka and a man who has spent more than 50 years in public life. As I walked up the stage to receive the award, he surprised me by not just remembering but also engaging me in a conversation. Though he knew me and had visited our centers thrice as the Chief Minister, little did I expect a senior and accomplished politician like him to spend time talking to me. This took me back to a couple of incidents that I would like to narrate.
More than 16 or 17 years ago, SVYM had applied for land to establish VLEAD in Mysore and the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) had sanctioned half an acre of land on a 30-year lease to us. This lease agreement had to be ratified by the Government and the file was stuck in Bangalore for an unreasonably long period of time. One could sense that the ‘system’ was expecting to be greased and we would never be able to get the land sanction approved with our principled stand of never participating in any act of corruption. Someone suggested that I meet SM Krishna, the then Chief Minister of Karnataka and ask him to intervene on our behalf. I did meet him and he politely heard me out. Instead of intervening in clearing the file, he politely asked his then Secretary, Mr S V Ranganath to ensure that we would have suitable land allotted to us in Mysore for setting up VLEAD. Within the next few months, he made sure that 2 acres of land was sanctioned to us in the KIADB Industrial area and we were given the physical possession immediately after. Though he could not ensure that corruption in the system was addressed, he did redress our grievance and ensured that we ended up with more land costing lesser money.
Another incident was of a far greater significance and showed the human side of SM Krishna. He has always been known as a person skewed towards urban development but this incident will show otherwise. We had filed a petition against the Government of Karnataka in the National Human Rights Commission on behalf of the indigenous tribals. We had won the case and the NHRC had made many recommendations. The bureaucracy of the state was not very inclined in implementing these recommendations and we were getting increasingly frustrated. It was at this time that I again met SM Krishna and drew his attention to his Government’s inability to resolve the issue. On learning that two arms of his own Government were not seeing eye to eye, he immediately suggested that we have an exclusive cabinet meeting to discuss and solve this problem. And for the first time in the history of independent India, the cabinet meeting of a state took place outside the state capital in a small tribal colony. This historic cabinet meeting (dubbed by the media as a ‘mini cabinet’) took place in the presence of his entire cabinet, the Chief Secretary and all the secretaries and 24 tribal chieftains on the 4th of April, 2001 at our tribal school in Hosahalli tribal colony. The cabinet not only approved the implementation of all the NHRC recommendations but went beyond that to have nearly 3600 houses for tribals, 100 tribal girls appointed as ANMs and many more welfare schemes for the indigenous tribals. It was here that I saw for myself the humane and softer side of SM Krishna who was very concerned that tribals get the benefits of state interventions. What touched me was this concern continued to be evident when he met me at the GCA event. He asked me if the status of the tribals had improved post the cabinet meeting and if the state machinery was responsive to their needs. This is what makes a person like S M Krishna a different kind of a politician and shows the ‘gentleman’ side of his nature.