Destiny is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice.H D Deve Gowda should know that well. His becoming prime minister in 1996 may have seemed like a quirk of fate and his son becoming chief minister twice nothing short of a miracle. But as much as one would attribute their success to fate, one can’t ignore how smartly Gowda and his sons have shaped their own destinies, and that of the family—banking on each other and deftly manipulating situations. The family’s story, from its humble farming origins to the present prominent position in state politics, is as much about luck as it is about political wisdom, shrewd tactics and hard work.
Gowda, 86, a seven-time MLA and a seven-time MP, has been both prime minister and chief minister. His one son is a chief minister now and another is a minister. One daughter-in-law is an MLA. Many in the party, his sons included, see Gowda as a probable prime ministerial candidate after the general elections. But this success story has always been about the family, never the party. That is what stands out now when Gowda is charting the political entry of two grandsons, ignoring the legitimate claims of party loyalists.
If all goes as per plan, the family can soon boast of an impressive line-up of three MPs and three MLAs—probably a first in Indian politics. Not so impressive when one considers what that could mean for a political outfit which is expected to uphold democratic values.
Gowda once led the socialist Janata Party that ruled Karnataka and also its successor Janata Dal. The Janata Dal group that Gowda now heads is nothing in comparison to its predecessors. So, while the family has grown, the party has been reduced to being a caste-based outfit restricted to a small region. While the family has found success, politically and otherwise, the party seems to have little future beyond that of the family.
The JD(S) lost leaders of influence and voter base as the family took control of its affairs more and more firmly. One such casualty was Siddaramaiah—ousted when he posed a challenge to the party reins passing from Gowda to his sons. Many others too left, seeing no scope for themselves in a family affair.
With plans on to field Prajwal, son of H D Revanna, from Hassan, which Gowda currently represents, and Nikhil, H D Kumaraswamy’s son, from Mandya, the two Lok Sabha seats that the party currently holds and is fairly sure of winning have been picked for the family. If Gowda too decides to contest, which is quite likely, he will pick another winnable seat. That leaves little for other candidates as the JD(S), formed in 1999, has never won more than three seats in a parliamentary election. The party is hoping to do better in alliance with the Congress, but its success could be restricted by its limited presence and the fact that the allies have not been able to overcome their traditional rivalry at the ground level.
While Prajwal, 28, was being groomed for a political career for long, Nikhil, 29, is being rushed into politics quite unexpectedly. An actor, Nikhil was busy playing fictional heroes when he was drafted in perhaps to counter Prajwal’s expected rise within the party. The rivalry between the two families within the big family is an open secret, and could spill out in days to come.
Nikhil’s entry has sent a clear message to other party leaders—that the family comes first. He will replace a sitting MP who was elected only four months back in a bypoll. Both Gowda and HDK are known to get emotional in public, yet the family is known for its singular lack of tact and sensitivity. The recent sexist rant by Revanna against actor Sumalatha, set to contest against Nikhil, is an example.
For once, it feels like Gowda may have overplayed the family card. The JD(S) has a chance of bettering its tally. But the party could lose even what it has if anti-JD(S) and anti-family votes consolidate. Gowda may have been successful in shaping the destiny of his family so far, but could end up harming the future of the party.
Resident Editor, Karnataka