JD(S) supremo H D Deve Gowda has seen many ups and downs in his 56 years of political career. From being jailed during the Emergency to becoming the prime minister in 1996, Deve Gowda, over the years, has established a secular image for himself and that is why down south he is popularly known as “Mannina Maga” (the son of soil).
Born into a Vokkaliga family, Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda was raised in an agricultural community. He earned a degree in civil engineering in 1952 from a polytechnic school in Mysore state (which was renamed Karnataka in 1973) and then worked as a contractor.
At the age of 20, he made his entry into politics by joining the Congress and remained its member till 1962. The same year, he was elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly as an Independent from Holenarasipur constituency and served three consecutive terms thereafter.
He worked as Leader of Opposition from March 1972 to March 1976 and November 1976 to December 1977. His fight for freedom and equality proved to be detrimental when he was sent to the prison during the Emergency period. However, the situation only made him stronger and more determined than before.
It was in 1989 when Gowda tasted his first defeat after Janata Dal managed to secure only two out of the 224 assembly seats. However, in 1994, Gowda drove the party to power in the state and assumed office as the 14th chief minister of Karnataka.
The leadership of the Third Front (a group of regional parties and Non-Congress and Non-BJP combine) leading to prime ministership came to him in 1996 when he resigned as CM to become the 11th PM of India. A year later, in his last speech in Lok Sabha as PM, Deve Gowda asserted that he would be back, signaling that he, at least, did not believe that he had got a shot at the country’s top job merely by a fluke.
The 2004 Karnataka Assembly polls threw up a badly split verdict. The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 79 of the 224 seats, followed by the Congress with 65. Deve Gowda, whose JD (S) was third with 58 seats, forced the Congress to make N Dharam Singh Chief Minister — bypassing S M Krishna — of a Congress-JD (S) government. At that time he spoke of keeping “communal forces” out, but in less than two years, Kumaraswamy became chief minister after striking a 20-month rotating chief ministership deal with the BJP. Kumaraswamy enjoyed his term till October 2007, but then refused to make way for the BJP’s B S Yeddyurappa.
In 2004, Gowda secured for Siddaramaiah, who was at the time a member of his party, the post of deputy CM in the Dharam Singh government. A year later, however, he had Siddaramaiah removed — ostensibly for indiscipline, but actually to ensure that Siddaramaiah would not pose a challenge to Kumaraswamy when he took charge of the party.
In the last Assembly election in 2013, the JD (S) won 40 seats with a vote share of 20.09%. In 2008, it won 28 seats, but its vote share, at 18.96%, was only slightly lower. Back in 2004, Gowda’s party won 59 seats after polling 20.07% of the vote. This performance was a huge improvement over its 1999 score of 10 seats (10.42% vote).
Deve Gowda has fought the 2018 election in alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. Dalits are an estimated 24% of Karnataka’s population. The JD (S) has a strong base among the Vokkaligas, who are around 12%, and are concentrated in the Old Mysuru region. The outgoing Assembly has 53 Vokkaligas. The Congress had won 25 of the 55 seats in Old Mysuru, the JD (S) got 23, and the BJP only two.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been making complimentary references to Deve Gowda during the campaign. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, has described the JD (S) as the BJP’s “B-team”. By mid-morning on May 15, Deve Gowda would have begun to weigh the possibilities before him.