On a balmy October morning in 1999, as this writer accompanied former Prime Minister, H. D. Deve Gowda on his campaign trail from Bengaluru to Tumakuru ahead of the Assembly elections, the JD(S) patriarch spoke ruefully about a couple of episodes post his elevation to the highest seat in Delhi. For one, he was upset that he had failed to install Mr Siddaramaiah, then a member of his party, as Chief Minister, and had to hand over the reins to the outspoken late J. H. Patel, who had the backing of the late Chief Minister, Ramakrishna Hegde and his supporters.
And for another he was disappointed that Mr Siddaramaiah, who held the finance portfolio besides being Deputy Chief Minister in Mr Patel's cabinet, was not being cooperative when it came to funding the party's expenses on the eve of the polls. It was this wily politician's way of accepting defeat at the hands of the Congress well before the polling date. True enough, candidates of the JD (S) and JD (U) were trounced by the Congress with Mr Siddaramaiah being among those defeated.
Although Mr Gowda’s unsuccessful efforts to anoint the Kuruba strongman as Chief Minister occurred only in 1996, he had recognised the potential of this Janata Party's "opening batsman," as Mr Siddaramaiah was called by his colleagues, far earlier. The latter, who had earned the nickname for holding the fort at public rallies in his famed baritone till senior leaders like the late Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar, the late Devi Lal, the late Prof Madhu Dandavate, the late Ramakrishna Hegde and others arrived to address them, was groomed by Mr Gowda with an eye on consolidation of the OBC vote and formation of a social axis with the Vokkaligas.
In 1992 he ensured that Mr Siddaramaiah was appointed Secretary General of the undivided Janata Dal and two years later, when the Janata Dal was voted to power, he rewarded him with the finance portfolio, marking the beginning of his claim to fame as a Minister with the highest number of Budgets to his credit.
But cut to the present and things could not be more different. Charges and innuendos are flying thick and fast between the Chief Minister and his supporters on the one hand, and Mr Gowda and his sons on the other, with the aggressive stand-off triggered by the high stakes of the electoral battle at hand for all players concerned, Siddaramaiah, Deve Gowda and his favourite son and state unit president, H D Kumaraswamy.
Sources close to the Chief Minister say he has decided to stretch every sinew to decimate the JD (S) in the coming polls and win a larger number of seats in the Old Mysuru region to offset the possible losses in North Karnataka where the BJP has regained most of its lost ground with the return of its state chief, B. S. Yeddyurappa , who had quit the party to float a regional outfit, the KJP, ahead of the Assembly elections in 2013, and the wealthy Reddy brothers.
While he may be the only Chief Minister after Devaraj Urs to complete a full five year term in office, Mr Siddaramaiah may still not be able to stake a claim for another term as Chief Minister without leading the party to victory with at least a working majority in the May 12 poll. And the prospect of a coalition with the JD (S) to keep the BJP out of power may not seem inviting to him as it could give Mr Gowda and his kin the chance to impose riders such as who should be Chief Minister. After all,not so long ago , in 2004, the JD(S) supremo had agreed to support a coalition with the Congress only if the late Dharam Singh was made Chief Minister and not S. M. Krishna.
The second, albeit less significant reason for Mr Siddaramaiah to annihilate the JD (S) appears to be his thirst to crush Mr Kumaraswamy's ambitions of having another shot at the Chief Ministership and thus settle scores with him for denying him an opportunity to head the coalition government in 2004. Mr Gowda had at the time reportedly promised Mr Siddaramaiah ,who was the Chief Ministerial candidate and state unit president of the JD (S), that he would persuade UPA chairperson, Mrs Sonia Gandh to let him head the coalition as the mandate was against the Congress. But at a late night meeting with Mrs Gandhi, he is said to have merely offered to support a government headed by the late Dharam Singh, going back on his word and giving in to Mr Kumaraswamy's alleged behind-the-scene manoeuvres. The latter was reportedly getting his own back for the heated exchange he had in Delhi with Mr Siddaramaiah when his father was Prime Minister. Besides, it is said, Mr Gowda felt Mr Siddaramaiah's elevation as Chief Minister would impact the career graph of his son, Kumaraswamy and even tried through a senior Congress leader to pack him off to New Delhi with the offer of a Minister of state position, that, however, failed to entice him. Mr Sidda-ramaiah’s refusal to move out of the state cost him as he was first removed from the post of Deputy Chief Minister and then from the party itself for supporting the AHINDA movement. A silent witness to this power struggle was Mr Gowda's elder son and former Minister , H D Revanna, a long-time friend of Mr Siddaramaiah.
Now that another election is upon the state it could be interesting to see what stance Mr Revanna takes in all of this. Will it be family first, as always, or will he rush to the help of his long-time friend, Siddaramaiah?...