HAPPINESS is not based on possessions, power or prestige but on relationships with people you love and respect." Hanging on the wall of what was his residence in Bangalore till last week was this plaque. Over the weekend, H.D. Deve Gowda gave up the greatest possession he had sought— the chief ministership of Karnataka— for the most powerful and prestigious post in the world’s largest democracy. The 63-year-old politician knows that happiness in the coming days will depend on his relationship with the disparate group of people he needs to respect, if not love.
As he settles down in Delhi, there is little sign of the nervousness that he showed before the President’s invitation to form the Government. Neither is there any overt sign of jubilation. The focus is on forming the ministry and working on the numerous issues that he will need to tackle head-on. Gowda has been through all this before— just that the scenario is different and the size of operations bigger.
When he first became a minister in R.K. Hegde’s cabinet more than a decade ago, he went home to weep before a portrait of his late father, whose ambition was to see his son become a deputy commissioner. He cried the other night too, on prime time TV, because his mother, who has been semi-conscious for two years, would not be able to share her first son’s moment of glory. But he knows he can’t get overly emotional about the challenge before him: "I never aspired for this post. Such upheavals in life do not thrill or depress me. All this is divinely ordained." Having said that, he pores over an edit page article in The Economic Times that asks: "Is Deve Gowda a Reformer ? "
He certainly considers himself one. The four votes he secured in his first foray into electoral politics— in the taluk cooperative bank elections in Holenarasipur town in the southern Hassan district— failed to quell his zeal for reform in public life. Gowda has fought more fruitful electoral battles since but a public life spanning 35 years has instilled several traits in a man whose father sold two sheep to get his son’s horoscope written: simplicity (he has seen just two movies, one in Bangalore and one in Delhi), shrewdness, religiosity, extreme likes and dislikes for people, pride (as a mannina maga, son of the soil), disre gard for routine (he is always two hours late), a desire to please, and the need to be recognised for his efforts.
From his first speech in the Karnataka assembly, when as a 29-year-old he criticised the govern or ’s address for lack of concern for developmental issues, Gowda’s political career has been one long crusade for the farming community he represented. He resigned from the Hegde cabinet in 1988 for the same reason. Be it irrigation, fertilisers or dams, Gowda always had a point to make which earned him the tag of being a casteist Vokkaliga politician who could never think beyond water and land in south Karnataka. (Ironically, two of his closest aides have been Brahmins— the late Kannada Prabha journalist Rama Prasad, who taught him everything except the need for Hindi in high office, and school teacher Y.S.V. Dutta, who has been with him through thick and thin.) He struck the same notes in a three-year stint in Parliament from 1991 although parliamentary reporters say he was an LL B— a lord of the last benches who occasionally dozed off.
That, however, had to change after he became chief minister. With foreign investment topping the country ’s agenda, Gowda had little choice but move with the new economic policy. In his first two months, he cleared investment projects worth Rs 1,768 crore, visited Davos and Singapore to seek more investment, and at the same time succeeded in solving the Idgah Maidan flag-hoisting controversy that was developing into Karnataka’s Ayodhya. More was to follow: power generation projects worth $8.5 billion were approved; plans to decongest Bangalore were set in motion; for the first time political reservation was introduced for backward classes; the Cauvery water sharing dispute was prevented from snowballing into a regional conflagration ; and the state became the first to formulate its own agricultural policy that envisaged an investment of Rs 5,000 crore in the sector over five years to achieve a 4.5 per cent growth rate.
Despite his political insecurities of being unseated by fellow partyman Hegde or being hounded by an unfriendly press, Gowda scored in the state’s administration largely due to his ability to carry all sections of the party and bureaucracy with him. Bangalore’s babudom regards his 18-month tenure very highly. He did not interfere in their work and allowed bold initiatives by enterprising officers. These, plus his rapport with Congress President P.V. Narasimha Rao, are qualities Gowda-watchers believe will stand him in good stead. Says he: "I am just a consensus candidate for the job. But I consider this an opportunity to repay people for their faith in me." With few expectations of him, Gowda has little to lose except his job.