Dressed in a crisp Indian shirt in his unadorned office in Bangalore, Somanahalli M. Krishna, 69, the new Chief Minister of the southern state of Karnataka, has the quiet, unhurried manner of a South Indian aristocrat.
In fact, Krishna is a man in a hurry, and with a tough mission: to preserve Bangalore's standing as India's Silicon Valley. Fed up with the city's crumbling roads and chronic power and water shortages, high-tech companies weren't expanding their operations, nor were new ones eager to come to Bangalore, preferring neighboring Hyderabad. Krishna, the Congress Party's dark-horse candidate, sprang into action after being elected last October. "I had to move on a war footing," says Krishna. "There was despondency all over."
He personally called technology company leaders, reassuring them that he would fix the problems. He repaved about 200 kilometers of Bangalore's potholed roads and pushed through funding for long-held-up projects, including the International Technology Park, in which the Singaporean government invested $5.5 million. Confidence in the real estate sector is returning.
For his rural constituents, Krishna has been instituting programs to increase crop yields. "Agriculture is my main concern; a leader ignores it at his own peril," says Krishna, the scion of a land-owning farming family. He is currently negotiating a $250 million loan with the World Bank to rebuild 25,000 old water tanks and provide reliable irrigation to his arid state. He's helping to change India's gender-discriminatory practices, too: This year, Karnataka will become the first state in India to make schooling free for girls, while boys will continue to pay.
Krishna, who studied law at George Washington University as a Fulbright scholar, began as a legal academic. But he was inspired by family history to go into politics. His people are glad he did.