Rediff Logo News Find/Feedback/Site Index
September 8, 1999


E-Mail this campaign trail feature to a friend

Campaign Trail/ Krishna Prasad

Deve Gowda Hubli se kyon darte hain?

Elsewhere in the Republic of India, especially in the precincts of the Election Commission, Haradanahalli Dodde Gowda Deve Gowda may cleverly pass himself off as the brave leader of the Janata Dal (Secular); as the dhimanta nayaka of the jaatyateeta janata dala.

So, why doesn't the former prime minister of India find the courage to step into Hubli to espouse his avowed cause, to halt the relentless march of "communal" parties below the Vindhyas?

He has held election meetings in every big city in Karnataka, except this major trading post in the state's northwest. He has come to Dharwad -- just 15 km away -- but stayed away from its twin-city. He has cancelled scheduled visits since laying down office two years ago.

For some strange reason, Deve Gowdaji is not visiting Hubli.

Now, why would the self-proclaimed torchbearer of secular politics skip the BJP's self-proclaimed "Gateway to the South"?

Keep guessing because, while the communalisation of India keeps champagne secularists occupied in drawing rooms across the country, casteism and regionalism, as practised by the stalwarts of secularism -- as practised by Deve Gowda -- that is chewing rapaciously into the vitals of the body politic has escaped notice.

But first give the "Devel" his due. It was he who solved that seemingly intractable controversy that propelled this city to the frontpages?

Remember the Idgah Maidan?

It was through the land of Bhimsen Joshi in the early 1990s that the BJP decided to sneak into the south of the country in its bid to come to power in Delhi. The modus operandi was revealed by another Joshi, Murli Manohar of Allahabad, UP.

Taking a cue from the university don's "bravery" in hoisting the national flag at the Lal Chowk in Srinagar, albeit with some 10,000 policemen providing cover, the BJP quickly made a political (and communal) issue about the non-hoisting of said tricolour by the Anjuman-e-Islam at the Idgah Maidan in the heart of Hubli.

The BJP's gameplan was simple: the land belonged to the government, hence the nation. Not hoisting the national flag was an anti-national act. So people were made to die, blood was shed, and every August 15 and January 26 was eagerly looked forward to every year by the city's BJP folk and the media nationwide. Till....

Till Deve Gowda became prime minister.

The sultan of secularism deputed his foot soldier, Chand Mahal Ibrahim, and the issue was quickly resolved to everyone's satisfaction. But by then, the BJP which had begun winning assembly seats had learnt to win Lok Sabha seats from the region. And soon the Idgah Maidan quickly returned to its original raison d'etre: a parking lot for private vehicles.

Harmless Hubli-ites with names like B M Menasinakai (which stands for red, hot chillies elsewhere in the state), you would think, had much to thank Deve Gowda for.

What has Deve Gowda done since then that he has become persona non grata in the Bombay-Karnatak region, as the northwest reaches of Karnataka are called?

What has Deve Gowda done since that old man Veerappa Basappa Patnishettar, an oil trader sitting on the steps of the Karnataka Medical College in Hubli, fumes and calls him not the former prime minister of India, but the former prime minister of Mandya, that little Vokkaliga town on the way from Bangalore to Mysore?

What has Deve Gowda done since that Patnishetter laughs and laughs and laughs and says, "Have you heard of any former prime minister of India, or any former prime minister of any country anywhere in the world, who drove a tractor after bidding goodbye to office?" The reference being to the manner in which Deve Gowda launched his election campaign; the tractor is the JD-S symbol.

How did the saviour become the sinner?

There are two reasons. For one, you can blame Deve Gowda, not the former prime minister, but Deve Gowda, Hassan's member of Parliament. For the other, you can blame Deve Gowda, not the former chief minister, but the Vokkaliga chieftain.

The Hassan MP first vanished from the radar of Hubli-ites, and others in the Bombay-Karnatak region, when he opposed the Vajpayee government's decision to shift the new southwestern railway headquarters from Bangalore to Hubli, and revealed himself to be a politician whose vision does not extend beyond the geographical boundaries of south Karnataka.

