Gowda's dynasty politics hits the ceiling, triggering a possible backlash
Hardanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, who loves to be identified as ‘the son of the soil’, has nurtured his family with as much tender care as a farmer would look after his rose garden: Each rose is dear to him and his heart swells with pride when they are in full bloom.
Deve Gowda, in his nearly six decades of political career, has been a minister and chief minister of Karnataka and then, rose to be the prime minister of the country for nearly 11 months, when the fate willed it.
Janata Dal (Secular), the party founded by him three decades ago, to nurture his family in a much more focused way, has been successful in making one of his sons, HD Kumaraswamy, the chief minister of Karnataka twice, and another son, HD Revanna, five time MLA and a minister with the most lucrative portfolio, whenever his family is in control of the levers of power at the state.
Deve Gowda, who will be turning 86 on May 18, has looked at the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as the right occasion to launch his two grandsons, Prajwal Revanna and Nikhil Kumaraswamy, into politics and they have been fielded as JD(S) candidates from Hassan and Mandya constituencies respectively.
What better time than now to groom them when JD(S) with Kumaraswamy as chief minister is ruling the state in coalition with the Congress, and thanks to the seat arrangement between the two parties, the traditional rivals are now partners, taking on the BJP in a direct fight.
Gowda seems to have convinced Rahul Gandhi that the coalition arrangement in Karnataka will have a ripple effect across the country and the BJP will be toppled from power at the Centre. Gowda has thrown his weight behind Rahul Gandhi for prime ministership, but secretly nurses his own ambition to occupy the chair for the second time should the stars so conspire, like it did back in 1996.
With two Vokkaliga strongholds taken by his grandsons, Deve Gowda had to bargain with Congress for a suitable constituency for himself: he toyed among Mysuru, Tumakuru and Bangalore North constituencies and finally settled for Tumakuru, going by the caste combination in the constituency.
As Tumakuru had a sitting Congress MP in Muddahanumegowda, who initially protested and even filed his nomination papers, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had to intervene to ensure that Gowda had his way.
Deve Gowda is hoping for a 1996-type situation when he was chosen as prime minister of a rag-tag National Front government – a post he held briefly before the Congress led by Sitaram Kesri pulled the carpet from under his feet.
As the election campaign has progressed over the last three weeks, however, nothing seems to be going the way the Gowda family had planned.
In every constituency, including Hassan – the Gowda fiefdom for nearly six decades – the JD(S) has found itself at the receiving end of public anger over its dynastic politics, and now suddenly, from a position of immense strength, the party finds that none of the three seats is safe.
In all three constituencies, the local Congress leaders and workers have turned against the JD(S), either abstaining from campaigning or working for the opponents. Gowda’s effort to bring state level leaders from both the parties on the same platform to make a show of ‘unity’ has failed to percolate down to the cadres.
Hassan, for instance, would have been a cakewalk for Deve Gowda as he had represented it five times in the Lok Sabha and multiple times in the assembly. The last time he was defeated in Hassan was in 1999 when G Puttaswamy Gowda of the Congress triumphed over him.
In 2018 assembly polls, JD(S) won from six of the eight segments by substantial margins and with its principal rival, the Congress turning into an ally after the formation of the coalition government, the Hassan Lok Sabha seat looked well and truly locked for the JD(S).
However, in a surprising turn of events on the last day of filing nominations, A Manju of the Congress – who had taken on Deve Gowda in 2014 – switched sides and became the BJP candidate. Manju, who had left BJP in 2004 to join the Congress and also become a minister in the Siddaramaiah government, is a combative politician who has a reputation of fighting Gowda family’s domination of the district.
Manju’s stock has suddenly gone up as he has become the rallying point for all anti-Deve Gowda forces in the district. Besides the BJP, Manju says that at least 80 percent of Congress party workers have joined his campaign as they are resentful of the party leadership ‘surrendering’ to Deve Gowda’s family.
Manju had obtained 4.09 lakh votes against Deve Gowda’s 5.09 lakh votes in 2014 and CH Vijayashankar of the BJP had secured 1.65 lakh votes. “Now that Deve Gowda is not contesting this time, I’m confident that I will get more than 50 per cent of the Vokkaliga votes, besides the Lingayat, the Dalit and the OBC votes…I see the Modi wave stronger than last time and I’m confident of winning from Mandya,” Manju said.
Prajwal Revanna, on the other hand, is banking on his grandfather’s legacy and the work his father HD Revanna has done in the district, being an MLA for five terms and in-charge minister.
Whether it is Prajwal in Hassan or Nikhil Kumaraswamy in Mandya, they are finding it the hard way that politics is not a bed of roses which one can simply come and occupy.