Look no further than politics for entertainment. Drama, emotion, violence, suspense and much more – there’s dollops of everything to keep one fully entertained. The days preceding the recent UP assembly elections were witness to an absorbing soap opera featuring Mulayam Singh Yadav and his extended family, with many other characters playing their small but definitive roles. Now, there’s one unravelling in Karnataka, that too just months before the state goes to polls. The dramatis personae are Deve Gowda and members of his close-knit and undeniably political family.
The Gowda clan is not new to theatrics, with the former prime minister himself chronically prone to turning emotional and shedding tears at every opportune public moment. The JD(S) patriarch, once a torchbearer of socialist politics who now swears by his hard-to-follow ‘party first, family next’ principle, found himself in a familiar situation on Friday when he expressed his feeling of hurt and anger at grandson Prajwal’s stinging comment that ‘suitcase culture’ prevails in the party. He was quick to blame Prajwal’s utterance on his lack of maturity, but could not stop speculations on the underlying tension and ongoing rivalry within the JD(S) first family.
The fight is essentially about who all in the family will get to contest the forthcoming assembly elections, in which the party, though not in a position to capture power on its own, is expected to do well. While H D Kumaraswamy and H D Revanna, two of Gowda’s four sons, are automatic choices to contest, Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha, Revanna’s wife Bhavani and son Prajwal are also in the race. Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil is an actor, and that rules him out of the equation for now. Though Kumaraswamy has said only he and Revanna will be candidates, going by how the family takes precedence in JD(S) affairs, there’ll be little surprise if other family members are also fielded.
There has been always a talk, trashed again and again by Gowda in his indomitable style, in political circles about a running sibling feud within the party. It started when Kumaraswamy upstaged Revanna in a sort of political coup in 2006 to become chief minister in the company of the BJP. Kumaraswamy was a first-time MLA at the time, though he had been a Parliament member before that. In contrast, Revanna was a two-time MLA and a minister in the Dharam Singh government that the Kumaraswamy-engineered JD(S)-BJP coalition displaced. But he had to settle for a minister’s role in his brother’s cabinet.
Later, when it was time for a daughter-in-law to make political entry, the honour went to Anitha Kumaraswamy, who was elected to the assembly in 2008. But she lost the 2013 assembly poll, and the byelection to the LS seat vacated by her husband the same year. Despite the reverses, Anitha is likely to be fielded again. On the other hand, though Bhavani Revanna was one of the contenders when the party was charting its list of candidates in 2013, she had to wait till the local body polls in 2016 to make a formal political entry. Bhavani, who became of a member of Hassan Zilla Panchayat with an impressive win, now has a valid claim to be a party candidate.
Adding another dimension to the family intrigue is her son Prajwal, who too wants to try his electoral luck and has been eyeing Hunsur constituency. His outburst seems to have been prompted by the recent entry of A H Vishwanath into the party. There were reports that the JD(S) is keen to field the former Congressman in Hunsur, thus denying Prajwal his political debut in the coming elections.
Prajwal’s remark that “those who arrive with suitcases get seats in the front row of our party” has left the JD(S) leadership looking for cover.
While Gowda and his sons are doing whatever they can to contain damage, coming days will uncover further episodes of the family drama.
But this is, in fact, the Season-II of the Gowda family series. Season-I was played out in early 2006 when Kumaraswamy, apparently without Gowda’s knowledge, pulled the rug from under the Congress-JD(S) ministry and joined hands with the BJP.
A “distraught” Gowda went public with his anguish at his son’s actions. He even suspended him and other MLAs from the party. “It must be the result of karma of my previous birth,” Gowda rued in a letter to the party.
But the estrangement lasted barely seven weeks. Gowda soon gave his blessings to the coalition arrangement that his son had worked out. He claimed he was doing it to save the party, but only ended up adding fuel to the talk that the rift was a drama for public consumption and the veteran always knew what the chosen political heir was up to.
The JD(S), like the SP in Uttar Pradesh, is a party that revolves around a family. Ultimately, it’s the family that matters. Now that the feud has come out, pitting one part of the family against the other, Gowda senior will once again be called to play the umpire. Will he be fair? Wait for the next part.
Resident Editor, Karnataka