A fondness for astrology, a fear of women candidates — the Deva Gowda clan has its share of quirks. But above all, it has exhibited political resilience time and again.
Bengaluru: Out of power for over a decade and at best harbouring hopes of playing the role of kingmaker just a month ago, the JD(S) has once again emerged as the key player in yet another government in Karnataka.
With H.D. Kumaraswamy taking charge as chief minister Wednesday, it is the third time that the JD(S), since its inception in 1999, will have the lead role in a government in the southern state despite having the least number of seats among the major players.
Kumaraswamy’s elevation only reaffirms the resilience of the Deva Gowda clan in staying relevant in Karnataka politics. The family has held the party together, fending off charges of nepotism, overcoming disastrous poll performances and accusations of having a malleable ideology — sometimes even the lack of one — while finding a way to power in a state unforgiving to regional parties.
No other regional party has managed to stay as relevant in recent times as the JD(S) in Karnataka. Close observers attribute it to an innate political intuition that pervades all members of the family, from the patriarch to the youngest member.
So strong is the intuition, says senior Congressman and former minister Roshan Baig, that they can predict when they will assume power and when they will not. Baig, a close family friend of the Gowdas, recollects the time when he served as a minister in the Deve Gowda government, before the latter went on to become the Prime Minister in 1996.
“I was on a train when Deve Gowda told me that his bad days were over. I wondered what he meant by that? He also said in Kannada that ‘every branch and every tree’ would repeat his name — Deve Gowda, Deve Gowda, Deve Gowda,” Baig told ThePrint.
Soon enough, Gowda became the Prime Minister. Though his tenure was short — it lasted only 11 months — and earned him unflattering monikers such as the accidental prime minister, it firmly cemented his position as the foremost leader of the Vokkaligas, the second largest community in the state. It also ensured that no conversation on Karnataka politics would take place without his name being mentioned.
A self-made man, Deve Gowda, banking on the ‘humble farmer’ image has risen from the ranks — his first political foray began at the panchayat level — and today stands as the kingmaker once again in his state. It’s a different matter that his son has become the king.
Possessing a diploma in civil engineering, Deve Gowda first made his mark at his native Hardanahalli, before joining the Congress in 1953. He was later part of the Congress (O) and served a jail sentence during Emergency.
Deve Gowda joined the Janata Dal in the late 80s, when the party was led by Ramakrishna Hegde in Karnataka. He split from the party, after his prime ministerial stint in 1996, to form the JD(S) in 1999. Since then, his party has remained relevant in the state. Each time pollsters write it off, it rises again.
For all his electoral decisions, Gowda is known to zealously consult astrologers and till today, it is said, nothing begins in his household without a green signal from them.
The obsession has also led to a peculiar Gowda family trait, which has its genesis in the 2004 assembly elections. The clan is wary of women electoral opponents. It began when Deve Gowda was humiliated by Tejaswini Sriramesh, a former regional television journalist backed by the Congress’ D.K. Shivakumar, at Kanakpura. It is said that astrologers have since asked the family members to take serious note of the “woman factor”.
But there is one woman who has held the family together. Deve Gowda’s wife Chennamma, while staying away from politics, has ensured that the family has stuck together, in good times and bad.
In 2001, she was allegedly attacked with acid by a relative, Lokesh, who wanted to settle scores with the family. Chennamma and her daughter-in-law were at a temple at Hardanahalli, when eyewitnesses said that on the pretext of prostrating before the statues of Nandi, Lokesh allegedly pulled out a container filled with acid and poured it over their heads. Deve Gowda missed the puja, which is something he never does.
Of Deve Gowda’s four sons and two daughters, only two have taken on the father’s political mantle. While H.D. Kumaraswamy is the more well known, it is the political career of H.D. Revanna, Deve Gowda’s second son, that closely mirrors that of his father.
Revanna too began at the grassroots level. He first fought the zilla parishad elections in the late 80s, before winning the Holenarsipura assembly seat in 1994. In 1999, however, he was defeated there — his only loss in the constituency since.
Revanna is known to be an obedient son. It was at his father’s insistence that he made away for Kumaraswamy in the 2004 assembly elections. That year, the JD(S) was part of the government under Congress chief minister Dharam Singh.
“If Deve Gowda asks Revanna not to cross the Lakshman Rekha, he never will,” said Nandish Gowda, a local leader in Holenarsipura. Revanna was rewarded for his patience by being made the state PWD minister in 2004.
His wife, Bhavani, also harboured political ambitions. She debuted in 2016 and won the Hassan zilla panchayat elections but her father-in-law denied her a ticket for the 2018 assembly elections.
Bhavani also crossed swords with brother-in-law Kumaraswamy after he denied her son, Prajwal, a ticket from the family pocket borough of Hassan. Kumaraswamy felt that the junior Gowda should work his way up from the cadre level. The family appears to have sorted out the row, with Deve Gowda now pitching for Prajwal to make a grand entry in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Of the JD(S) patriarch’s children, it’s his third son, Kumaraswamy, who appears to be the chosen political heir. Known to have his way with his father, many say that Kumaraswamy’s ambitious, politically shrewd and calculative mind is behind his meteoric rise as a politician.
A one-time filmmaker, Kumaraswamy’s political debut saw him win the Kanakapura Lok Sabha seat in 1996. It is said during that general elections, Deve Gowda could not find anybody competent enough to stand from the seat. Kumaraswamy had already been working closely with his father and elder brother Revanna. His connect and charisma with party workers caught the Deve Gowda’s eye and he decided to field him.
It was in 2006, when his father appointed him JD(S) chief that Kumaraswamy displayed his canny political skills. He pulled out his party MLAs from the Congress coalition government and became the chief minister with the help of the BJP.
Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha is also a politician, but by accident. She initially handled her husband’s movie and cinema hall business but would also accompany him on the campaign trail in 1996. Anitha is considered close to Deve Gowda, more so after Kumaraswamy reportedly married for the second time to Kannada actor Radhika in 2006.
The marriage was challenged in court, but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence. The whole row brought Anitha closer to Deve Gowda, who felt that his son was unfair to his first wife.
Anitha debuted in 2008 when she won a by-election from the Madhugiri assembly constituency. She, however, lost in the 2013 state polls and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. She is now expected to contest from her husband’s second seat of Ramanagaram, which will go to polls soon.
Anitha’s son, Nikhil Gowda, is a movie star in Karnataka who has earned the nickname Jaguar Nikhil after the success of his debut movie.
Deve Gowda’s other children have not been bitten by the political bug. His eldest son, H.D. Balakrishna Gowda was a Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS) officer who was promoted to the IAS cadre before he retired. Though he has remained completely non-political and ensured that his family has stayed that way too, his father and his brothers are known to consult him on political matters.
Of the two daughters, Anusuya is married to the famous cardiologist Dr C.N. Manjunath who is a director at the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, one of Bengaluru’s top hospitals. The second daughter Shylaja is married to Orthopaedic surgeon Dr H.S. Chandrashekhar. They too have stayed away from the political glare.
The most low-profile member of the family is the youngest brother Dr H.D Ramesh, a radiologist who runs the family nursing home, the Deve Gowda Hospital, in Bengaluru’s Padmanabhnagar.
The hospital is a symbol of the clout that the family yields even in Bengaluru. It is an important landmark in the city which houses the family and is half a kilometre from the Deve Gowda petrol bunk run by the family.