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91-year-old Deve Gowda struggling to save son’s political career as BJP steps up poll heat

Founder of Janata Dal (Secular) and former  prime minister HD Deve Gowda

Bengaluru: The 91-year-old founder of Janata Dal (Secular) and former  prime minister HD Deve Gowda is literally hobbling around the Channapatna constituency in Karnataka to “save” the party and political career of his son, HD Kumaraswamy who is locked in a tough battle of the ballot against CP Yogeshwar of the BJP.

For almost a year now, Kumaraswamy had taken the full responsibility of managing the party affairs and electioneering as the senior Gowda had slowly withdrawn from active politics because of old age and deteriorating health. He has been in and out of hospital a few times. About a month ago, Gowda participated in the concluding ceremony of the ‘Pancharatna yatra’ at Mysuru as Kumaraswamy, Revanna and their sons walked beside Deve Gowda who was paraded in a wheelchair on a specially erected 100 ft-long ramp in the midst of thousands of JD(S) supporters who attended the rally.

It was an emotional moment for the whole Gowda family, as it tried to extract the last ounce of sympathy from the public on what is palpably Gowda’s ‘last election.’

Keen on grooming son

In 2018, Kumaraswamy had won from two constituencies, Ramanagara and Channapatna, but he later relinquished Channapatna to get his wife, Anitha Kumaraswamy elected. This time, he chose to put up his son, Nikhil from Ramanagara, while filing his nomination papers from Channapatna. Kumaraswamy wants his actor-son to get a foot-hold in politics when the grand old man is still around, as Nikhil’s debut election for Lok Sabha from Mandya in 2019 had ended in a disaster.

Kumaraswamy has been busy campaigning for his party candidates across the state, leaving Channapatna to his wife to manage. But, in the last few days, the Gowda family seems to have suddenly realised that Yogeshwar is increasingly gaining ground and threatening to topple Kumaraswamy. As the stakes are extremely high, Deve Gowda has started visiting the constituency and addressing public meetings, as half a dozen people help him on and off the stage.

Two days ago, this correspondent was at Channapatna to witness Deve Gowda’s campaign. The moment Gowda’s entourage, accompanied by an ambulance and a team of doctors, entered the town, thousands of people gathered from nowhere to have a ‘darshan’ of the old man and hear him. It was largely a Muslim gathering, to whom Gowda reminded that as chief minister he had provided 4% reservation to Muslims which had been ‘snatched away’ by the BJP government. Gowda addressed another meeting of the Hindus in the town. At both rallies, he appealed to the people with folded hands to make Kumaraswamy the chief minister “once more”, a dream he wanted to be fulfilled one last time.

Yogeshwar is a stalwart

On the other hand,Yogeshwar is no greenhorn as he has been elected five times as an MLA from Channapatna, losing only twice. He began as an independent MLA and once even successfully carried the Samajwadi Party flag to the Assembly when Mulayam Singh Yadav was trying to establish the party down south. Yogeshwar is currently with the BJP,  is a charismatic leader as he has been seriously campaigning on foot for more than a year. People do acknowledge Yogeshwar’s development works, especially, providing irrigation facilities to the farmers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held a public meeting at Channapatna, boosting Yogeshwar’s chances. Speaking to this correspondent Yogeshwar said he was “100% confident of winning this time” as people had realised he was always accessible to them while Kumaraswamy was an ‘absentee MLA’ who came back only once in five years. He said he was more popular among Vokkaligas and all other communities, including Muslims as he attended to everyone’s problems without any discrimination. Some of the Muslims I spoke to confirmed this assertion of Yogeshwar.

Though he had some differences with Yediyurappa about a year ago, the two have patched up and BJP as a party is fully backing him. The central leadership of BJP knows that if Kumaraswamy loses in Channapatna, it would have enormous consequences for the JD(S) as it would turn leaderless and rudderless. In the event of there being no clear majority for any single party, the ‘headless’ JD(S) will be more vulnerable to poaching by either BJP or Congress and the outcome will be more unpredictable.

The fear of such a scenario is making Deve Gowda strain every nerve to keep the party afloat and be ready to make the choice that is favourable to it.