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HD Deve Gowda faces doubtful future as JD(S) finds its Lok Sabha campaign limited to family, Vokkaligas in south Karnataka

When LK Advani contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he was 86. If he had any ambition to be the prime minister, it had been decisively cut short by the anointment of Narendra Modi as the party’s man for the job.

And at exactly 86 now, Deve Gowda is contesting next month's election. Nobody in Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) can cut short his ambition, even if that ambition amounts to trying his luck with the South Block again. That’s because Gowda is JD(S), and JD(S) is Gowda. That doesn’t sound half as diabolical as DK Barooah’s “Indira is India and India is Indira”, a gem of 1974. And nor is it fair to single out the former prime minister from Karnataka for his filial love. It’s part of India’s democracy — from Kashmir (the Abdullahs) to Tamil Nadu (the Karunanidhi family).

 HD Deve Gowda faces doubtful future as JD(S) finds its Lok Sabha campaign limited to family, Vokkaligas in south Karnataka

File image of JD(S) patriarch HD Deve Gowda. Image courtesy: Y Maheswara Reddy

You could only argue that if Gowda is stretching it a bit far. “If Deve Gowda had 28 sons, he would have made them candidates in the 28 Lok Sabha constituencies of Karnataka,” said state BJP leader KS Eshwarappa with a chuckle. Eshwarappa is forgetting his own party’s unabashed endorsement of dynastic politics by giving tickets to family members of leaders in Karnataka and elsewhere. But that doesn’t anyway lessen the ridiculous lengths to which Gowda takes his belief that blood is thicker than the sweat of his party’s workers.

Mercifully, the former prime minister has four sons, not 28. Of these, two are in active politics, if you think being the chief minister or a minister is active enough.

His third son, HD Kumaraswamy, who heads the tumultuous coalition government of JD(S) and Congress, thinks of dynastic succession as a matter of right. For the second son, HD Revanna, a minister, family politics are a matter of astrology, which drives his life and career. Kumaraswamy’s wife Anita is a member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. Gowda’s eldest son HD Balakrishna Gowda is a retired bureaucrat and the youngest son, HD Ramesh, is a radiologist. The former prime minister’s two daughters — HD Anasuya and HD Shailja — are married to doctors and have no visible interest in politics.

Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil and Revanna’s son Prajwal are now candidates in the Mandya and Hassan Lok Sabha constituencies, respectively. Gowda senior would have liked to comfortably contest from either of these seats but has picked the relatively unsafe Tumakuru for himself. All these three seats are in southern Karnataka, the hotbed of Gowda’s upper caste Vokkaligas.

A sub-regional party?

As part of the seat-sharing arrangement, JD(S) had demanded 12 of the 28 seats from Congress but settled for eight. But the party couldn’t find candidates in four seats. So, it returned one — Bangalore North — to Congress. And it will have Congress candidates fighting on JD(S) ticket in three: Udupi-Chikmagalur, Uttara Kannada and Vijayapura. Of the four remaining seats where JD(S) will have its own candidates, three are being fought by Gowda and his grandsons. The party’s ambition to prove that it isn’t confined to the Vokkaliga heartland will come to a cropper once again.

Gowda was a key leader of the original Janata Party when it was founded in 1977. The JD(S) that he floated in 1999 was one of its many offshoots.

Having been in Karnataka’s active politics for more than 50 years, Gowda finds that today he isn’t what he should have been. The octogenarian laments that for all the work he had done for so long, all that he had got in return was the post of chief minister for one-and-a-half years and the prime minister for a month less than a year. Politically, Gowda is not to Karnataka what Nitish Kumar is to Bihar. Nor is the Vokkaliga leader Karnataka’s Naveen Patnaik. He could have been that and more, perhaps, if he played his politics differently.

Will the luck run this time?

The JD(S) leader knows that the chance to run the state government with son Kumaraswamy as the chief minister after the May 2018 Assembly election was a once-in-a-life stroke of luck. Though JD(S) won only 38 seats against 78 of the Congress, the opportunity arrived only because eager-beaver Rahul Gandhi was raring to be seen as a unifier of Opposition, a kind India hadn’t seen since Jayaprakash Narayan.

But the Vokkaliga satrap is not sure how long will this luck run. The JD(S) has already milked whatever it could from Congress to the extent of causing mini-revolts in that party nearly once a week, making its survival seem like a miracle.

It’s likely that Gowda and his two grandsons will win their three Lok Sabha seats. But the fact that it won’t be a smooth run for him in Tumakuru and for Kumaraswamy’s son in Mandya is making the JD(S) patriarch livid. In Tumakuru, the sitting Congress MP has filed his papers as a rebel. And in Mandya, Sumalatha, the wife of late Kannada actor and Congress leader Ambareesh, is a candidate with BJP’s support. Gowda sees the trouble in both seats as the handiwork of Congress leader Siddaramaiah.

A seasoned player, Gowda knows that the survival of Kumaraswamy’s government could depend a lot on the Lok Sabha election outcome. The return to power of Narendra Modi in Delhi, for instance, could mean that BJP might launch a fresh offensive to topple the coalition government. A good performance by Congress might make it act tougher on JD(S) and even, in the long run, make the alliance partner redundant.

And a poor show by JD(S) could escalate the party’s strained equation with Congress to a point of no return. Kumaraswamy is already talking of a conspiracy to defeat his family. In many places, the workers of the two parties are not even pretending to be united to fight elections.

It’s not surprising that the election in Karnataka is as much a fight between BJP and Congress-JD(S) alliance, as it’s between JD(S) and Congress.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2019 19:47:48 IST