‘It was time for young blood to take over the reins in Delhi, Bangalore’

Nothing in the 80-year-old S.M. Krishna’s demeanour or gait on Saturday morning gave away the fact that he was exiting not just from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) — over which he had presided for the last three and a half years — but probably also from active politics.

Immaculately dressed in a pale powder blue linen jacket, a violet pocket square in his breast pocket matching his violet striped shirt and hand-made Venetian style loafers, he emerged from his official residence on Delhi’s Tyagaraj Road to address the press gathered on his lawns.

For over two hours, he responded patiently to questions, first at the press conference, then to those posed by the various TV channels, followed by the Kannada press corps, all separately, ending with the print media. He smiled through it all, responding to queries he had already replied to without once losing his cool, the very picture of dignity.

This image was further enhanced when he “profusely apologised” to the mediapersons for having had to wait outside his bungalow for sound bytes, especially last night when the news of his resignation broke. “The bungalow is such that it can’t be easily bifurcated into private and public portions. I feel very guilty and profusely apologise as I take leave of you,” he said.

The Minister had a special word for the Ministry’s external publicity team which was in tune with his style of functioning and put up with his “idiosyncrasies.”

It is more than apparent that as Mr. Krishna enters his 51st year in politics, he will now be no more than just an MP, only lending his advice to those who might seek it. Clarifying that the report suggesting that he would head the Finance Commission was “speculative” — not true — he made it clear that he had also not been asked to be the face of the party for next year’s Assembly elections in Karnataka. It was time for “young blood” to take over the reins in Delhi – and in Bangalore: that was the message.

“The flavour of the season,” he told journalists after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a day after he quit government, “is that youngsters must take over the reins of responsibility. I felt that it was time up for me to make way for younger blood to take over. I am glad that this initiative has been by and large appreciated.”

Asked whether he would play a role in Karnataka, he said: “Well, I said youngsters should lead. And then we are there to support the youngsters in their efforts to forge ahead.”

Did the Prime Minister ask him to step down, or was it his own decision? “The decision came from within,” Mr. Krishna said, adding, “And my wife had a major role to play in the decision.” He was, however, quick to add that making way for younger people did not in any way “denigrate the importance of experience.” At the same time he indicated that the decision to quit was taken recently — “you have been writing about the reshuffle so my going will make it easy for the Prime Minister to go through it. The timing is quite satisfactory though it upsets the MEA calendar.”

Three and a half years into the job, Mr. Krishna felt he had overstretched himself and would like to recuperate from the rigours of travel that saw him visiting 86 countries as External Affairs Minister, an assignment which, he said came his way while he was preparing to indulge in a game of tennis.

“I never lobbied for the job. In fact, I was in New Delhi two days before the call came and had congratulated Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh sahib. I didn’t hang around and went back to Bangalore,” he mused while reiterating that it was the country’s demographic picture which made him decide that after 50 years in public life, “I have done enough for a lifetime in politics.”

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