To his admirers, he is almost divine. To his rivals, he is the most ruthless, manipulative and unscrupulous politician. The most written-about leader in Karnataka’s political history, H D Deve Gowda, recently turned 90 and completed 60 years in electoral politics.
He is currently the only lawmaker in India, who has been a member of State legislature or Parliament since 1962, with a total break of just six years. Two of his contemporaries with over 50 years in the legislature – Virbhadra Singh of Himachal Pradesh and M Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu — are no more. And Parkash Singh Badal of Punjab is inactive after his humiliating defeat at the hands of Aam AadmiParty (AAP) early this year.
Deve Gowda is not keeping well these days and uses a wheelchair to move around. But he is raring to go and wants to lead his party Janata Dal (Secular) in the Karnataka Assembly elections due April/May, next year.
With Gowda, BS Yediyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is 10 years younger, and Siddaramaiah of Congress, who is 15 years younger, are leading their respective parties in the “do or die” electoral battle.
Interestingly, Gowda will have to engage with his one-time party and cabinet colleague the late SR Bommai’s son, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai, in the election arena. Not many in the world of politics can boast of such achievements and longevity.
JDS AT A LOW
The JDS support base is fast depleting and the cadre looks directionless as the morale is at an all-time low. Some even expect large-scale defections closer to poll schedule. Gowda’s strategy of wooing his one-time comrade CM Ibrahim back into the party seems to have backfired. Ibrahim, a powerful orator, known for his witty, acerbic tongue, is a spent force and Muslim voters are unlikely to get swayed by him.
His son and two-time former CM HD Kumaraswamy is trying to get at least 40 winning candidates, who can once again create a hung Assembly. Extremely cunning, Kumaraswamy lacks his father’s charisma and stature. He is well aware of the fact that only his father can save JDS once again. Keeping Gowda’s age and health in mind, the son is trying his best to make himself relevant one last time. The State Congress president and wannabe CM DK Shivakumar is also a Vokkaliga, like the Gowda clan. But many in the Congress feel that the Vokkaligas will once again vote for Gowda because of his age and health. The ruling BJP is trying to woo Vokkaligas by rolling out several schemes. The unveiling of a tall statue of founder of Bengaluru city Kempe Gowda at the Kempe Gowda International Airport in Bengaluru is one such gimmick, allege their rivals.
The Gowda family has seven-eight MLAs/MLCs in the Karnataka legislature and their number is likely to go up in the next elections. HDK’s film actor son Nikhil Kumaraswamy is keen on contesting from Ramanagara, currently held by his mother Anitha Kumaraswamy. His cousins, Prajwal Revanna and Sooraj Revanna, are MP and MLC, respectively. According to party insiders, their mother, Bhavani Revanna, is also interested in contesting Assembly elections from Hassan. The family is not united and internal bickering comes out in the public sometimes. Gowda is the fulcrum of the family and in the time of crisis they close ranks.
HDK has openly extended his support to Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) of Telangana CM KCR. Party colleagues back home feel it will not help them politically and at best they may get some “resources” to fight the mighty BJP and well-organised Congress in the state.
There are also talks of him joining hands with Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). But many in the JDS are against any such “adjustment”, fearing majority Hindu voters’ backlash.
The Congress often ridicules JDS as a “B team” of the BJP and warns people against voting for them. Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah had said: “In case of a hung Assembly, the JDS will go with BJP. No one should get fooled by them. I am 100% confident of a Congress victory this time. Actually, what HDK is going to do will be irrelevant”.
Dismissing these charges, HDK had hit back at Siddaramaiah. Speaking to News18, HDK had said: “There is no question of backing the BJP. We will win on our own. In case of a hung house, someone outside my family will be the CM”.
But there are not many takers for his words. After so many U-turns in the past 18 years, HDK seems to have lost the goodwill and credibility.
Once again, may be for the last time, 90-year-old former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda is leading his battered party in the most important Assembly elections. Primarily to save his vast family.
Win or loss, this could be his last.
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