Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, the patriarch of 'dynasty politics' in India, has never been defensive about brazenly promoting his family members in politics over the last three decades, which has culminated in his son HD Kumaraswamy becoming the chief minister of Karnataka for the second time, despite his party barely winning 38 seats in the Assembly.
However, Deve Gowda may have bitten off more than he could chew this time by simultaneously fielding his two grandsons for parliamentary elections, while not hiding his own ambition to take a shot at the prime minister's post for the second time.
The people of Karnataka are shocked at the way the Gowda clan is spreading its tentacles, albeit in the name of democracy: While Gowda's younger son HD Kumaraswamy is the chief minister of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government and older son, HD Revanna is in charge of the powerful PWD department in the same ministry, and two grandsons, Nikhil Kumaraswamy and Prajwal Revanna, are making their debut from Mandya and Hassan Lok Sabha constituencies respectively.
At 86 years, Deve Gowda too is contesting from Tumakuru constituency, hoping for a 1996-type miracle, when he was chosen as prime minister of a rag-tag National Front government " a post he held for 10 months and 20 days.
Completing the growing political tree of the family are Gowda's two daughters-in-law: Anitha Kumaraswamy, currently an MLA from Ramanagara and Bhavani Revanna, a zilla panchayat member and a prospective president of the zilla panchayat from Hassan. Gowda's close relative, DC Thammanna, whose son is married to Deve Gowda's daughter, is transport minister in the Kumaraswamy government.
Deve Gowda, known as 'Appaji' in the family circles, has had to do a lot of tightrope walking to balance ambitions within the family. Gowda saw great potential in Prajwal Revanna to carry the family baton and encouraged him to nurse the Belur Assembly constituency in Hassan district over the last 3-4 years.
When the May 2018 Assembly elections were announced, Prajwal was all but nominated as JD(S) candidate from Belur, but reportedly, Anitha and Kumaraswamy did not like Prajwal stealing a march over their own son, Nikhil, and stalled it. Desperate to enter politics, Prajwal moved to Hunsur and then to Rajajeshwarinagar, but when Gowda failed to clinch either of the seats for him, Prajwal openly declared at a public meeting, "I'm disgusted at the suitcase culture prevailing in my party."
A shocked and saddened Gowda promised Prajwal that he would vacate the Hassan Lok Sabha seat in 2019 and there was no stopping Prajwal this time, as Bhavani and Revanna stood firmly behind him in the family arguments. Not to be outdone, Kumaraswamy decided to field Nikhil from Mandya, having already projected him as a promising actor in two family productions.
With two Vokkaliga strongholds taken by his grandsons, Deve Gowda had to haggle with coalition partner Congress for a suitable constituency for himself: he toyed among Mysuru, Tumakuru and Bengaluru North constituencies and finally settled for Tumakuru, going by the caste combination in the constituency. As Tumakuru had a sitting Congress MP in SP Muddahanumegowda, who initially protested, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had to intervene to ensure that Gowda had his way.
As the election campaign has progressed over the last three weeks, the Gowda family has found itself at the receiving end of public anger over its dynastic politics, and now suddenly, from a position of immense strength, none of the three seats appears to be safe.
In all three constituencies, the local Congress leaders and workers have turned against the JD(S), either abstaining from campaigning or working for the opponents. Gowda's effort to bring state level leaders from both the parties on the same platform to make a show of "unity" has failed to percolate to the cadres.
Hassan, for instance, would have been a cakewalk for Deve Gowda as he has represented it five times in the Lok Sabha and multiple times in the Assembly. The last time he was defeated in Hassan was in 1999, when G Puttaswamy Gowda of the Congress triumphed over him.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, JD(S) cornered six of the eight segments by substantial margins and with its principal rival, the Congress, turning into an ally after the formation of the coalition government, the Hassan Lok Sabha seat looked well and truly locked for the JD(S).
However, in a dramatic turn of events on the last day of filing nominations, A Manju of the Congress " who had fought Deve Gowda in 2014 " switched sides and became the BJP candidate. Manju, who had left the BJP in 2004 to join the Congress and also become a minister in the Siddaramaiah government, is a combative politician who has a reputation of fighting the Gowda family's domination of the district.
Besides the BJP, Manju says that at least 80 percent of Congress party workers have joined his campaign as they are resentful of the party leadership "surrendering" to Deve Gowda's family. Manju had obtained 4.09 lakh votes against Deve Gowda's 5.09 lakh votes in 2014, and CH Vijayashankar of the BJP had secured 1.65 lakh votes. "Now that Deve Gowda is not contesting this time, I'm confident that I will get more than 50 percent of the Vokkaliga votes, besides the Lingayat, the Dalit and the OBC votes¦I see the Modi wave stronger than last time, and I'm confident of winning from Mandya," Manju told this correspondent.
Prajwal Revanna, on the other hand, is banking on his grandfather's legacy and the work his father HD Revanna has done in the district, having been an MLA for five terms as also the in-charge minister. Addressing a moderate gathering at Anekere, he said, "I don't want to criticise my opponent as I'm contesting on my own strength. But, look at Manju, he has hopped from one party to another for the sake of money and power. Who will vote for such a person?"
The people of Hassan, of course, will decide on 18 April whom to vote for when Karnataka goes for the first phase of polling.