"There will be bloodshed if the railway headquarters is moved to Hubli," he said, showing the largeness of his heart.

Deve Gowda's new love for railway zones was hard to fathom. There weren't too many jobs that he could have gifted his near and dear ones. Or too many trains that could have been introduced to Hassan, Holenarsipur, Haradanahalli. In fact, there was little benefit to be obtained from the rail HQ beyond the symbolism of having it in Karnataka.

On the other hand, there was much to be gained, if you were thinking like a politician which Deve Gowda is, by handing it over to a backward region of the state, especially one where you have little or limited following and where your professional pet-hate -- the BJP, to wit -- is making fast ground. But Deve Gowda was found wanting.

As it is, says Patil Puttappa, chairman of the North Karnataka Development Forum, the Hubli railway division had lost its pre-eminent position after losing the remunerative iron ore line from Hospet to the Guntakal division of the SouthCentral railway, and the profitable Kolhapur-Miraj-Pune line to the Pune division of Central railway.

Deve Gowda later came up with the ingenuous demand for two railway zones in Karnataka, one headquartered in Bangalore and the other in Hubli, and cited the example of Madhya Pradesh which has a rail head at Bilaspur besides Bhopal. But Puttappa calls the proposal unfeasible, and accuses Deve Gowda of "making a systematic attempt at fooling the people of north Karnataka."

To be fair, it was Deve Gowda, as MP, who first proposed that Hubli should get the railway headquarters. But, as it so often happens, when he became PM, he got it allotted to Bangalore. When the BJP delivered the fait accompli in March, almost like a gift to Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar whose hometown is Hubli, Deve Gowda's crony no 1 quickly swung into action, and filed a public interest litigation that stalled the inauguration of the new railway headquarters.

Result: anger, anger, anger all round in Hubli.

Deve Gowda, the Vokkaliga leader, then vanished from the radars of Hubli-ites, and others in the Bombay-Karnatak region, by revealing just how skin-deep his secularism is; with his intemperate remarks against Lingayats, the predominant trading community in the northern areas of the state.

In one extraordinarily provocative speech in early August, he said the followers of Basavanna, the 12th century reformer, had scuttled his dream of making Siddaramaiah, a backward class leader (from Mysore district in the south, it must be added) the chief minister of the state.

Result: more anger, anger, anger. Virtually everything quasi-religious in north Karnataka is named after Basavanna. There is a Basava Vana (garden) in Hubli; the Rashtriya Basava Dal is headquartered here; even cyber cafes are named after Basavanna.

Deve Gowda's vulgar remarks may have been aimed at Lingayat-in-Chief, J.H. Patel, the chief minister who broke ranks and joined hands with his bete noire, Ramakrishna Hegde. Patel hails from the southern region of the state, but the causticity of Deve Gowda's message has not been lost in the north, and will not be for a long time to come.

"The followers of Basavanna insisted upon renaming Gulbarga University after Basvanna and hurled stones at my car in north Karnataka. However, they pushed the issue under the carpet once Patel became the chief minister," continued Deve Gowda, and added that "they" never tolerated others occupying the chief ministership.

On such a strong edifice is the foundation of the nation's newest secular party built. And so broad is the weltanschauung of its chief vote-getter.

S R Bommai, the former Union minister -- a Lingayat and a Hubli-ite to boot -- has hitched his star to the Vokkaliga wagon that Deve Gowda steers. All in the name of the secularism, in spite of the fact that it was Deve Gowda who pulled down Bommai's government in 1988. But then, as a credible politician with grassroots support, Ghulam Nabi Azad is perhaps a nose ahead of Bommai, who lost his assembly seat in 1994, and has twice been nominated to the Rajya Sabha.

"There is a perceptible feeling among the people that Deve Gowda is anti-north Karnataka and anti-Lingayat, and the BJP is exploiting that sentiment to the hilt," says a local journalist. The BJP won both Lok Sabha seats up for grabs in 1998.

Guess who is not going to Hubli to reverse that impression?

Campaign Trail

Tell us what you think of this feature