The 2019 Lok Sabha election that redefined political frontiers has left the JD(S), which fought vigorously as the part of the 'Mahagatbhandan', in tatters, winning only one seat in its home state, Karnataka. It spelt a traumatic defeat for JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda, who contested in Tumakuru, a loss that prompted his grandson Prajwal Revanna to offer him the Hassan seat he had won to ensure the former PM’s presence in Parliament. But Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda is no stranger to loss though, and has returned, even now, at the age of 89, to rebuild the party. While some contend that the Tumakuru loss signals a not so glorious end to the career of one of Karnataka’s greatest sons, others aver that the grand old man of the Vokkaliga community will rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes to rebuild his party and make sure its future is bright and shining before he bids adieu to politics. VINAY MADHAV recalls the career of one of Karnataka's most influential leaders, the man whose unique ability to forge friendships helped him stitch together many a political front.
“I will rise from the dust,'' he thundered, as he sought a vote of confidence in Parliament on April 21, 1997 to remain PM of the United Front government. At this point, he maybe knew his motion would stand defeated which is exactly what happened, with H.D. Deve Gowda making way for the next PM, Inder Kumar Gujral.
However, in the subsequent elections to Parliament, held in 1999, Mr Deve Gowda, a Rajya Sabha member by this time, contested from Hassan and was defeated. It was a by-election in 2002, that would see him make a comeback to parliament from the Kanakapura Lok Sabha constituency.
In a career that has spanned over 65 years, the political veteran is no stranger to defeat. Numerous elections have been lost and Mr Gowda has always returned to fight another day. He has made friends, lost them and made peace once more, a rare talent that would see him through many tough times of political uncertainty and distrust. A charismatic figure, he has continued to haunt his political rivals. In the bargain, he angered many communities but managed to regain their goodwill.
A 24x7 politician, one whose image has been free of vices, he has been seen as a threat even by national parties. His has been a career of quantum leaps, checkered with losses – he has lost MLA elections once in two constituencies and Lok Sabha elections thrice. Could this 2019 election, in which he ultimately lost from Tumakuru, be his swansong?
Mr Gowda became MLA for the first time way back in 1962 and before that, he was Taluk Development Board in Holenarasipur. He began his political career in 1953 by joining Congress, but quit the party when he was denied a party ticket to contest 1962 elections. After winning as an independent candidate, he rejoined Congress, but moved to Congress (O) during the party division. He was also jailed during Emergency and joined the Janata Party formed by Jayaprakash Narayan.
Interestingly, power has always eluded this gritty warhorse. He has, in all, spent a mere 28 months in power – 17 months as Chief Minister of Karnataka and another 11 months as the Prime Minister. With or without power, however, one thing is for sure – Mr Gowda is a fighter and will always will be.
Mr Gowda is known to make friends and call for a truce when it is required. However, he never did forgive his foes and fought them tooth and nail. Ramakrishna Hegde, B.S. Yeddyurappa, D.K. Shivakumar and S.M. Krishna have been at the receiving end of his wrath.
The power struggle began in 1983, when Congress was defeated in Karnataka for the first time. A coalition government was formed with the Janata Party as the largest partner. It had two contenders for Chief Minister - Mr Deve Gowda and Mr S.R. Bommai. Central Janata Party leaders had sent Ramakrishna Hegde to broker a truce and in the bargain, Hegde himself became the Chief Minister!
The rest was history. In 1985, Hegde dissolved the government and sought a fresh mandate, after Congress swept the Parliament elections in the State as well. Janata Party came to power again and Mr Gowda became the Irrigation Minister.
Mr Gowda's cold war with Ramakrishna Hegde continued till the 1989 elections and he walked out of the party. In the meantime, the Samajwadi Janata Party had been founded by Chandra Shekhar and Deve Gowda became one the 60 MPs who joined it, with a bunch of his own supporters. He suffered his first electoral defeat, contesting from two seats, Holenarsipura and Kanakapura, eventually losing both. He recovered quickly and defeated Congress strongman H.C. Srikantaiah in the Hassan Parliamentary constituency in 1991.
By this time, he had helped bring down the Bommai government, earning the wrath of the Lingayat community as he did so.
