Kumaraswamy’s 2nd Innings in K’Taka is JDS‘s Litmus Test for 2019
A family member of HD Deve Gowda will inevitably be backed by the entire family upon occupying a seat in Karnataka.
Anybody dismissing HD Kumaraswamy’s chief ministerial experience of two years and eight days as inadequate would be committing a grave error.
Political observers in Karnataka would never take that position as they know well that any family member of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda has the backing of the entire family when they occupy any seat.
In short, Hardanahalli Devegowda Kumaraswamy will reoccupy the chair of the chief minister with the cumulative experience of six decades of his father as well as four decades of his brother, HD Revanna.
Kumaraswamy is No Puppet
The Deve Gowda family may not exactly eat together, but it has stayed together through all the tumult of politics that the illustrious father has gone through.
A review of Kumaraswamy’s administration as the chief minister of a JDS-BJP coalition in 2006 will tell you that the stamp of Deve Gowda was unmistakable. Any novice would have committed some error or the other given the volatility of the relationship between the coalition partners. But everything seemed seamless, much to the chagrin of the coalition partner.
It was well known in bureaucratic circles those days that the ‘novice’ chief minister never wavered on file clearance. He would tell officials to keep, say, about 10 percent of the files for a proper briefing before taking a decision. There would also be, approximately, two to three percent of the files that would have political ramifications to be set aside for the morrow.
So, whenever Kumaraswamy would say “naade nodana” (we shall see tomorrow), it was an indication to the official that the matter would be decided by the family patriarch.
However, this should not be misread to mean that Kumaraswamy is his father’s puppet. The relationship between the father and son is not so simple, after all. Deve Gowda came close to campaigning against the establishment of the metro rail network in Bengaluru. He always promoted the idea of a monorail system.
Kumaraswamy’s Eyes on Development
During one of his trips to Delhi, Kumaraswamy got into the metro one day and heard out the “Metro Man of India” E Sreedharan, to understand the advantages of the metro over monorail. The decision was made and that’s how the first meeting on the metro for Bengaluru began between Kumaraswamy and the then minister for urban development Jaipal Reddy.
Once the decision was made, he moved swiftly to schedule a meeting with the prime minister of the day, Dr Manmohan Singh, to hasten the process within a week after meeting Jaipal Reddy.
Yet, he is an obedient son. The classic case is that of the appointment of Justice Santosh Hegde as the Lokayukta . Kumaraswamy reportedly told one of his officials in the CMO to notify the appointment of another retired judge as the Lokayukta. But as advised by another trusted official of the patriarch, the necessary paperwork was readied for the appointment of Justice Hegde. It is a different matter that the Lokayukta report on illegal mining did not spare Kumaraswamy or his successor, BS Yeddyurappa, or his predecessor Dharam Singh.
While his lack of understanding of the intricacies of administration did show up, his political sense was remarkable. The way he crafted the establishment of the Janata Dal Secular-BJP coalition government in 2006 was one of the cleverest coups Karnataka has ever seen. The Congress, despite having been in power for the longest time, was caught completely off guard. Nobody expected a first-time MLA to strategise and deliver the most devastating blow to the Congress leadership.
Till then Kumaraswamy had hardly spoken a couple of times in the Assembly, and one speech of this ‘back-bencher’ had been ridiculed.
Tracing Kumaraswamy’s Growth as a Leader
The unrelenting critic of Deve Gowda, Vaijyanath Patil, went to the extent of asking Kumaraswamy to shut up. “Kumara, you don’t know what you are talking about. I am not criticising your father. I am talking about something that you do not understand. Please sit down,” he said.
From being a man who did not make sense to a Speaker, to being someone people would wait to listen to, just a couple of years later, is indicative of Kumaraswamy’s growth as an individual.
To a large extent, this can be attributed to Kumaraswamy’s father who told this city-bred happy-go-lucky BBMP contractor-turned-film-producer, ‘to go live in the villages to understand the issues people face’.
After becoming the chief minister, Kumaraswamy would go religiously for the “village stays” as brother Revanna would shepherd him to temples across southern states. Grama Vastavaya or village stays meant that the chief minister would spend an entire night in a village, chatting with people and understanding issues that mattered to them. He ate whatever villagers served (unlike BJP leaders who carried their own food when they visited Dalit homes).
During the two years and eight days of his rule, he clocked a little more than 50 village stays, including one in which the resident was a HIV positive woman. The grounding he got during these stays was reflected in the social welfare programmes that he launched.
Kumaraswamy’s Litmus Test
Politically, this got him tremendous goodwill, particularly among women. He was genial and always had an ear for everybody. His stays may not have made much of a difference to the villages, but it made a leader out of a man. He became a good enough speaker to lead the party’s campaign. It was the same approach that made his “Janata Darshan” in urban areas so popular. Perhaps, no other chief minister holds the record of meeting people for 13.5 hours.
The art of listening and the ability to build relationships will be required in large measure while running the coalition government with the Congress.
Will he be able to pull it off for the next seven months before the countdown for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections begins? The entire Gowda family faces a test for survival of the Janata Dal Secular.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
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