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Why Deve Gowda is the man of the moment
Aditi Phadnis
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Coverage: The political crisis in Karnataka

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November 06, 2007

An intense debate is going on in the circles close to the Left. What should the Left movement's bigger priority be: fighting communalism or fighting imperialism? In other words, which is the primary enemy: the BJP, which is hated by all minorities; or the Congress, the US-friendly policies of which are going to bring the world's greatest neo-imperialist power to India's doorstep?

The final word has not been said on this, but one wishes there was some semblance of a similar debate in the Congress in the context of Karnataka. For the Congress headquarters in Bangalore, which is worse -- the BJP or the H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal-Secular? In the absence of any thinking whatsoever in the Grand Old Party of India, it is game set and match to Gowda again.

Gowda has proved twice over that he's the man of the moment. Once, because his party, such as it is, swept the local elections proving that ideology and speeches don't really matter in elections, only caste appeal and accessibility do. But before that, when the Congress dumped Gowda and his son signed a power-share deal with the BJP ensuring the family stayed in power to fight another day, Gowda Senior demurred, but for exactly one week. He blessed the new agreement between the JD-S and the BJP, but there was marked reluctance to do so. This was not a show. He might have had to collaborate with the BJP but he let everybody know his son was in charge and would not let the BJP further its agenda.

Then came October 3 and with it, the deadline for the JD-S to hand over power to the BJP. It was bad enough that B S Yediyurappa, a Lingayat, was going to be chief minister. But power to the BJP? Gowda and son hummed and hawed and finally said: "No, we won't."

Three or four days later, it was obvious the state was in a deep crisis. The Congress said they would not help anyone form a government, H D Kumaraswamy resigned as chief minister and the BJP said they were ready for elections. It was clear at a Cabinet meeting on October 6 that everyone wanted elections. So, the Governor should have pushed Kumaraswamy to dissolve the House, sent his report to the home ministry to be forwarded to the President and the House would have dissolved.But for some mystifying reason, this decision was not taken. Actually, not so mysterious -- the Congress didn't want an election, a big section wanted its candidate in power. And who was this B S Yediyurappa?

Go back a bit. A large group in the Congress, as it appears today, comes from the erstwhile Janata Dal, which collapsed after Ramakrishna Hegde's death. This group came out of the loosely Socialist Janata family because of antipathy to Deve Gowda, whose caste politics does tend to raise hackles. Now, it had a chance of replacing the Gowda progeny, embarrassing Gowda and tripping up the family by creating conditions for the BJP to come to power. What could be better?

The game was given away at a small party meeting called by state Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge at a hotel in Bangalore days before the October 3 power handover deadline. An MLA declared importantly how he was in touch with BJP leader Sadanand Gowda to trap Deve Gowda and son and force them into submission. How a Congress leader could, in the presence of the state party president, boast he was running an independent political consultancy for the Congress's greatest, avowed enemy, is a question only that party can answer.

Came October 5 and Deve Gowda began making noises to the Congress to make him an offer. The Janata Dal imports in the Congress said: "no way". Covert parlays between a section of the Congress and the BJP intensified. The Congress ignored Gowda Senior and let the Cabinet resolution go by. The situation was possibly too complex for the High Command in Delhi to handle. So, Sonia Gandhi [Images] pushed off to China, with party general secretary in charge of Karnataka, Prithviraj Chavan, in tow. The average Congressman in Karnataka could only watch helplessly, seeing his party being bufetted by pro- and anti-BJP factions. At the centre, the only 'leader' in Karnataka, implacable and irascible, stood Deve Gowda.

Meanwhile, an ineffectual and clumsy attempt to break up the JD-S brought back strong memories of the Jharkhand imbroglio. Deve Gowda's home minister and an otherwise civilised, thinking politician, M P Prakash was given some encouragement into thinking the Congress might back his efforts to rebel against Gowda. He should have known better. It was the mother of all hamhanded defections. Prakash came to Delhi and met Home Minister Shivraj Patil, senior in the Congress by any standards. But he was sent back humiliated because the Congress couldn't decide what to do.

So now Karnataka is going to have a government that is going to be dictated to at every step by Gowda. No development has taken place in Karnataka for the past few months and nothing much is going to happen in the future either. The BJP is going to use its stint in power to ensure it consolidates in a state where it had no serious presence till 15 years ago. And the Congress is slowly going to sink deeper into irrelevance. For the want of shoe, that's how a kingdom was lost.

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