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Tough on rivals, easy on loyalists

delhi Updated: Aug 23, 2009 23:58 IST
Kumkum Chadha

It is said of Union Minister of State for Railways K.H. Muniyappa that he encourages factionalism in the Congress in his home state.

“I lost the election because of this dirty fellow (Muniyappa),” said former state minister K. Srinivasa Gowda, who walked out of the Janata Dal to join the Congress. His grouse: Muniyappa doesn’t see beyond his loyalists. Deny them a ticket and he will back rivals. Gowda alleged that Muniyappa has supported the BJP, Republican Party of India and Janata Dal candidates against the Congress in assembly elections.

“Temperamental variations”, is how Ramesh Kumar, former Karnataka Speaker, put it. “Muniyappa, a senior leader, has failed to bridge the gap between migrants and old loyalists. He gets agitated if you disagree with him. He is rigid. But to say he supported rival candidates is unfair and a bid to settle scores,” said Kumar.

Given that winnability is the criterion as far as party bosses are concerned, Muniyappa is on a sound footing. He has won six Lok Sabha elections and is a Union minister for the second time. A Scheduled Caste leader, he is accessible and has done a lot of development work. “He does his job well, raises issues in Parliament and is loyal to Sonia Gandhi. A good politician and a God fearing man,” said M. Raghupathy, a former Karnataka minister.

However, to call Muniyappa God fearing is an understatement. If anything, he is obsessed with God. A coconut wrapped in red cloth dangles above the main door of his house. Footwear is not allowed in, the most important man is the priest who sprinkles holy water all around the house. He virtually lives in the Muniyappa household, directing Muniyappa to perform rituals twice a day.

Muniyappa’s workstation has religious books instead of files, and the walls have portraits of Sai Baba flanked by Congress’s Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil. The room is filled with incense and Muniyappa sits between plumes of smoke.

It is said Muniyappa can predict futures. But in his own case, a saint flashed in his dream and told him he would be an MLA. He did better, reaching Parliament and the Union Cabinet.