Like Father, Like Son — Every Time Someone Writes Off H D Kumaraswamy, He Makes A Comeback And How

Sharan Setty

Jun 14, 2024, 01:50 PM | Updated 01:50 PM IST

Union Minister for Steel and Heavy Industries H D Kumaraswamy.
Union Minister for Steel and Heavy Industries H D Kumaraswamy.
  • The Gowdas are here to stay, and are not going away any time soon.
  • "I, Haradanahalli Devegowda Kumaraswamy, do swear in the name of..." — these words repeated at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on 8 June, Sunday, were received with a roaring cheer.

    H D Kumaraswamy (called HDK or Kumaranna popularly), the former Chief Minister of Karnataka with two stints, was being written off repeatedly by his political opponents.

    If you are familiar with the Old Mysore Region and the politics of the agricultural belt in Karnataka, you also know that the dialogues pack a punch and the politics there is nothing short of cinema.

    Many political dynasts come and go — they even become ministers and chief ministers sometimes — but there are very few like HDK.

    His father, H D Devegowda, had a reputation of being a 'Chanakya' as he became the Chief Minister of Karnataka and later the Prime Minister of India with just 17 seats in his kitty. The funny part is that he was not expecting to become the PM (or he claims). Yet, he was bestowed the responsibility of running a shaky government with many coalition partners to please at a time when India's economy had just opened up.

    At the time, Kumaraswamy was still learning politics from his father, briefly basing himself in Delhi, observing Devegowda at work.

    Both the father and son are articulate in Kannada, have friends across the aisle, interact well with the media and can speak English decently enough to comfortably communicate when required.

    The Gowda family has based itself strongly in the Old Mysore Region and is the go-to family when it comes to Vokkaliga politics in the state. Initially with Janata Dal, H D Devegowda went on to form his own party — Janata Dal (Secular) — in July 1999.

    With a combination of Vokkaliga and Muslim votes, he held sway over a few assembly seats in the Old Mysore Region which includes Bengaluru, Hassan, Mandya, Mysuru and Chamarajanagara.

    Since the rise of the BJP in the state, the two national parties have often found themselves having fractured mandates. This became an advantage to the Gowdas, as they could now be kingmakers without having to try too hard.

    HDK was a young MLA in 1996, who had just won the Kanakapura assembly seat, and was trying to find his feet in politics. Just a few years later, Siddaramaiah, a long associate of the Gowdas, quit the party to join the Congress and later became the chief minister in 2013 (and 2023). While Siddaramaiah focused on the AHINDA vote bank (Minorities, Backward Classes and Dalits), a young D K Shivakumar and H D Kumaraswamy were trying to establish themselves as the leaders of the Vokkaliga community in the region.

    In 2006, he became the Chief Minister of Karnataka after striking an alliance with B S Yediyurappa's BJP in the state but fell out again as he allegedly refused to resign as per the agreement with the alliance partners. While the parties tried to coalesce time and again, they were constantly at loggerheads with each other, trying to cut into each others' vote banks.

    In 2018 he became the chief minister once again, when the JD(S) allied with the Congress. But even that alliance would soon fall and the BJP would go on to form the government in the state a few months after the 2019 elections.

    Having lost to D K Shivakumar, and having fought internal rivalries within the Janata Dal, Kumaraswamy has survived the litmus test on many occasions and proved himself relevant from time to time.

    With the humbling defeat of the party in the 2023 assembly elections, poll pundits and political opponents termed it the end of HDK's career. The party was reduced to a meagre 19 seats. It could once win up to 42 seats and have a firm grip on one region in the state.

    Soon enough, Kumaraswamy 'introspected' on the loss and in a candid interview with the media, expressed his disappointment with the Muslim community for completely abandoning the JD(S) "despite doing everything for the community."

    Around the same time, his father Devegowda seems to have suggested an alliance with the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to hold former PM Gowda in high regard.

    The JD(S) would win two seats in the recently concluded 2024 Lok Sabha elections and Kumaraswamy would become the Union Minister for Steel and Heavy Industries.

    The alliance with the BJP was also a strategic one, as it provided the right amount of push for the BJP in certain seats where they were projected to lose. With the JD(S)' assured vote bank being transferred, the BJP managed to win 11 of 14 seats in southern Karnataka, while the JD(S) won two and the Congress was reduced to a single seat — Chamarajanagara.

    With his political acumen, witty answers, journalist friends and well-wishers in the bureaucracy, Kumaraswamy's elevation as a cabinet minister has been welcomed by many of his supporters and well-wishers. His experience as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, and his ability to also focus on urban development and get things moving when need be, has earned him admirers in unique places.

    The Gowdas are here to stay, and are not going away any time soon.

    Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.

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