February 25, 2002
2152 IST



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Congress may not be unhappy with
Deve Gowda's victory

Election 2002 Fakir Chand in Bangalore

The dramatic victory of former prime minister and combined Janata Dal candidate H D Deve Gowda from the Kanakapura parliamentary seat signals the return of the native, who had proclaimed from the roof tops that he could not be written off.

The low victory margin (53,538 votes) notwithstanding, the victory of the 70-year-old humble farmer from Karnataka's largest parliamentary constituency with a 2.24-million strong electorate created a history of sorts as he wrested the seat from the ruling party defeating Congress candidate and state Cooperation Minister D K Shivakumar.

This is the second time that the Janata parivar has wrested a seat from the ruling Congress though the earlier one was an assembly constituency in Karwar district in north Karnataka.

The win will enable Gowda to emerge out of political oblivion at the national level.

Gowda is not the only former prime minister to have won a parliamentary by-poll from Karnataka. Indira Gandhi had contested from Chikamaglur constituency in a 1978 by-election.

It remains to be seen now whether Gowda will follow in the steps of Indira Gandhi, who never looked back after the Chikmaglur victory and went on to lead the Congress to a thumping win in the subsequent mid-term general elections in 1980.

Going by what his astrologers and soothsayers have to say, Gowda stands a good chance of becoming prime minister again as dramatically as he had become way back in June 1996, after the fall of the 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

"As a true son of the soil and a humble farmer, I will rise from the dust and prove my detractors wrong" has been the refrain of Gowda ever since he was unceremoniously ousted from power in the spring of 1997, when maverick Congress president Sitaram Kesri withdrew his party's support to the United Front government.

Gowda's victory also goes to prove that the combined Janata Dal is still a force to reckon with in the state.

The fact that Gowda, president of the Janata Dal (Secular), could rally the cadre of the various Janata Dal factions behind his campaign demonstrates his wide acceptance among the rank and file.

Ironically, though a faction of the Janata Dal led by Sharad Yadav continues to be a member of the ruling BJP-led NDA coalition at the Centre, the entire Janata parivar is at loggerheads with the BJP at the state level. The two parties had contested the 1999 state and mid-term Lok Sabha elections as allies.

Gowda's victory is set to bring about a unification of sorts between the hitherto warring factions of the Janata parivar, first at the state level and later at the national level, provided the faction in the NDA pulls out.

Initially a hesitant contestant, Gowda hit the campaign trail with a vengeance in the last three weeks, spending up to 18 hours every day in the dusty and battered roads of the constituency, bordering the state capital.

Gowda is not a new face in Kanakapura. He had won from the Ramanagaram assembly segment not once but thrice during his long political career.

His younger son H D Kumaraswamy had won the Lok Sabha seat in the 1996 general election, though he lost in the 1998 mid-term poll.

Despite both he and Shivakumar being from the same Vokkaliga community, Gowda enjoyed a slight edge as the community had decided to favor the 'old man'.

"Deve Gowda is a farmer by birth. The only state leader to have become a prime minister, the Congress did not allow him to complete his term or serve the Indian farming community," said Honne Gowda, a farmer from Bangalore rural district, which forms a party of the Kanakapura parliamentary constituency.

Another factor working in his favour was the people's disenchantment with the tech-friendly S M Krishna government.

Though less than 50 km from state capital Bangalore, the constituency lacks basic amenities like power, good roads, water, irrigation facilities, hospitals, schools, and employment opportunities.

"My humble victory has proved that this government is anti-farmer. It has failed to fulfill its promises to the rural people despite being in power for over two years. People are totally disillusioned with the Krishna government," Gowda said after his victory.

However, there is another angle to the story.

Though Gowda's victory would appear to be a loss of face to the Congress and Chief Minister Krishna, neither he nor the party high command is likely to lose much sleep as the outcome is not expected to affect the state government.

The next assembly election is due only in 2004 and the ruling party has already won all the panchayat, zilla parishad and civic elections in the state in the last two years, a party official said.

These sources point to a tacit understanding between Krishna and Gowda.

After all, Deve Gowda had helped Krishna make it to the Rajya Sabha way back in 1995-96, when he was the chief minister, after Krishna lost the 1994 assembly election from his home constituency, a party insider told

Also, the grapevine has it that Shivakumar, who represents the Sathnur assembly segment in the Kanakapura parliamentary constituency, is a much-relieved man despite his loss.

A reluctant candidate to begin with, the powerful state minister, was forced to contest at the behest of Krishna and the party's high command. The bye-election was necessitated by the death of party MP Chandrashekar Murthy last year.

Apparently, the state Congress prefers that Gowda warm the front benches in the Lok Sabha instead of causing discomfort to the Krishna government.

At the national level, the presence of a person of Gowda's stature would be of immense comfort to Congress president Sonia Gandhi as he could help rally anti-BJP forces behind the Congress, and possibly even wean away secular parties in the NDA and precipitate a mid-term poll.

After all, despite the bitter contest, both the Congress and the Janata Dal had reasons to 'celebrate' as BJP candidate K S Eshwarappa lost his deposit.

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