Public occasions where Railway Minister D V Sadanand Gowda has not worn his disarming smile are few and far between. The highest-ranking minister from Karnataka in the Narendra Modi government has been given the job of streamlining the Indian Railways and enhancing efficiency while ensuring safety and security. Running the mammoth railway network smoothly is no mean task and could wipe the smile off anyone’s face. Gowda’s smile is difficult to knock off. He was famously smiling when asked to step down as Karnataka CM in July 2012.
Lacking in a strong mass base, Gowda climbed the political ladder through loyalty, hard work, a clean image and a sense of political equanimity, besides opportunism in the right measure.
He has been with BJP for over three decades.“I am a loyal soldier of the party and will abide by party leaders’ decisions. Whether it is to continue or step down I will not view it as a bitter or sweet option. Whatever decision is taken I will see it as being part of a continuing process in a politician’s life,’’ he had said in July 2012, when there was pressure on him to quit the CM’s post.
Although he is from the Vokkaliga community, the second largest in the state, Gowda was not strictly considered a Vokkaliga of south Karnataka until recently. Commonly referred to as a Sullia Gowda — on account of his origin in the Sullia-Puttur region — it was his tenure as CM that helped him gain a foothold among the larger Gowda community.
A massive protest of Vokkaligas in Bangalore in 2012 against his removal as CM signalled Gowda’s growing acceptance. It goaded Gowda to contest from Bangalore North that has a large Vokkaliga presence. Riding a Modi wave, Gowda won by a margin of 2.29 lakh votes.
Having functioned in the shadow of more powerful BJP leaders H N Ananth Kumar and B S Yeddyurappa, Gowda’s political growth has often been at the mercy of these arch-rivals within the BJP.
Rarely recognized for his contribution to the party, Gowda has the distinction of delivering BJP’s best performances in Karnataka. It was in 2006-2010 when Gowda was president of the state unit that the party came to power for the first time in south India, winning 110 of the 224 seats in the assembly in 2008. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls under his leadership, the BJP won 19 of 28 seats.
Making administration transparent was one of Gowda’s primary objectives as CM and this led to introduction of the Sakala law which guarantees public services within a stipulated time. According to sources, a key task he has been assigned as Railway Minister is to marry efficiency with safety and work with MHA to ensure the Railways does not become a sitting duck for attacks or prone to accidents.