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Hegde and Gowda Paved the Way

The politics of personal vendetta and rivalry played by leaders of the Janata Dal, Ramakrishna Hegde and Deve Gowda ensured the entrenchment of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The secular opposition to the Congress by the Janata Dal in Karnataka withered away with this rivalry.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 14, 200811K S Dakshina Murthy ( is a Bangalore-based journalist.Hegde and Gowda Paved the WayK S Dakshina MurthyThe politics of personal vendetta and rivalry played by leaders of the Janata Dal, Ramakrishna Hegde and Deve Gowda ensured the entrenchment of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The secular opposition to the Congress by the Janata Dal in Karnataka withered away with this rivalry.The tale of the Bharatiya Janata Part’s (BJP) rise to power in Karna-taka is the story of how two leading secular politicians first turned against each other and one of them then sacrificed his principles for narrow filial reasons. If the beneficiary was the BJP, the loser was the Janata Dal (JD) and the state’s secular politics.Karnataka’s unique selling point (USP) was the strength and hold of the JD which for 25 years was seen as the alternative to the Congress. In effect it meant that irrespective of the Congress or theJD, the state was run by a secular dispensation. TheBJP was only a marginal player.But such a situation is no more. For the first time, governance has passed into the hands of a self-avowed Hindutva party after the recent assembly elections. More than any other factor, the BJP must pro-fusely thank the two champion secularists Ramakrishna Hegde and H D DeveGowda for making it happen. A quick peep into recent history will unravel the roles of the erstwhile Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Karnataka’s politics and how they paved the way for the BJP in Karnataka.In the political realignments and in the search for an alternative to the Congress following the Emergency, there was a very real chance of theBJP making it in Karnataka. But the Janata Party and its leader Ramakrishna Hegde stole the thunder in the 1983 assembly elections, going on to consolidate in the mid-term elections two years later. The BJP with 18seats, which propped up the Janata Party from the outside in 1983 was all but decimated in the 1985 polls winning just four out of 224 seats. The BJP secured 7.93 per cent of the votes polled in 1983 but in the 1985 elections it came down to 3.88 per cent.Anti-Congress sections gravitatedaround the Janata Party. With a committed set of secular politicians led by Hegde and others like Nasir Sab, Lakshmisagar, Deve Gowda, the party steered the state away from communal politics. The Janata Party (later the Janata Dal) and the Congress squeezed out the BJP from any opportunity to come to power. The effect of a patch-up between the otherwise warring Hegde and Gowda
COMMENTARYjune 14, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly12was obvious. In the 1994 assembly elec-tions, the JD came to power on its own strength and in the 1996 Lok Sabha elec-tions it won at least 14 of the 28 seats from the state.Personal Fallout The tide turned after the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, when Gowda within days of taking over as prime minister expelled Hegde from the JD for explicitly personal reasons. It was the culmination of another round of feuding between the two. The personal fallout between Gowda and Hegde threw their supporters in disarray. Diehard anti-Congress voters who had relied on the JD as the alternative were stumped by the fighting between the two, who swore by secular politics. Not only the common voters, even the second line leadership of the party which included people like P G R Scindia, B Somashekhar, M P Prakash, Siddaramaiah and J H Patel were flummoxed. To make matters worse, Hegde himself drove the first nail on the state’s secular coffin by announcing an alliance between his breakaway Janata Dal (United)–JD(U) – and the BJP in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. Though in terms of seats the alliance did not do too well, what it managed at a fundamental level was to breach the secular-communal divide between the JD workers and BJP cadre. The JD’s secular politics stood diluted and crossovers happened at the grass-roots level. The BJP, for instance, imme-diately benefited from Hegde’s hold over the powerful lingayat community in north Karnataka. It won at least seven more seats from the previous election while its partner, the breakaway Lok Shakti won just three. The JD too managed merely three. In the 1999 assembly elections, the Congress gained from the Hegde-Gowda divide, and so did the BJP, thanks to its continued alliance with Hegde. The Janata Dal (Secular) – JD(S) – under Gowda came third. TheBJP was clearly making inroads into theJD support base. In terms of the votes polled, the undivided JD in 1994 secured 33.54 per cent. The BJP polled 16.99 per cent. Five years later, the Gowda-Hegde split had its consequences. Gowda’s JD(S) polled 10.42 per cent while Hegde’s JD(U) managed 13.53 per cent. The BJP increased its share by 5 per cent, a direct result of its tie-up with Hegde. In 2004, it was no surprise that the BJP emerged as the single largest party. Still, the state’s secular fortress held and the BJP was kept at bay with a coalition between the Congress and the JD(S). The JD(U)’s share clearly went to the BJP. If the BJP’s vote share rose to 28.33 per cent, the JD(U)’s dropped to a dismal 2.06 percent.In February 2006, call it the last nail or the opening of the drawbridge, Gowda in his enthusiasm to install his son H D Kumaraswamy on the throne, over-night engineered the withdrawal of sup-port to the Congress and aligned with the BJP, much against his public posturing as a diehard secularist. The Trojan Horse of Hindutva politics was well and truly inside the state’s establishment. BJP’s ConsolidationTheBJP tasted direct power for the first time, managed key ministries including finance and quietly consolidated its hold over the state machinery and positioned itself to woo voters. Hindu religious organisations and various mutts found themselves beneficiaries in the state budget of 2007-08. The putative secular section of the JD(S) in government did nothing to pressure the BJP otherwise. When it was time for the JD(S) to hand over power to the BJP as part of an agree-ment, the father and son combine reneged, and withdrew support to the BJP. Though Gowda claimed he was doing so on the grounds of secular politics, it sounded hol-low. There were no takers for his claim even within his own party. On the con-trary this resulted in a wave of public sym-pathy for the BJP. The sympathy ebbed somewhat after a change of mind and the installation of B S Yediyurappa as the chief minister. Gowda was however unrelenting and barely a week later pulled the rug from under the BJP in the hope that an alliance with the Congress would somehow ensure the continuation of his son in office.But the Congress refused to play ball, leading to the recent mid-term elections. The Gowda-created conditions were just right for the BJP to romp home. The BJP’s vote share increased to 33.86 per cent. That the sympathy factor was at work was evident as it cut into the vote base of all parties. As for the JD(U), it has virtually become a non-entity getting just 0.32 per cent of the votes and not a single seat. The breaking of barriers between the JD and the BJP’s support base proved hugely advantageous to the saffron party. The JD which for over two decades had been perceived as the natural alternative to the Congress lost that position and the BJP assumed that mantle. First, Hegde’s marriage of the JD(U) with theBJP, and more recently the JD(S)-BJP alliance have in effect clearly polarised the state’s politics between the Congress and the BJP. The JD has been relegated at best to a mere balanc-ing force. Polling 19.11 per cent of the votes, it is no longer possible to visualise theJD in any form to win elections on its own and form government. With the Congress share around 35 per cent and the BJP at around 33, from here on, it willbe difficult for theJD(S) to dislodge either. The situation is ripe for the BJP toensure it is either the ruling party or the main opposition. In effect it has moved to the centre stage of politics in the state. The BJP government in Karnataka is thus the legacy of two influential politicians who for personal reasons damaged a time-tested secular alterna-tive to the Congress and paved the way for a party that has elsewhere not hesitated to resort to social polarisation and divisive politics. EPW Blog The new EPW blog feature on the web site facilitates quick comments by readers on a selection of the week's articles. Four topical articles from the current issue are posted on theEPW blog every week. All visitors to the site are encouraged to offer their comments and engage in a debate.Please visit the blog section on our web site (

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