’50 acres for Wipro, 2,000 acres for Infosys?’

In Bangalore, there are reporters (not all cubs, mind you) who quiver at the prospect of a “H.D. Deve Gowda assignment”; so sick and scared they are of the arched eyebrows, the permanent scowl, and the fulmination of the humble farmer. The newspapers are too polite to report it, but when he gets real irritated, the former prime minister is not loathe to using the kind of language that, well, a former prime minister should not be using.

But Deve Gowda can also be extremely charming when the need arises. With the poll bells about to toll, that need has arisen. In a lovely conversation dripping with desi sarcasm with the editorial staff of the Indian Express, Delhi, Deve Gowda admits that he has not had a very good relationship with the media. Which is why it has consistently projected him in poor light as “anti-development” and a hindrance to Karnataka for the last six years.

“I am a blunt fellow, and maybe that’s the reason. When I resigned from Ramakrishna Hegde’s government, he asked me why. I told him there was no need to discuss past events. Then he said, “You must know your weakness: you not only tell the truth, but the naked truth. That is going to harm your career. You must change your attitude…. I say what I think is right or wrong. I can’t help it if it hurts people.

“I must accept that I have failed to cultivate the media at the national level. I tried but I lacked the experience, with only a state-level political career of 40 years behind me before I came to the Centre. To cultivate the national media was a new assignment for me. The media was not against me; it was just my misfortune.”

Deve Gowda gives a rare insight into his all-too-frequent visits to temples across the country, and his deep and abiding faith in astrology, and reveals why the cameras always caught him with his eyes closed, even when he was prime minister.

# “My father got my astrological chart written up 74 years ago. This was because my father’s first wife and his three children died in one week. I was his first son from his second wife and he was worried about my life.”

# “[When] Jyoti Basu suggested my name for PM, I folded my hands, I cried, I told him you have 18 years’ experience and I have only 18 months, I have not even travelled through the entire country. That evening, I went home and told my wife. As for me, I went to sleep.”

# “I never used to sleep. But you must appreciate that I work 18-20 hours a day. When there is a bright light, my eyes itch because I am a diabetic. So I just close my eyes. And the cameras are very sharp to catch me at that time.”

In the exchange of ideas, Deve Gowda also reveals why he was at daggers drawn with Infosys’ chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy:

“Narayana Murthy has brought name and fame to the IT sector in my home state. But we have a comprehensive Land Reforms Bill, which states that not an inch of land can be given for a non-agricultural purposes unless you amend the Bill to make provisions for industrial purposes. That’s why my officers were unable to clear his requests. Then I introduced an amendment. I earmarked a certain portion of land for the IT industry, including for Narayana Murthy. But I did say that in any project submitted to the government, either by domestic or foreign investors, the project, the nature of the project, its employment potential, all these aspects have to be assessed by a team of officers headed by the chief secretary before the cabinet will clear it. That is the system I had adopted.

“Narayana Murthy had applied for approximately 2,000 acres in different parts of the state. There are 1,600 IT companies in Bangalore and even a company like Wipro, a stalwart of the IT sector, had not taken more than 50 acres. I wanted to know why Murthy wanted over 2,000 acres. There is no personal enmity, but this was poor people’s land and they received meagre compensation for their land.”

Read the full exchange: ‘If I were a fox in public life…’

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News