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September 10, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ M D Riti

Fathers & Sons Inc

"There goes the Thandhe Makkala Party (father and sons' party)," remarked a bystander cynically.

He was watching the huge rally organised by ex-prime minister H D Deve Gowda in his hometown Hassan, from where he is contesting the Lok Sabha seat. The assembly candidate from the Holenarasipur constituency of Hassan district is his second son H D Revanna, while his third son H D Kumaraswamy is contesting for the assembly from Kanakapura.

Although Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramiah may be the nominal head of the Janata Dal Secular in Karnataka, everyone knows it is really a show run by Deve Gowda and Sons, Inc. However, Gowda, Gowda and Gowda are not the only father and son combination to be contesting these polls jointly from the same constituency. There is one more, namely Sarekoppa Bangarappa and his elder son Vasant Kumar Bangarappa, from Shimoga.

In both cases, the fathers swear themselves blue, insisting that they tried their best to keep their progeny away from politics. If they are to be believed, it was their party cadre who insisted that if the fathers wanted to go to Parliament, they must anoint their sons to take their place. And the sons, they would have us believe, join the political fray very reluctantly, sacrificing their own careers.

"What were these great careers?" asks a senior Lok Shakti party leader cynically. Revanna, according to his father, was a farmer, looking after his father's coconut plantations. Kumar was trying desperately to sustain what his father readily admits was a sagging film career, and simultaneously dabble in various businesses like producing audiocassettes. Unlike Revanna and Kumaraswamy, Kumar was also a complete novice to politics, as he himself confessed frequently at that time.

"The credit for my victory goes to my father, not to me, even though he never campaigned for me," Kumar had said at that time.

There is a third father and son campaigning together this time, even though the father is not actually standing for election. Former Union minister B Shankaranand, who used to be known as the Solillada Saradara (unconquerable leader) because he always retained his seat, was finally vanquished last time in Chikkodi, a reserved constituency. After his first defeat, Shanakaranand retired from active electoral politics, but is promoting his son Omprakash Kanagali. His posters in Chikkodi bear Shanakaranand's name even more prominently than the candidate's. And Shankaranand takes the dais prominently at all public meetings, making it clear that he wants to transfer whatever support base he enjoyed -- which failed just that once -- to support his son now.

In contrast, it might well be Kumar who saves the day for his father this time around, as Bangarappa takes on Ayanur Manjunath, the young BJP trade unionist who defeated him last year. And Kumar might well turn out to be the only serious campaigner that Bangarappa has in Shimoga today. Manjunath has grown quite popular over the past year, as he spent millions of rupees on development work. He is also accessible, unlike Bangarappa, who lives in Bangalore: only Kumar has been camping frequently in Sorab over the past three years. Manjunath had a lead of over 150,000 over his nearest rival D B Chandre Gowda of the Dal last year, with Bangarappa coming a poor third.

It is Kumar, not Bangarappa senior, who has been camping at Sorab in Shimoga for almost a month now, visiting every village and delivering fairly polished oratory. Bangarappa has also been there for the past 10 days, but the groundwork has really been done by Kumar, who campaigns passionately for his father everywhere, in addition to promoting himself.

"Sahebru (sir) has done so much for you," is his theme song, and everyone knows of course that he is referring to his father. Happily for Kumar, one of his few films Chaitra Chigurugalu was released last week. And his star identity does surface frequently while he campaigns, mostly in the form of village children asking autographs.

Most campaigns in these polls in Karnataka are joint, with assembly and Parliament candidates from the same party trying to give each other a boost and often sharing daises at public meetings. However, Bangarappa seems to have made no major effort to enlist the support of any of the other Congress assembly candidates apart from Kumar, and this has ticked off the other candidates no end. The posters that Bangarappa himself has had displayed all over Shimoga bear only his face, not that of the other assembly candidates, much to their chagrin.

Party cadres also complain that although Bangarappa formally joined the Congress last year, he is still partial to his own supporters, who had migrated to his regional outfit, the Karnataka Congress Party, with him, and have now come back to the Congress. All this makes the party effort to support Bangarappa rather lacking in enthusiasm and commitment.

Deve Gowda, on the other hand, is making an all our effort to retain his Hassan seat, while his sons have been making equally strong efforts to campaign both for themselves and for him. The electorate too seems to be in a more favourable mood as far as he goes, and cries of 'Gowdara Gowda Deve Gowda' rise in the air as he sustains a hectic schedule of touring Hassan district.

He admits readily in private that his party, which is the only third force this time in the straight fight between the Congress and the BJP-Dal combine, will not do more than win a handful of seats. But in his public speeches, he declares confidently that he will win Karnataka.

His personal style of appealing humbly, with bowed head and folded hands, and a few hugs scattered around to chosen supporters, remains the same. "Naanu nimmanna kai mugidu kelthaidene (I fold my hands and beseech you)," he says, in every village. "Please bless me and send me to Delhi. Neeve nannanna kaapadabeku (only you must save me.)" From what, we wonder?

Deve Gowda senior and Revanna back each other up perfectly in Hassan. "He is also one of you," he says. "If he has done wrong by you, correct him. But don't believe the vicious rumours being spread about his being a bad man..." Revanna reciprocates by ensuring crowd presence in all Deve Gowda meetings.

Shades of the old Deve Gowda of Karnataka, exactly as he was before he became prime minister and learnt to speak Hindi, keep surfacing. He rises at dawn, but is always two hours behind schedule because he keeps meeting visitors and friends before he hits the roads. Signs of the old paranoia are also in evidence: old enemy Ramakrishna Hegde has ganged up with new enemy Atal Bihari Vajpayee to destroy him, he says. But this Son of Soil will rise again, he declares.

Perhaps the Kannada magazine cartoonist summed it up best when he rechristened the two factions of the Janata in Karnataka. In a nasty but extremely funny cartoon, he said the Deve Gowda faction should be named Janata Soil while J H Patel's faction could best be described as Janata Oil, given Patel's self-confessed fondness for the bottle.

You see, yenne, the Kannada word for oil, also means liquor in local parlance!

The Rediff Election Specials

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