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Will Deve Gowda's citadel fall this time?

May 04, 2018 12:28 IST

With the family patriarch ageing, his successor H D Kumaraswamy not keeping well, and palpable anger against his other son H D Revanna in the family pocket borough of Holenarsipura, the clan is seemingly in decline, says Archis Mohan. 

A village road with a divider is unusual enough. But a five-storied under-construction new temple, solar street lights, a government residential complex and the village park strewn with remnants of an evening party, make for definite signs that Haradanahalli, in Holenarsipura taluk of Hassan district, is no ordinary village.

Haradanahalli is where the story of the most influential political clan of Karnataka, which is currently fighting one of its toughest political battles, started with the birth of Haradanahalli Doddegowda, or H D, Deve Gowda in 1933 in the house of a humble paddy cultivator.

 

With the family patriarch ageing, his successor and son H D Kumaraswamy not keeping well, and palpable anger against his other son H D Revanna in the family pocket borough of Holenarsipura, which the latter has represented four times since 1994, and the next generation still being groomed, the clan is seemingly in decline.

Nestled in the Sahyadri hills, dotted by several Suzlon wind turbines, and a vibrant industrial complex on either side of the highway, Holenarsipura has benefitted from the rise of the Deve Gowda clan, which has built an intricate network of caste loyalties and patronage among government officials and the private sector.

But if the clan is busy plotting the downfall of its erstwhile ally turned foe Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in the Chamundeshwari constituency, the Congress leader has also taken the fight to his erstwhile mentor Deve Gowda, and family.

A loss for Revanna in Holenarispura is unthinkable. Deve Gowda, with the support of his Vokkaliga and some other castes, represented the seat as an Independent in 1962 and 1967, as a Congress-Organisation candidate in 1972, and then as a Janata Party leader from 1978 to 1989.

In 1989, as the former prime minister had recently said, his protégé G Puttaswamy Gowda 'backstabbed' him.

The talk in Holenarsipura's village squares and street corners is that the they could be on the cusp of the 'unthinkable' -- the beginning of the decline of the Deve Gowda clan.

Revanna has only once lost the seat in the last 24 years. He first won the seat in 1994 by taking his father's revenge upon sitting legislator G Puttaswamy Gowda, but lost the subsequent election in 1999.

He has been winning successively since 2004, defeating Congress's S G Anupama by a big margin of over 30,000 votes in both 2008 and 2013. But the ground is shifting.

The region suffered three successive years of drought in the last four years. Holenarsipura is situated on the banks of Hemavati, a tributary of Kaveri, or Cauvery, whose reservoir in Holenarsipura had no water and unfortunately for Revanna, the pain of the drought years isn't being blamed on the Siddaramaiah government.

People complain Revanna, who they believe has pots of money, should have done more. Some are merely keen to try out a new person. Many of the poor, including among the Vokkaligas, speak glowingly of Siddaramaiah for his Anna Bhagya, or food subsidy, scheme.

"Who can imagine how many might have died of hunger if not for Anna Bhagya during the drought years," Topamma, an elderly woman in the predominantly Vokkaliga village of Ongere, said.

Range Gowda, a tea shop owner at the crossroads some distance from the village is a committed Janata Dal-Secular, or 'Dala', voter.

"For all these years, it has been a one-horse race. This time it is a two-horse race. We will only get to known on May 15 (counting day) who wins," the 50-year-old said, but added his vote cannot got to anybody but the 'Dala'.

The Congress, as seems to be the case elsewhere in the state, has selected its candidate for Holenarsipura carefully. It has replaced Anupama with B Manje Gowda, a Vokkaliga, as its candidate.

Manje Gowda is a former regional transport office employee, president of the Karnataka state government employees association and active in the Vokkaligara Sangha, the Vokkaliga community outfit.

Pradeep, a Vokkaliga and contractor who gets work from Revanna’s MLA fund, says Manje Gowda is also famous for throwing 'non-veg parties' -- a euphemism for evening parties where alcohol is served. Indications are that the Congress candidate has promised the contractors lobby that he will ensure the government keeps finding its way to them.

The Dalits are a significant proportion of the population here.

"Congress' 'bhagya' (schemes), will be Revanna’s 'durbhagya' (misfortune)," Raju, a 'right touch' Dalit, said. He says the poor, especially the Dalits and Muslims, are strongly behind Siddaramaiah.

The Congress is also helped by a strong outreach to people with its message, while the JD-S has very limited trained cadre.

Most, however, agree it will be a close fight. They complain Revanna hasn't kept his promises -- on giving donations to construction of new temples, roads and hospitals.

Many also expect the Deve Gowda clan to loosen its purse strings before voting day on May 12.

While the Congress is confident that its AHINDA combination -- a Kannada acronym for tribals, Muslims, Dalits and OBCs -- has taken shape in the old Mysuru region, others aren't as quick to predict a JD-S loss.

Prithvi Dutt Chandra Shobhi, a social historian who teaches at Karnataka State Open University in Mysuru, says the strong network of caste loyalties and patronage that the clan has built since the 1960s cannot be discounted.

Sources in the JD-S said they expected Revanna would pull through, but with a reduced margin.

The possible decline of the 'Dala' in the region will also provide the Bharatiya Janata Party an opportunity to make inroads in the region.

Archis Mohan
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