In 1994, he made peace with Hegde through the then Janata Dal State President Mr M Chandra Shekhar and merged his party with Janata Dal. He organised a massive Vokkaliga rally in Bengaluru city, led the party to victory and became Chief Minister in 1994.
Things changed drastically when he ensured the victory of 16 Janata Dal MPs from Karnataka and went on to become Prime Minister in 1996. His tenure was a shaky one, lasting only 11 months before the Indian National Congress withdrew its support. Mr Gowda did manage to take his revenge on long time political foe Ramakrishna Hegde, expelling him from the Janata Dal. Back home, however, he had lost control over his own party, Janata Dal, which prepared to join hands with the BJP.
The party split again and Mr Gowda formed the JD(S). During 1999 elections, Mr Gowda lost from Hassan, while his sons H.D. Revanna and H.D. Kumaraswamy also lost elections from Holenarsipura and Sathanur respectively. Mr Kumaraswamy had also contested from Kanakapura Lok Sabha constituency, where he was defeated.
Mr Gowda made a comeback again in 2002, contesting a by-election from Kanakapura Lok Sabha constituency. He worked hard towards uniting JD(S) and JD(U) and was able to lure a large number of leaders from the latter back to his side.
In 2004, JD(S) became kingmaker by winning 58 seats and formed a coalition government with the Congress party, which was led by N Dharam Singh. Mr Siddaramaiah, who was with him since 1983 became Deputy Chief Minister for the second time.
In the same elections, Mr Gowda contested from both Hassan and Kanakapura Lok Sabha seats, but lost the Kanakapura seat. Mr Gowda ensured that Mr S.M. Krishna was shunted out of Karnataka politics and also ensured that D.K. Shivakumar, another Congress heavyweight, did not get a cabinet berth. During this period, his relationship with Mr Siddaramaiah became strained, for the latter had begun to adopt the slogan ‘AHINDA'(a loose coalition of backward classes, minorities and dalits). Mr Siddaramaiah was replaced by Mr M.P. Prakash and Mr Gowda fell foul of another community, this time, the Kurubas.
Meanwhile, Mr Kumaraswamy broke away with two third of party MLAs and became Chief Minister with the support of BJP. The government lasted for 20 months, collapsing when Kumarswamy refused to transfer power to BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa, the original conditions of the deal. In the bargain, the party had angered both Kuruba and Lingayat communities forever. The party had also been reduced to eight Vokkaliga-dominated districts in the Old-Mysuru region.
During the next two elections in 2008 and 2013, the party just about managed to stay afloat, winning the bare minimum of around 30-40 seats, as BJP and Congress took turns getting an absolute majority in the Assembly. In 2018, BJP fell short by 10 seats and Mr Gowda decided to gamble with the Congress again. He had an option to go with BJP since minority voters also had deserted JD(S) and the party received only 37 seats.
The JD(S) patriarch remained unfazed, for his goal had become the 2019 election. He began working towards bringing the Third Front together, inviting leaders across regional parties for the swearing-in of his son, Kumaraswamy, as Chief Minister. This front was later touted as the Mahaghatbhandan.
At 86, Mr Gowda is not as sanguine as he once was. The losses in the 2019 election haven’t just been his to bear. His grandson, Nikhil, made a much-hyped political debut by contesting from Mandya against independent candidate Sumalathaa Ambareesh. Despite the attention his candidature received, Nikhil failed to get the people’s mandate. What’s more, the JD(S)-Congress coalition, which has always been tremulous, doesn’t look bright. Age is catching up with the warhorse and he doesn’t seem confident that either of his sons can take on his bastion and meet his expectations. While Mr Revanna has restricted himself to Hassan, CM Kumaraswamy has proved that his talent lies in breaking friendships, not rebuilding them.
A day after the election results, Mr Gowda shook off his ennui and signalled he was getting ready to rebuild the party again He stopped party State President Mr Vishwanath from tendering his resignation and addressed the party legislators in party office. The rest remains to be seen but Mr Gowda knows one thing, his greatest rival is now his age.
The JD(S) no doubt is at the crossroads and will have to reinvent itself and break the bounds of a family-centric party to become what it was once destined to be—a secular and socialist entity which can occupy the political space the Janata parivar once dominated in Indian politics.