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Of Fiat car, father and filmdom

By M D Riti
Last updated on: May 24, 2018 08:55 IST
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M D Riti has reported on Karnataka politics for 30 years.
She began with the generation of H D Deve Gowda, Ramakrishna Hegde, S Bangarappa and S M Krishna, and finds Gen Next far less colourful and impactful than their parents.
H D Kumaraswamy, she says, could be an exception, as he was always quietly focused on the way ahead, and charted an unusual path for himself.
Riti recalls her first encounter with Karnataka's new chief minister.

IMAGE: H D Kumaraswamy on the campaign trail in 2008. His elder brother H D Revanna was once considered their father H D Deve Gowda's political heir. Photograph: KPN

A plump, perspiring, man in trousers and a half-sleeve formal shirt crunched up behind the wheel of an old, dusty Fiat, waiting to receive his father and ensure that he had a good reception at every stop that he made. Especially as his father had a journalist from one of the country's leading news magazines in the car with him.

Flashback to the Karnataka assembly elections in 1994. The state was emerging from five years of Congress rule and the Janata Dal was making a determined comeback.

H D Deve Gowda was the state president of the Janata Dal. Ramakrishna Hegde's star had waned.

I knew that given Karnataka's tendency towards anti-incumbency, the Janata Dal was likely to win, and I was proved right: The Janata Dal won a majority with 115 seats.

Remember, the BJP was just a small third force in Karnataka at that time, nobody took it seriously.


And as it is fashionable now for women to get personal and bring in elements of gender into their writing, flashback to myself as I was then. A young journalist postponing having a baby just so that she could be in perfect form to cover the elections!

Flashback to Kumaraswamy. Nobody outside the party really knew Deve Gowda's third son.

His elder brother H D Revanna was the son in politics. It was he who contested and won from his father's conventional constituency of Holenarasipur in 1994. A decade later, Revanna became a minister in Karnataka.

IMAGE: Kumaraswamy cut his political teeth managing his father's election campaign, ensuring that everything went off without hitch. Photograph: KPN

To get back to my original story: There I was, in a fancy white luxury air-conditioned chauffer-driven sedan, just Deve Gowda and I in the back seat, travelling from his home in Bangalore to his then constituency of Kanakapura in Ramanagara district. The same constituency that now elected the Congress's H D Shivakumar.

This was a constituency Kumaraswamy had already been nurturing and developing for a while, and he offered it to his father to contest from.

As we drove from Bangalore to Kanakapura, Deve Gowda and I, we talked about his favourite hate of those days, Ramakrishna Hegde, as well as his absolute confidence that he would win from Kanakapura.

I first saw Kumar-anna, as everyone on that campaign trail referred to him, when we arrived at our first campaign stop.

Kumar had mobilised a small enthusiastic group of locals with band-baja and garlands to welcome his father.

We alighted from the car, and I watched Deve Gowda hug his supporters, promise them a wonderful future.

The day had many such small, intimate gatherings, no public meetings or rallies. Only in the town of Ramanagara did we become part of a small, almost impromptu, procession.

At every stop, as Kumaraswamy became confident that his father had been given a good reception and that local supporters were bringing him as many voters to meet and engage with as possible, he would quickly inform his father and move on to the next stop on the campaign trail, to mobilise people.

All this he did on his own, driving his old Fiat. He and I never spoke, as my focus was entirely on Gowda Senior and his comeback.

At lunch time, Kumaraswamy had organised food at the home of a village head. The car was stopped some distance away, we did the usual walk through the muddy, narrow village roads to the headman's home.

Banana leaves were quickly laid out. We all sat down to eat, Gowda Senior is his trademark dhoti (or panche, as we in Karnataka call it) and kurta, Kumaraswamy in his trademark trousers and shirt, me with the women, all in one big square living room.

This was the only time Kumaraswamy actually stayed back and spent time with us.

It was obvious everywhere that Kumar-anna was well known, even more so than his father.

The battle for Kanakapura has been high profile many times: At that time, there was Congress strongman S Ramesh, a Brahmin, contesting from there, against the Vokkaliga, Gowda Senior.

IMAGE: Kumaraswamy meets with supporters during a break from campaigning, at a guesthouse during the 2008 election. Photograph: KPN

Revanna was originally thought to be the political heir of Gowda Senior.

After 1994, when he saw his father safely into the chief minister's chair, Kumaraswamy went off in another direction.

For many years, he became seriously involved with the Kannada film industry. He produced successful Kannada films from 1999 onwards, became involved in Kannada film industry fights with various state governments on issues like service tax.

Somewhere along the way, this seemingly quiet man married an actress almost a quarter century younger than him as his second wife.

And then, he bounced back into politics with a bang.

The rest is history.

But the persona of the quiet understated man driving his own old, beat up, Fiat car remains the same till now.

One hopes he brings to the governance of this state the same fervor and dynamism that he did to his work on sorting our film industry affairs a decade ago.

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M D Riti