CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes from Bangalore: In one moment of fiery bluster, the venerable old man ripped the synthetic façade enveloping Indian politics asunder, and revealed its true essence.
Not for him the nuanced subtleties in speech, the clipped accent, the dramatic arching of the brow, the elaborate hand-wringing—or even the eloquence hidden in the unspoken word.
Those are best left to “cultured politicians”; the city-bred types harrumphing over Black and Blue Label.
Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, to give the venerable old man his full name, pulls up his panche, sups on ragi balls and soppina saaru, and speaks a mean, belligerent, even bellicose, language.
Gowda’s in-your-face, no-holds-barred style poses a nightmare for erudite analysts, who earn their daily bread deciphering the actions and utterances of smooth, inscrutable politicians.
Gowda’s WYSIWYG approach offers no scope for interpretation.
It is as direct, as coarse, as crass as it can get.
The unrestrained rants of the former prime minister on the current chief minister are in bad taste, no doubt, but spare me the bloody histrionics and indignation, will you?
# In a country where ministers callously stand by and watch a policeman hacked in front of their eyes breathing his last by the way side….
# In a country where 150 of 543 MPs face criminal charges including “human trafficking, immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape and even murder”….
# In a country where politicians take money to ask questions, take money to vote, take money to buy coffins for soldiers or fodder for animals….
In a country, in a State, that is completely desensitised to the average politician’s shenanigans, a sensitive streak suddenly emerges after a lazy Sunday siesta because of a fulltime politician’s abusive language?
Make no mistake, I do not condone Gowda’s diatribe.
But I would not condemn it, either.
India’s politicians deserve each other.
To all but those who have just returned from their year-end trip to Mars, here’s the news: Deve Gowda has always revelled in the politics of antagonism, and the operative word there is always, not antagonism.
Be it with his brother Basave Gowda in Holenarasipur, be it with his bosom buddy Ramakrishna Hegde, be it with his one time trusted aides Siddaramaiah or P.G.R. Sindhia, be it with his kinsman Venkatagiri Gowda, Deve Gowda’s default mode is one of antagonism.
People of Holenarsipur still talk of Gowda’s legendary enmity with the late G. Puttaswamy Gowda, a local Congress politician. I have met every one of these notables at some point or the other and they have all confessed of being stunned by Gowda’s ruthlessness.
He has been intemperate and surly in his interactions even with his confidants. Barring one or two individuals, his coterie is in a state or perpetual churn. Entries and exits happen in swift succession, in keeping with Gowda’s shifting ambitions and volatile moods.
In other words, his outrage with B.S. Yediyurappa is one of a piece.
Gowda has been as unpredictable with the media.
Journalists who imagine themselves to be close to Gowda, suddenly find themselves at sea. If, on one occasion, he is thrusting an indulgent arm around you and addressing you as “brother”, the next day he could simply turn the other way around and say, well, bhosidi maga.
Gowda has always been an interviewer’s nightmare. He can be completely incoherent and scattered, or bitingly caustic or abruptly turn into an inveterate mumbler.
For the hungry journalist, Deve Gowda rarely gives good copy.
On one occasion, sometime in the late 1990s, I traveled to his modest home in Haradanahalli, over 200 kms from Bangalore, had a fabulous lunch with his family, served by his son H.D. Revanna’s wife Bhavani, engaged him for an hour and returned without a story.
It is fortunate that I had a liberal editor in The Week’s T.R. Gopalakrishnan.
On another occasion, while he was the chief minister, his then-press secretary, S.V. Jayasheela Rao, promised me an early-morning “exclusive” at Gowda’s Padmanabhanagar residence. All I got that morning was a disjointed monologue and avarekal uppittu, which was the saving grace.
We might compare him with other former PMs and quibble with Deve Gowda’s choice of words.
We might compare him with other former PMs and let our tongues wag about mountains of moolah.
We might compare him with other former PMs and talk of his gracelessness.
Yet how many would boast of a rousing endorsement from their top bureaucrat?
In his 2004 book, former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramaniam says of Gowda:
‘‘On the day I took charge as cabinet secretary, he told me, ‘My sons and my relatives will want to exploit my present position to their pecuniary advantage. They will use their proximity to me, through open and subtle ways, to influence you, and to put pressure on you. I want you to be completely fair and impartial and not oblige them’.’’
Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, India’s 14th Prime Minister, Karnataka’s 14th Chief Minister, who began his career in public life as president of Anjaneya Cooperative Society, Holenarasipura, is will go down history as a bare knuckled, unrelenting fighter .
And at 77 he is all set to release his autobiography, perhaps ready to spout more invectives and tear his critics to shreds. Those who trifle with the volatile Vokkaliga trifle with peril.
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News archives