While the entire country witnessed the fall of the coalition government in Karnataka on Tuesday, 23 July, the man at the centre of the current political crisis is hard to ignore.
Ramesh Kumar, a seasoned legislator with decades of political experience, is well-known for more than just being the Speaker of the House. His roles in multiple legal dramas that aired on television in the early 2000s have made him a household name, and relatable across generations.
Known for speaking in metaphors and peppering his words with historical trivia, Kumar is serving his second term as Speaker during the present government. He was previously elected Speaker when CM Kumaraswamy’s father JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda became chief minister in 1994.
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This time, he was caught in the crosshairs of an epic battle between the BJP and the ruling coalition government.
With drama over disappearing MLAs, mysterious flights and rumours of Rs 1,000 crore packages on offer, all eyes were on Ramesh Kumar. He had to walk the tightrope between not disobeying the Supreme Court and keeping the Karnataka Governor’s involvement at bay. “The person with the ability to force me to do anything, has not taken birth on this earth yet,” he had said.
A career politician, Kumar reportedly started out as an independent candidate in 1978 before moving to the Congress party. His allegiance shifted to the Janata Parivar starting 1985 but he rejoined the Congress for good in 2004.
And for a brief period soon after he lost the 1999 Assembly polls to his rival GV Venkatashiva, Kumar made a foray into acting.
Always a Political Satirist
“Ramesh Kumar has this unique trait of being a political satirist. Even when I hear his speeches now, you can make out a cynical, witty side to him.”Malavika Avinash, Kumar’s former co-actor
Malavika Avinash, now a BJP spokesperson, worked with with Kumar on the sets of Muktha Muktha, an extremely popular show in which Avinash played a police officer and the later a minister. She recalls long conversations about politics, the struggles of the Emergency and the socialist background that Kumar shared with the director of the show TN Seetharam.
“It’s a little strange now that we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. When I met him, he was a former speaker and going through a political lull. I remember the on-set conversations always gravitated towards present-day politics; there would be long conversations about the JP movement, they all came from the stable of Ramakrishna Hegde and everyone was interested in politics. They were all in awe of Devraj Urs,” she said.
Though his wit remains unchanged, she claims that his communication has only got better with time.
“There is a certain innate talent that makes you a Speaker in the Assembly. Ramesh Kumar has that. Even acting was for him like speaking on any other occasion, he’s a very good communicator. Even while shooting, the director only had to tell him what the scene needed, and he would start off. It would be hard to get him to stop, you couldn’t say cut,” she reminisces.
A Socialist Background
According to Avinash, at the time that they worked together in Muktha Muktha, “Kumar was involved with the Janta Parivar, and all those socialists. When you look back, you see the wisdom of the man. I’m sure if he writes a book on his life, his two terms as Speaker and being minister, there would be a lot in it.”
Walking the Line Between Satire & Controversy
Kumar is known for sharp wit, often used to put misbehaving MLAs in place. His remarks and observations as Speaker evoke peals of laughter, livening up an otherwise boring session of the House.
He has a penchant for being dramatic, often sternly making over-the-top statements in the House, but sometimes, these land him in hot soup.
During the budget session of the Karnataka Assembly earlier this year, he drew national ire for comparing himself to a rape survivor when his name came up during Yeddyurappa’s Audiogate controversy.
“My situation is like that of a rape victim. Rape happened just once. If you had left it at that it would have passed. But when you have reported the rape and the accused is put in jail, his lawyers will ask how did the rape happen, what time it happened, how many times it happened, how all did he rape.. etc. At the end of it, you get justice or not, rape happened once, but you get raped 100 times in the court. This is my condition. (sic)”
Kumar later apologised for his choice of words and had his quote redacted from the records.
In March, he again attracted attention for saying that he “does not sleep with men,” reacting to Congress leader KH Muniyappa’s statement saying that ‘Ramesh Kumar and I are like husband and wife and we don’t have any issue’.
Taking on the Supreme Court and Governor
This time, Kumar is taking on the Governor and the Supreme Court. While he repeatedly says that he has the utmost respect for both offices, Kumar did ignore two deadlines set by Vala’s office to conduct the floor test. Ordered by the SC earlier this month to take a decision on the pending resignations by a certain date, Kumar moved the court stating that he could not operate under the deadline.
The crisis on the floor of the house may have concluded but Kumar remains the man of the moment as he decides on the fate of the 15 rebels who caused the fall of the government.
“I will not make decisions in haste. I have an obligation to the Constitution and the people of the state and nobody else. I want to act as per my conscience,” he told reporters at a press conference at the Vidhana Soudha last week.