The return of ‘poor humble farmer’ Deve Gowda marks remarkable phase in politics

New Delhi:  The self-proclaimed ‘poor humble farmer’ Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda might have been humbled more than once but when the going gets tough —every time — he seems to strike back with a vengeance.

The joke in the corridors of political party offices and such destinations in the capital these days is what is common between Sonia Gandhi and H.D. Deve Gowda. Needless to say the answer is pretty innocuous one — both are good parents and both want proper rehabilitation in career graph for their sons.

For Deve Gowda, who turned 86 on May 18, the opportunism or rather political pragmatism has been a virtue. In 2006, political observers in Bengaluru say suddenly after his son H.D. Kumaraswamy’s 20-month stint as Chief Minister (with BJP as supporting ally), the ‘senior Gowda’ and his son realised that they should not be seen propping up a BJP government in Karnataka when the likes of Prakash Karat of CPI-M were talking about withdrawing support to Manmohan Singh government over the Nuclear deal.

The same Janata Dal – Secular (JD-S) — now only a splinter and State-level outfit from one-time mammoth socialist Janata Parivar — is back again into the Congress fold and — not to miss the crucial point— Kumaraswamy will be the new Chief Minister.

“The fact that JD(S) could win only 37 seats in 224-member Assembly did not stop the over ambitions of Gowda family. The Congress is only adding to their ego just because they want to stop BJP come to power,” says BJP leader N.C. Shaina.

Ironically, a JD(S)-Congress advertisement in newspaper carries photograph of socialist icon Jayaprakash Narayan, who pioneered ‘Indira Hatao’ nationwide movement, along with Rahul Gandhi.

Some see it as veteran Deve Gowda’s political complexity, others have tried to play it down. A Congress source said the grand- old-party has learnt to respect all political stalwarts irrespective of their affiliations. Moreover, there is already a controversy going as former PM Deve Gowda has already held a meeting with senior civil servants and Police officials.

Nevertheless, Deve Gowda’s political opportunism is not new as within months of becoming Prime Minister he forced Janata Dal leadership to expel legendary socialist veteran Ramakrishna Hegde, long time “political mentor and benefactor” of Gowda. Deve Gowda, born on May 18, 1933, was the 12th Prime Minister after the fall of 13-day- long first BJP government at the Centre. The move to prop up Deve Gowda, a hitherto ‘mofussil’ variety leader as Prime Minister of India, particularly at the instance of communists and CPI-M leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet had earned criticism even from Left-minded intellectuals.

The late Nikhil Chakravarthy, otherwise wedded to the Leftist ideology, did not approve of the move. This was in 1996 and the timing had coincided with CPI(M) hardliners led by Prakash Karat refusing patriarch Jyoti Basu to don the mantle of Prime Ministership. It is another chapter Basu later called it a “historic blunder”.

Born into a farming family, Gowda has always made a virtue of this background and as Prime Minister earned the niche for addressing as a “poor humble farmer.”  Now that his party has managed power yet again — it remains to be seen what role the blessed Lucky Old Boy of Indian politics has cut out for himself in the national politics.

It goes without saying that Deve Gowda’s detractors would unhesitatingly dub him as a fervently ambitious man both for himself and his kin, especially son Kumaraswamy. His stint in the seat of power in South Bloc was cut short in 1997 when the then low profile Congress President Sitaram Kesari went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and withdrew support. In a spirited reply in Lok Sabha later, Gowda called Kesari  an old man in hurry.

Now, back to the federal front politics of 2018-19 — all eyes will be on the machinations of regional players and, of course, the Congress and the communists. Importantly, it remains to be seen how could other regional players — equally ambitious if not more —  will deal with the new changed scenario even as Banerjee has been consistently counselling JD(S) and Congress to work together.

For other regional leaders like N. Chandrababu Naidu, who was convenor of United Front when Deve Gowda was PM, politics seemed to have come a full circle.

Curiously, in 2016, Naidu told a visiting group of journalists in Tirupati that in 1996 he too was offered Prime Ministership but he declined only when his son (now a Minister in Andhra Pradesh) had told him that such a post will be only a ‘temporary job’.

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