The Hassan district has been a pocketborough of JD(S) supremo H D Deve Gowda’s family for over four decades and when one travels through the region with seven Assembly constituencies, it is not difficult to see why it has such a stranglehold over this Vokkaliga-dominated belt.
Even in the 2008 election, when JD(S) suffered setbacks elsewhere and its strength in the Assembly shrunk from 58 to 28 seats, Hassan district alone sent five JD(S) MLAs out of seven constituencies, ignoring the then BJP leader B S Yeddyurappa’s ‘teach the betrayers a lesson’ campaign.
This time, the JD(S) has encountered serious rebellion as the party’s three-time MLA C S Puttegowda has become a Congress candidate from Shravanabelagola, after being denied the ticket to accommodate C N Balakrishna, who is Deve Gowda’s son-in-law Dr C N Manjunath’s brother. Former MLA H M Vishwanath and former MP Javare Gowda have also left the party and joined KJP and Congress, respectively, because of differences with the party leadership.
But H D Revanna, Deve Gowda’s eldest son who has taken over from his father the ground-level political management of the district, expresses confidence that the rebels will have no impact and “the JD(S) will win all the seven seats in the district.”
Holenarasipura, the constituency from which Deve Gowda began his politics winning for the first time as an Independent in 1952, has returned Gowda six times and Revanna three times in the last 13 elections, establishing their firm hold over the taluk.
But Revanna is leaving nothing to chance, with his wife Bhavani and two children also joining the campaign, as this election is supposed to be a ‘tough’ one for him. The family rival G Puttaswamy Gowda’s daughter-in-law S G Anupama, who lost to Revanna in 2008, is again the Congress candidate.
When this correspondent caught up with Revanna doing door-to-door campaigning in the interiors of Holenarasipura, it was evident he has a style of his own. Soft-spoken Revanna, who neither has his father’s swagger nor his more famous brother H D Kumaraswamy’s flamboyance, however, has the uncanny ability to identify and call almost everyone in the village by their first name.
When the villagers come up with demands, he is quick to remind them about the plethora of development works he has initiated throughout the district like the roads and bridges he has built, schools, colleges, hospitals, skill training institutes, houses and electrical sub-stations he has helped establish. “Howdanna, howdanna” (yes, yes), his voters nod in agreement, but put forward the demand for the renovation of a temple, for instance. Putting his arm over one of the supporters, Revanna would say, “wait till the elections are over, it will be done.”
Revanna’s detractors, in fact, complain there are many ‘unnecessary works’ taken up in the constituency for the benefit of his ‘contractor friends.’ They particularly cite the Rs 36 crore spent on a flood prevention wall for Hemavathi river, though nobody can recall the river ever over-flowing.
The number of Lingayats in the district is second only to that of Vokkaligas and having founded KJP, Yeddyurappa is banking on Hassan to win at least three seats. Arasikere, for instance, has never returned a sitting MLA in the last few elections, and here, JD(S)’ K M Shivalingegowda is pitted against B Shivaram of the Congress. In the battle between the two, KJP hopes to wrest the seat, putting up Dr Lokesh, who is the son of a former legislator and a Lingayat.
Sitting Congress MLA A Manju is facing a tough fight in Arakalgud from A T Ramaswamy of the JD(S), who made a name for himself by heading a legislature committee which exposed land grabs worth thousands of crores in and around Bangalore. Siddaramaiah’s follower and retired IAS officer S Puttaswamy, having been denied the Congress ticket, is contesting as the KJP candidate, but during his election rally in the district, Siddaramaiah told his followers that they should back Manju and not the rebel.
The Hassan district, as a whole, will be the barometer of the fortunes of the Gowda family. It will indicate whether the Gowdas will turn out to be ‘kings’ as Deve Gowda has openly declared or become ‘king-makers’ as he would secretly hope for or turn out to be just an also-ran like in the 2008 election.