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Deve Gowda, kingmaker in Karnataka

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May 13, 2004 20:36 IST

He first hit the limelight two decades ago as a third force in Karnataka politics.

Now, Haradanahalli Dodde Gowda Deve Gowda, 71, again holds the key to government formation in Karnataka.

Nobody expected his party, the Janata Dal-Secular, which chose to go it alone, to win 61 seats in the assembly election. The Bharatiya Janata Party got 78 seats and the Congress came second at 63.

Given the figures, neither the BJP nor the Congress can hope to put together a government with the support of Independents and other small parties.

As there is no question of the BJP and Congress coming together to form a government, Deve Gowda is obviously the man who holds the key.

Who will he support? The BJP, whom he has often criticised as non-secular? Or the Congress, which he has often heaped scorn on for being dynastic and controlled by a 'foreign woman'?

Either way, Deve Gowda is expected to extract his pound of flesh from whomever he supports. And his pound of flesh, as all who know the man well believe, will include good political positions for the two of his four sons who have followed him into politics: H D Revanna and H D Kumaraswamy.

As soon as Deve Gowda moved to Delhi as prime minister, his successor J H Patel had to immediately make Revanna, who was a first time MLA, a minister! Revanna continued to occupy Deve Gowda's official house as chief minister, compelling Patel to take the adjoining bungalow.

Having been the PM, Deve Gowda himself nurses no ambition of becoming CM again.

Incidentally, when Deve Gowda was PM over six years ago, Somanahalli Mallayya Krishna was a regular visitor to his palatial home in Delhi. At this time, Krishna was not even an MLA, having been vanquished from Maddur, but had managed to get himself a Rajya Sabha seat.

The two men may belong to different political parties, but they are both from the Vokkaliga community. Deve Gowda was reputed to serve a ragi mudde that tasted as if it had been made in Mandya, the Vokkaliga belt of Karnataka. He had a separate cook imported from Karnataka, and even a separate kitchen just outside the main kitchen, just for this.

But on the other hand, there is the BJP, which definitely has a more pro-farmer image in Karnataka than the Congress. Deve Gowda might magnanimously decide to give the BJP his support, considering that it won more seats in the assembly than the Congress.

If a BJP leader is to become CM, then Ananth Kumar, former Union minister and now state BJP president, is considered the strongest contender, followed by former state BJP chief B S Yediyurappa. If a Congress-led coalition government forms the government, will Krishna come back as CM?

Krishna himself obviously hopes he will. "It's too early to tell," he remarked when asked this question after he resigned as CM on Thursday. "I am ready to fulfil whatever role my party wants me to play."

The BJP or the JD-S stormed all the Congress bastions this time, like northern Karnataka, which comprises the two geographical areas of Hyderabad Karnataka and Bombay Karnataka. The two areas account for 88 assembly and 11 Lok Sabha seats.

In the 1999 election, the Congress did very well in this region, getting 63.3 percent (Hyderabad Karnataka) and 68.3 percent (Bombay Karnataka) of the vote in the Lok Sabha election, and 42.8 percent and 40.8 percent of the vote in the assembly election.

These regions showed a serious disillusionment with Congress rule. The BJP swept the Bombay Karnataka region. The main issues on which the electorate is believe to have voted on here are the general backwardness and neglect of the area, the shortage of electricity, water (both for drinking and irrigation), and the failure of the crop insurance scheme.

Likewise, in the districts comprising the Old Mysore region in southern Karnataka, the JD-S did well at the expense of the Congress. In the coastal areas, fishermen make up a substantial portion of the electorate, and they want sections of the coastline to be declared as a fish famine zone. They have also been asking for loan waivers, a ban on foreigner trawlers, better export facilities for fish products and better cold storage facilities. They have decided that the BJP would be more conversant with local issues and likely to deliver on all this.

Krishna continues, of course, to be the God of the cities, and the Congress did remarkably well in Bangalore, including Krishna's constituency of Chamrajpet, where he faced political lightweights. His decision to run away from his hometown of Maddur, which is a rural constituency, possibly saved his skin.

The one interesting contest, full of emotion, mudslinging and drama, that all of Karnataka watched eagerly, was the contest between former CM S Bangarappa's two sons Vasant Kumar and Madhu Chandra in Shimoga. They contested against each other from Bangarappa's hometown of Sorab. Vasant won for the Congress, while Madhu, who actually had Bangarappa's support and stood on a BJP ticket, lost.

Bangarappa himself urged voters to enjoy the drama, even comparing it with a popular Rajakumar film that featured a war between a father and his son!

M D Riti in Bangalore