In Karnataka, dynasty politics is a result of pragmatism
Many may consider it politics of dynasty. But pragmatism appears to be directing the 24/7 politician called HD Deve Gowda, former Prime Minister and leader of the Janata Dal Secular, to herald the entry of two of his grandsons, Prajwal Revanna and Nikhil Gowda into the electoral arena in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Last year, the grand old man of Karnataka politics assured Prajwal Revanna, 29, son of the Public Works Department minister HD Revanna, that he would vacate his own Hassan Lok Sabha seat for the young man to contest this year. Soon after, the actor-son of chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, Nikhil (also 29) felt that he too should be entering the political arena.
In the last decade, the Gowda family has been fraught with tensions between his sons Revanna and Kumaraswamy and their wives Bhavani and Anita. The daughters-in-law are also active politicians, with Anita Kumaraswamy, an MLA in the Karnataka assembly and Bhavani Revanna, a member of the Hassan zilla panchayat.
It did not come as a surprise that both grandsons would make their electoral debut this year in the Lok Sabha elections. The difference between the two grandsons is that Prajwal has a head start by beginning his political work from Hassan while Nikhil was busy becoming an actor.
The latest announcement of Deve Gowda that Nikhil will contest from the Mandya Lok Sabha seat, which is considered as safe a seat as Hassan, was only a formality. The JDS had swept Mandya district in the assembly elections.
“In Hassan, it is very clear that Prajwal has had to work hard to get the seat. In the case of Nikhil, too, the thumb rule is the pragmatism of Deve Gowda. If the young men do not cut their teeth in this election, nobody knows whether they will be able to make a mark in the future,’’ an associate of Deve Gowda, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Lede.
Said a JDS leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity: “It is not that Nikhil is a better candidate. He is the best also because he is the only candidate. Like Prajwal in Hassan. And it is quite clear that everyone will help them get elected. This will help consolidate the votes of the growing number of young voters in both these constituencies. ’’
The third Gowda generation has distinct advantages this time. The JDS is back in power after a gap of a decade. And they head a government where their sole rivals in southern Karnataka, the Congress, is their coalition partner. The opposition BJP has rather minimal presence in the southern districts of the state, except for urban areas like Bengaluru and Mysuru.
But the current MLA Preetam Gowda from Hassan city is a youngster from the BJP, indicating the attraction the party has for the younger generation of voters. Party leaders admit, privately, that there was no choice for the party but to bring the young Gowda men into the electoral arena. “It helps keep the party men united as well as keep the young voters from shifting their loyalties to the BJP,’’ as one leader put it.
In the 2018 assembly elections, there was consolidation of the community in the region, which had a single point programme to ensure that Kumaraswamy would become the CM by defeating the Congress, headed by then chief minister Siddaramaiah.
The community was determined to get rid of Siddaramaiah’s government because in their perception, he replaced Vokkaliga officials from important posts by members of his Kuruba community or from the other backward castes. The Vokkaliga community felt “terribly slighted,’’ one Congress leader belonging to the community told this reporter before the assembly elections last year.
The perception of the community that it is being targeted by other communities has not changed since, even though the government is headed by Kumaraswamy. This time, their perceived villain is BJP leader and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and his associates, who are seen to be making efforts to bring down the JDS-Congress coalition government.
“The several failed efforts of the BJP’s Operation Kamala have led to rise of a feeling of intense rivalry between the political interests of the Vokkaligas versus that of the Lingayat community (the other major caste group in Karnataka, to which Yeddyurappa belongs). You know, it reminds some of us of the rivalry that existed before the ’70s,’’ said a Congress leader who did not want to be identified.
In the pre-1972 era, Karnataka had either Vokkaliga or Lingayat chief ministers until the late Devaraj Urs came onto the scene and overturned the political equations by forming an OBC-Dalit-Minorities axis that curbed the dominance of the two prominent caste groups.
The consolidation and the current insecurities of their community, along with the power of being in government makes the arrival of the third Gowda generation propitious for the JDS. “Plus the presence of Deve Gowdaji and Kumaraswamy as chief minister matters. Leave alone the JDS leaders, even the Congress (being coalition partners) will work sincerely for the success of the two young men,’’ said another JDS leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kumaraswamy has reiterated his old stand that he had expressed when he became chief minister for the first time in 2006. In response to criticism that the JDS was an “appa-makkal’’ ( father and sons) party, Kumaraswamy said: “Doctors’ children become doctors, children of IAS officers follow their father’s footsteps and join the administrative services. So, what’s wrong if children of politicians join politics. Both Prajwal and Nikhil have to go to the people to get elected. There is no backdoor entry.’’
“I will contest from Mandya as decided by Deve Gowdaji. I will work till my last breath to fulfill all his directives,’’ Nikhil said after a visit to Dharmastala near Mangaluru. He did not, however, comment on the threat of Sumalatha, actor-wife of the late Kannada ‘rebel’ star, Ambareesh, to contest as an Independent. Sumalatha had sought the Congress ticket but the party had declined since the Mandya seat would be contested by the JDS under the coalition formula.
The situation, however, begs the question: so where does the grandfather go? The two seats he contested all these years — Hassan and Bengaluru Rural (formerly Kanakapura) are ruled out, as grandson gets Hassan and coalition partner Congress gets Bengaluru Rural.
In his inimitable style, Deve Gowda simply said that his candidature was not an issue. He has a choice of Mysuru or Tumakuru. Maybe even Bangalore North, a constituency held by union minister and BJP leader Sadananda Gowda. And, the 86-year-old leader has already acquired an extra spring to his step. “Elections energise me,’’ he told this reporter recently.