Which asanas would Karnataka’s Gowdas be doing when Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the International Yoga Day event in Mysuru Tuesday?
Yoga trainers would suggest many — from surya namaskar to shirshasana, and even bhujangasana or the cobra pose, if the Gowdas feel like it. Each asana has its own benefits, ranging from reducing anxiety to boosting vitality and what not. But the Gowdas seem to prefer a different asana: To lie over their family jewel in the Janata Dal (Secular)-shavasana or corpse pose. Yoga exponents would tell you: Do Shavasana to relax, but consciously, with attention, not like Kumbhakarna’s Nidrasana. In the case of the Gowdas, it’s difficult to differentiate between the two. If Kumbhakarna were a politician in today’s Karnataka, even he would wake up from the electoral jolts coming one after another. But not the Gowdas.
JD(S) on losing streak
Look at the outcome of the biennial elections to four seats in Karnataka’s Legislative Council last week. The JD(S) held two of them and went on to lose both. The most telling was the result of the South Graduates’ constituency. These graduates were spread over the Gowdas’ strongholds in Mysuru, Mandya, Chamrajnagar and Hassan. But the Congress snatched the seat, registering its maiden victory and highlighting the Gowdas’ vanishing footprints in the Old Mysore region.
It came barely a week after another JD(S) legislator, K. Srinivasa Gowda, had voted for the Congress candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls, declaring his ‘love’ for the Congress. Former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy said another JD(S) MLA — S.R. Srinivas — put a blank ballot paper into the box to get his vote invalidated.
The Gowdas’ party is obviously falling apart. In the MLC elections last December, it lost two of the four seats it held. A month before that, in November, the JD(S) candidates lost their deposits in Sindagi and Hangal assembly bypolls. The JD(S), which held the Sindagi seat securing over 70,000 votes in 2018, ended up with a little over 4,300 votes. In Hangal, the JD(S) candidate got less than a thousand votes.
Root of Gowdas’ decline
The decline of the JD(S) is not a story of the last eight or nine months. Founded in 1999 by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the party reached its peak in the 2004 Karnataka assembly election, winning 58 seats out of 224 in total. Since then, it has been a downhill journey — 28 seats in the 2008 assembly elections, 40 in 2013 and 37 in 2018. Of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, the JD(S) won 2 in 2014 and 1 in 2019. The losers in 2019 included Deve Gowda and his grandson Nikhil.
So, what went wrong with the JD(S)? The answer lies in the ruling family’s cynical and opportunistic politics and brazen promotion of the Gowda clan, which has gradually alienated even their loyal Vokkaliga voters in south Karnataka. To make matters worse, Kumaraswamy’s dictatorial approach is alienating even his party colleagues.
How the JD(S) legislature party leader handled the elections in the South Graduates constituency is indicative.
First, he denied a ticket to the incumbent JD(S) MLC. Then he gave short shrift to another influential party MLC, Marithibbe Gowda, who wanted the ticket for Keelara Jayram. Kumaraswamy fielded H. K. Ramu instead. Marithibbe went on to campaign for the Congress candidate. He has said that after the results, he wouldn’t contest again on a JD(S) ticket.
When Deve Gowda was a child, a fortune-teller told him he would be a king one day. Gowda had to fight many battles to reach the throne—in the Congress, Janata Party and Janata Dal, among others, before he formed the JD(S) in 1999. By the time he became Karnataka’s chief minister in 1994, he was a veteran of many battles, the one with Ramakrishna Hegde being an epic one.
In 1996, when the search was on for the prime ministerial candidate of the United Front government, then West Bengal CM Jyoti Basu asked him to take on the mantle. Gowda vehemently protested, as recounted in detail in his biography, Furrows in a Field, authored by Sugata Srinivasaraju. He quoted: “My career will end abruptly. The Congress party will not let us run the government for long. I want to be like you (Jyoti Basu), sir. I want to rule Karnataka for many years… I beg you.” When Basu persisted, Gowda touched his feet to try to dissuade him, but to no avail. He finally gave in. The rest is history.
Unlike Gowda, Kumaraswamy seems to treat kingship as a divine right. He never allowed his party’s political or ideological makeup to come in the way — bringing down the Congress-JDS government to become the CM with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s help in 2006. Or allying with the Congress 12 years later to keep the BJP out of power and become the CM again. On both occasions, the BJP brought him down.
His father, who was allegedly shocked to see his son compromise his secular credentials in 2006, is now seeking to refurbish Kumaraswamy’s image. Gowda told his biographer that at a NITI Aayog meeting in Delhi in early 2019, PM Modi had taken Kumaraswamy aside and said: “Your father is still addicted to Congress politics. He will not compromise with our politics. But the Congress wants to destroy you. You resign today, and you will take oath tomorrow with our support like Nitish Kumar (did). I will put you on the job for full five years.”
Gowda said that his son declined the offer, saying: “I don’t want to hurt my father at this age. He is suffering. My government may stay or go, at his advanced age, I can’t hurt the feelings of my father.” The BJP has denied it, of course.
If Kumaraswamy’s relentless pursuit of power has alienated the people, the emergence and empowerment of the Gowda dynasty haven’t helped the JD(S) either. Last November, when Suraj Revanna, H.D. Deve Gowda’s grandson, became an MLC, he became the eighth member of the family to join politics. Gowda’s two sons— Kumaraswamy and Revanna—are MLAs. Kumaraswamy’s wife, Anita, is also an MLA while Revanna’s wife, Bhawani, is a former zilla panchayat member. Prajwal Revanna is an MP while Suraj has become an MLC. Kumaraswamy’s son, Nikhil, is the JD(S) youth wing president who lost the last Lok Sabha election.
Mouth-watering for BJP, Congress
In the Gowdas’ political decline lie the hopes of both the Congress and the BJP. The Congress already has an eminent Vokkaliga leader in its state president, D.K. Shiv Kumar. This week, when PM Modi visits Mysuru — once a part of ‘Gowdaland’ — by his side will be local MP Prathap Simha, a young Vokkaliga leader who had bucked the two-decades-old trend to win the seat for the second consecutive term in 2019. That was despite the Congress and the JD(S) contesting in an alliance.
Both the Congress and the BJP see mouth-watering prospects in the decline of the JD(S). The Gowdas don’t seem much bothered though, as is evident from their cavalier approach despite repeated electoral defeats.
If you have a yoga trainer, you know how eagerly one looks forward to doing Shavasana, especially when you are allowed to perform it after a lot of other active and strenuous asanas. Not for the Gowdas. They would seek all benefits from one asana— Shavasana. The only other pose they would do is Sukhasana — combining sukh (happiness) with asana (read chair). Yoga isn’t the same when politicians do it, is it?
The author is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)