The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT
He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, four terms from Hassan
His two achievements have been framing the National Agro policy and solving the Farakka dam row
His mega vision of the airstrip in Hassan has not taken off, leaving people unhappy
But now with a battery of his family in politics, he seems unable to retire
Did Sanjay Baru get it wrong, really? Who is the ‘Accidental Prime Minister’? Dr Manmohan Singh? No, it is Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda who served as the 11th Prime Minister of India from 1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997, for a period of little more than 10 months.
Gowda was born on 18 May 1933 in Haradanahalli, a village in Holenarasipura taluk, of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore (now in Hassan, Karnataka) into a Vokkaliga family. His father was a farmer.
He often describes himself as ‘Mannina Maga’ (son of the soil). He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, out of which four terms were from Hassan.
In the 1996 general elections, Congress headed by PV Narasimha Rao lost decisively but no other party won enough seats to form a government. When the United Front (a conglomeration of non-Congress and non-BJP regional parties) decided to form the Government at the Centre with the support of the Congress, Deve Gowda was unexpectedly chosen to head the government and became the 11th Prime Minister of India. Two of his significant achievements have the framing of the National Agro policy and solving the Farakha dam row. However, as MP how has his performance been this term?
He is one of the regulars in the House and taken part in debates whenever given a chance. Even at his age, he was prominently seen at all important events including R-Day and I-Day functions. “In Hassan, he is the king. No one can take him on,” says Prasad Gowda, one of his party spokesmen. The partymen respect him and their devotion to him is almost total. He is regularly seen in Hassan, especially in his native place Holenarasipura as well. And he maintains close contact with his voters and, like his friend DMK president Late Karunanidhi, remembers most of them by name.
Hassan was a little known small town. Today it is a major city and well connected by good roads.
One of the major projects, the brainchild of Deve Gowda has been the Hassan greenfield airport. It has been hanging in the air for the last two decades, but with continuous push from the celebrity MP, the Civil Aviation Ministry last year directed the state government to acquire an additional 200 acres for the purpose. The district authority had already acquired 536 acres in 2007 for this.
The foundation stone was laid one-and-a-half decades ago near Bhuvanahalli, in the outskirts of Hassan city. Senior officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Director General of Civil Aviation had visited the land earmarked for the airstrip but refused to clear the project citing technical reasons. In 2016, the then Deputy Commissioner had convened a meeting of land owners and revenue officials to fix the compensation to acquire additional land and had issued notices to farmers of Bhuvanahalli, Sankenahalli, Lakshmisagara, Thendihalli, Devalapura and G Mylanahalli.
Hassan business community is of the view that industries and tourism in the district would get a boost with the completion of a full-fledged airstrip. The farmers have demanded a better compensation rate and demanding a job for one of the members of their families. S Siddarth, project engineer of Jupiter Aviation, says his company will start work on the project immediately after the state government hands over the land. Jupiter Aviation had signed an MoU with state government to build airport under PPP mode.
The farmers have been demanding Rs 2 crore per acre, while the officers have offered a maximum of Rs 32 lakh per acre. The landowners have strongly opposed the rate offered by the government. BV Karigowda, a former legislator, says the price offered was insufficient even to purchase sites in the SM Krishna Layout, recently developed by Hassan Urban Development Authority.
Good & Bad
Out of the Rs 25 crore allocated to him under the MPLAD funds during this term, he has been able to utilise 50 per cent of funds. He has recommended works worth Rs 14.52 crore and almost 95 per cent of the money has been spent by the district authorities.
Most of these have gone to infrastructure related works but a sizeable chunk has gone to Holenarasipura segment. As one drives through Hassan, one can notice that a lot of road works is being done but according to local people, the execution has been quite slow.
On the face of it, many people here take pride in the fact that a former prime minister represents their constituency but there is also unhappiness over the lack of development, growing unemployment and farmers’ distress in the region.
Villagers in the district rue the fact that the region has not seen much development compared to Shivamogga and Bengaluru despite electing political heavyweight like Gowda as MP.
Hassan, a JD(S) bastion, is dominated by the Vokkaliga community to which Deve Gowda belongs. “We are facing drinking water problems for the last 10 years. Because of poor rains, the groundwater level has gone down and the two borewells which 150 houses depend upon, are not working properly,” says Vanjashri, who stays in Sathigala area of Sakleshpur constituency.
In some remote places, women have to walk about 2 km daily to fetch drinking water from small streams that flow nearby. Many feel disheartened that Deve Gowda has failed to address their concern despite getting elected multiple times from the region. “We had high expectation from Deve Gowda. He is known as ‘mannina maga’ (son of the soil). What has he done for poor farmers?” asks Malleshappa, who owns 15 acres of coffee plantation in Sakleshpur.
“Pepper prices have crashed due to cheaper imports. If the situation continues, farmers will sell the agriculture land and look for jobs in cities. The price we get for the produce does not cover the cost of production,” he stresses.
“Youth are getting educated from here but not getting jobs. They have to migrate to Bengaluru for jobs, where with a meagre salary they cannot afford a living. There are no industries here,” BJP candidate from Hassan Assembly constituency Pritam Gowda says.
On the drinking water crisis, he says there is “lack of willingness” from incumbent JD(S) MLA to ensure people get smooth supply of water. “Hemavathi river is just 15 kms away. They have taken water from this river to places like Tiptur, Tumkur and Arsikere through Hassan. Hassan people are not getting drinking water,” Pritam Gowda says.
Lack of water, unemployment, farmers in dire straits due to crash in prices and poor connectivity to Bengaluru are the main problems that have remained unsolved over the years. But the question everyone asks is whether Deve Gowda raised these issues in Parliament. And though he is a frequent visitor to the constituency, he has not appointed any trusted lieutenant to stand in for him when he is away.
Even for the media, it is difficult to track his movements. His personal staff is not helpful and some of them behave as if he is still the prime minister.
Gowda plays his cards close to his chest. Apart from ‘guiding’ his son Kumaraswamy to run state politics, he also has to take care of his ambitious family members.
But he surely knows time is running out for him. And now by all accounts family comes first for him. Son Kumaraswamy is state chief minister, another son Revanna is Public Works minister in the state cabinet, daughter-in-law Anitha Kumaraswamy is an MLA, two of his grandsons —Nikhil and Prajwal – are contesting the elections to become MPs, and so on.
The patriarch of the family can be satisfied that he has done his duty for them. But his voters and supporters are still unhappy. And, he knows fully well that there are “Miles to go” before he sleeps.
In-Conversation with HD Deve Gowda