The Ananth Kumar I Knew – a Congress MP Remembers His BJP Friend

Congress MP Rajeev Gowda pays a rich tribute to his late friend, BJP’s Ananth Kumar.

Updated
Opinion
3 min read
Image comprising Late Ananth Kumar (L) and Rajeev Gowda (R) used for representational purposes.
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I am very upset to hear about the untimely demise of my friend, Union Minister Ananth Kumar. He was my neighbor and MP. He came into politics at a very young age as part of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. He gained prominence in the Hubli Idgah Maidan agitation in the 1990s.

When the sitting BJP MP from Bangalore South, Prof. Venkatagiri Gowda, left the party in a huff in 1996, Ananth Kumar was the surprise choice for the seat.

He was about 36-37 years old at the time. He went on to win in 1996 – and followed up with five more Lok Sabha victories, the last against Nandan Nilekani.

‘Modern” BJP Owes Much to Ananth Kumar & Pramod Mahajan

In 1998, a very unexpected development occurred. Only 39-years-old and with just two years behind him in Parliament, Ananth Kumar was appointed a Cabinet minister by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when formed his second government. Ananth Kumar was so young and relatively unknown, that this came as a surprise to all of us outside the Sangh Parivar. Later, Ananth Kumar explained, that his becoming a minister was due to Pramod Mahajan, who played an important role in persuading Vajpayee.

That is altogether befitting, because Mahajan and Kumar can be credited with transforming a traditional, conservative party (the BJP) and teaching it new, ‘modern’ ways of approaching elections, electoral funding and mobilisation.

This made a critical difference to the party that wanted to be a party with a difference. The ‘modern’ BJP owes a lot of its success to the foundations laid by Mahajan and Kumar.

Ananth Kumar's own success owes a lot to two strong, capable women. His mother, Girija Sastry, was an activist and politician in Hubli who inspired her son to engage with public life. Throughout his political career, he also had the strong support of his wife Tejaswini, who ran the NGO, ‘Adamya Chetana’, that provided midday meals in schools and made a difference to the lives of the poor.

Why Ananth Kumar Gave Up Dreams of Being Karnataka CM

Kumar went on to work for two decades in Parliament; he was union minister multiple times, and also served as BJP National General Secretary. He was involved in the privatisation efforts of the Vajpayee government, divesting several Ashoka Hotels to the private sector.

Of course, he would have also loved to become Chief Minister of Karnataka.

But Ananth Kumar once told me that, given that he belonged to the minuscule Brahmin caste in Karnataka, it was difficult for him to achieve that goal, especially when mass leaders like Yeddyurappa from dominant castes like the Lingayats were in the fray.

He was an affable man and had good friends across political parties, which made him a good choice for Parliamentary Affairs Minister. I used to always taunt him that I would contest against him and win. But, unfortunately, my party chose others for the ticket multiple times, never giving me a chance to back up my boast.

Recently I hitched a ride home with him after an all party MPs meeting with the chief minister. He asked me whether I was getting ready to contest against him. I told him that I was happy in the Rajya Sabha now. He said he too was tired of fighting direct elections and would happily move to the Upper House. Unfortunately, cancer has taken him away to a very different Upper House.

To think about someone just four years older than me, who had decades of political achievement ahead of him, to hear that he is no more with us, is a great shock. My sincere condolences to his family and to his supporters, who I hope will all bear the loss with strength.

Seeing Ananth Kumar’s Pet Project to Fruition

For my part, I look forward to taking to completion, a project that was dear to Ananth Kumar’s heart and mind – that is, suburban rail for Bengaluru. Ananth Kumar is the first to have raised this issue in Parliament, bringing in the concept of circular rail. I have been pushing for this too, since before my entry into Parliament.

Now many of us MPs are putting pressure on the government for the same cause.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal would do a great favour to Bengaluru’s citizens and to the memory of Ananth Kumar, if he could expedite the establishment of the suburban rail project, as a true tribute to the memory of this parliamentarian who has done a lot for Bengaluru and India. Om Shanti.

(Prof M V Rajeev Gowda is a Congress Member of Parliament and Chairman of the AICC Research Department. He can be reached at @rajeevgowda. Views expressed are personal. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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