BANGALORE: For a person who grazed cattle as a boy in a village near Mysore, he hasn’t done badly at all. Siddaramaiah, Karnataka’s chief minister designate who goes by this single name with no initial before or after – a rarity in the region he comes from – perhaps knows this as well.
Even after missing two previous shots at becoming CM, Siddaramaiah never lost hope. His masterly understatement when he first became a contender for the post was: “A person who was grazing cattle in a village rose to the position I am in today. It’s a plus point.”
His trademark attire is white kurta and panche, a sort of lungi, and an angavastra, which he keeps shifting from one shoulder to another. His hair streaked grey, 64-year-old Siddaramaiah has no qualms about being tagged a rustic. But this rustic politician also has a law degree.
Siddaramaiah belongs to the Kuruba (shepherd) community, which is 6% of the state’s population. But he gets miffed if he’s called a leader of the Kurubas, and prefers to be known as “champion of the backward classes” – a description that suits better his political aspirations.
A self-confessed agnostic, Siddaramaiah is not one to visit temples or pray of his own volition. There are many who ask him for his date of birth to draw up his horoscope. Siddaramaiah’s answer to them is that his father did not remember when he was born. In school, a teacher entered a date for the record, which later became official: August 12, 1948.
Siddaramaiah was born in Siddaramanahundi village, 23km from Mysore. According to his village tradition, families who tilled land for the Siddarameshwara or Shiva temple dedicated one of their sons as the temple’s ‘Veera Makkalu’ or brave children. His father chose him, and for two years, he learnt the folk art specific to the region, without attending school. He had no regular schooling and went directly to the fifth grade.
He would practice writing the alphabets taught to him at folk art classes on the sands of his village pond. Despite his late entry into school, he topped the state board examination. After getting his law degree, he taught for a while in Vidyavardhaka Law College in Mysore. His debut in Karnataka’s electoral politics was from Chamundeshwari constituency in Mysore on a Lok Dal ticket, in 1983, which makes this his 30th year in electoral politics.
During this month’s elections, Siddaramaiah had publicly declared that this would be his last attempt at electoral politics – having missed the CM’s post in 1996 and 2004. In 2004, when former prime minister HD Deve Gowda agreed to give the Congress the CM’s post in the coalition government, Siddaramaiah, then in JD(S) and tipped for CM, had to be coaxed out of his room in New Delhi. Dharam Singh went on to become the CM.
A private person, Siddaramaiah is among few politicians in Karnataka whose wife is not seen in public. Among his two sons, one dabbled in the Kannada film industry before assisting his father in politics. The other is studying to be a doctor.