THERE was very little in common between a rustic, first-time member of the legislative assembly and a Ph.D. holder in economics from the London School of Economics. But though the economics professor was 10 years older, the two of them were friends since they belonged to the same caste, lived a few blocks away from each other in a middle-class Bangalore residential area, and were both bitten by the ambition bug in equal degree.
When the professor retired from his job in university and opted for a political career, the MLA became minister in the state government. The friendship turned sour.
The minister perceived the erudite economist as a threat to his caste vote bank and created hurdles in his path. He was prevented from getting a vice-chancellorship, almost deprived of a state award for meritorious service, and even the specific definition of his caste was distorted, leading to his defeat in a parliamentary election. Or so the economist’s supporters claim. The minister’s fortunes, meanwhile, took an upswing: he became chief minister and within 18 months of that, Prime Minister.
The economist, cooling his heels after a shattering electoral defeat in his bid for reelection as MP, decided to expose the PM and his alleged misdeeds. The result: a book titled The King of Corruption and the Unmaking of India; and a chapter, H.D. Deve Gowda—A Profile of Corruption, Chicanery, Vindictiveness and Cowardice, in a second book titled From Order to Anarchy—Politics and Economics of the United Front Government. The author: Professor K. Ven-katagiri Gowda, 73. The protagonist: H.D. Deve Gowda. But is this fact or fiction? A question that is begging an answer after it triggered a battle of the Gowdas last week even as a Bangalore court virtually banned the two books.
No sooner had the court invited criticism for the "overenthusiastic and strange" ruling, the police swung into action. On December 5, as Janata Dal supporters crowded outside the author’s house, the police registered a case under Section 153 and 504 of the Press and Registration Act—on the grounds that the publication and distribution of the book was likely to incite violence. Also, the book does not mention the publisher’s name (the author himself in this case). The next day, as JD supporters kept up their protests outside, Venkatagiri Gowda was arrested from his Jai Nagar residence, and released in the evening. The battle will now be fought in court, as the PM’s sons take up cudgels to protect his reputation.
The drama that promises to pack in lots more action unfolded after excerpts from the two books were published by two leading English dailies and one Kannada daily in Bangalore. The excerpts accused Deve Gowda and his family members of indulging in corruption and nepotism ; made fun of the Prime Minister’s rusticity and even compared him with politicians caught in the web of scams. The books list some alleged acquisitions of Deve Gowda and his family and even carry pictures of some of them. Enough to arouse the ire of the prime minister’s sons and some supporters from nearby constituencies.
"Do you expect me to react to that?" an incredulous Deve Gowda asked scribes. His kin thought otherwise. Son H.D. Kumara-swamy, MP, sent a handwritten letter to the retired professor asking him to "prove the charges or tender an apology at a public meeting for making false charges against his father". Thirty-three-year-old H. D. Ramesh, another of Deve Gowda’s sons, filed a petition in the second additional city civil court seeking damages and an injunction against the book. And Judge A.C. Chandrasekhar issued a temporary injunction restraining the republishing, circulation, distribution, and translation of the two books in the country. This was before the Friday evening swoop.
But Venkatagiri Gowda, a one-term BJP MP who was expelled for "anti-party activities" and returned to the Congress fold, had already ensured that the books reached those it was intended for. Of the 2,000 copies that were printed, over 700 were mailed to all English-speaking MPs,Supreme Court and high court judges, party headquarters and leading newspapers and magazines. So impressed was Deve Gowda’s one-time colleague George Fernandes with the book that he flew into Bangalore and ordered 76 copies.
"I am for the politics of integrity and the books are a crusade against corruption. I am willing to produce all evidence if a CBI inquiry is ordered into the allegations," says the outspoken Venkatagiri Gowda who has authored more than a dozen books on economics and counts among his friends former finance minister Manmohan Singh from his days in London.
The Deve Gowda clan is equally belligerent. "How can we defend ourselves from such an attack except by suing the author and seeking a stay on the book?" asks H.D. Ramesh. "We may succeed in fooling people and get away with wrongdoings. But we know we’ll have to suffer if we sin as we cannot fool the Almighty."