Ananth Kumar: A Leader Without Enemies & K’taka’s Voice in Delhi
After his death, than a successful union minister Anant Kumar will be remembered as a politician without enemies
In 1987, when 28-year-old HN Ananth Kumar joined the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the party was inconspicuous in Karnataka politics. Two decades later, along with close associate BS Yeddyurappa, he led the party to form the first BJP government in South India. Their journey of building the BJP in Karnataka gave them the name ‘Hakka-Bukka’, after the twins who built Karnataka’s Vijayanagar empire.
In the years that followed, Yeddyurappa became the mass leader in the state, and Ananth Kumar found himself in an organiser’s position, becoming Karnataka BJP’s face in New Delhi.
His political growth was so quick that even though 16 years younger to Yeddyurappa, Ananth Kumar was considered his contemporary. He was the youngest minister in the Vajpayee government and a trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Modi in the current regime.
But after his death at the age of 59, more than his political achievements, Kumar is remembered as a politician without enemies – one of the rare leaders, who kept a good rapport with leaders from the Opposition, and rose above party affiliations to become a voice for Karnataka in New Delhi.
A Young Man’s Rise to Fame
HN Ananth Kumar was born in Bengaluru, but his political career was shaped in North Karnataka’s Hubli district, where his father, a railway employee, was posted. His mother, Girija Shastry, was a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Sangh (Jan Sangh), later went on to become the first BJP mayor of Hubli.
With only a handful of Jan Sangh leaders in Karnataka, Ananth Kumar’s family naturally grew close to both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani.
Inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) ideology, he worked as a leader of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Sangh. During the emergency, he spent six months in jail. Soon after his jail term, he was made the youngest national general secretary of the ABVP.
He shifted gears from Karnataka’s state politics to national politics after organising BJP’s Idgah Maidan protests in 1994, a controversy over a disputed 1.5-acre plot.
The plot, which belonged to town municipal council was allegedly given to Anjuman-e-Islam on lease. The BJP contested this claim and held public meetings on the ground, leading to communal tensions and arrests of the many BJP leaders including Ananth Kumar.
This brought him closer to BJP’s national leadership. Two years after he planned these protests, which helped the BJP win 44 seats in subsequent Assembly elections, Ananth Kumar was given a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections. But instead of Hubli, he decided to contest from Bengaluru.
The Ticket to New Delhi
Until 1996, Bengaluru south Lok Sabha constituency was held by BJP MP K Venkatagiri Gowda, a veteran. But in 1996, the party chose to give the ticket to Ananth Kumar instead of Gowda.
The decision to give a newcomer the ticket was frowned upon by many in the party, pointing out that 37-year-old Ananth Kumar was inexperienced and an ‘outsider’ from Hubli. But to everyone’s surprise Ananth Kumar defeated Varalakshmi, the widow of former Chief Minister R Gundu Rao.
He was re-elected in 1996 and was made the youngest minister in the Vajpayee government.
An Unfulfilled Dream
In 2003, Ananth Kumar resigned from the post of union minister and became the BJP’s state president. He took charge of leading the party in the Assembly elections in 2004. Under his leadership, for the first time, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the state. However, the party could not form a government because of a JD(S)-Congress alliance.
According to senior leaders, Ananth Kumar had ambitions of becoming the chief minister, if his party had formed the government. But his caste had nipped his dream in the bud.
Born a Brahmin, in the caste dominated politics of the Karnataka, his chances of becoming a chief minister were limited.
Soon after the 2004 elections, he focused his attention on national politics, leaving the state affairs to BS Yeddyurappa.
From Initial Snub to Becoming Modi’s Lieutenant
Even though a senior leader in the 2014 Modi government, Ananth Kumar was only offered the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers, while DV Sadananda Gowda, a younger leader from Karnataka was given the Ministry of Railways. However, with his work Kumar ensured that Modi took notice.
There were two main achievements from his ministry that gained Modi’s praises. First, the decision to go for 100 percent neem-coated urea, helping the government to prevent diversion of urea subsidy and plugging leakage of Rs 10,000 crore. Secondly, bringing a cap on stents and knee implants, which is considered a feather on the Modi government’s cap.
Recognising his potential, he was soon given the charge of parliamentary affairs, where he performed to Modi’s expectations. Ananth supervised the midnight launch of the Modi’s flagship Goods and Services Tax (GST) on 30 June last year, making him one of the most trusted ministers of Modi.
Karnataka’s Voice in Delhi
In Karnataka, more than his political career, he is remembered as the leader who stood for the state. Because of his rapport with leaders from other parties, he became the strongest voice for Karnataka in Delhi, only second to former Prime Minster HD Deve Gowda. Regardless of party affiliations, his doors in New Delhi were open to Kannadigas.
On Monday evening, at Kumar’s residence in Bengaluru’s Basavangudi, leaders across parties came to pay their respects. A common thought shared by all was how Ananth Kumar didn’t have any enemies in politics and was approachable by leaders of any party. His ability to rise beyond being a BJP leader made him stand apart, they added.
“When I became the chief minister for second time, I met him in Delhi… It is a big loss for the state. The work he has done for the state is unmatched. Despite being a BJP leader, he shared a healthy relationship with leaders from all parties, and worked for Karnataka,” said Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.
With his demise, more than a successful MP and a union minister, Ananth Kumar will be remembered as a politician without enemies.
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