The grinning Gowda

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: May 15 2012, 07:27am hrs
Sometime last year, the man with the million-watt grin DV Sadananda Gowda became the chief minister of Karnataka, after his predecessor BS Yeddyurappa had to quit over legal troubles. At that time, the central leaders of the party, Yeddyurappa himself and his all-important astrologer Ravi Narayan signed off on Gowda as the most acceptable candidate to be chief minister of the state.

Narayan reportedly went so far as to say that Gowdas horoscope was far stronger than former Union minister Ananth Kumars. The introverted Gowda, who was till then state BJP president, became the chief minister. His record while state chief of getting along with Yeddyurappa was seen as a good sign of things to come, where the first BJP government south of the Vindhyas hadnt quite been able to get off the ground.

Gowdas style, understated and quiet, was very different from the fire and brimstone Yeddyurappa. Where Yeddyurappa wept on television after being forced to remove his favourite minister Shobha Karandlaje from his ministry, Gowda almost quietly withdrew from public life when his son Karthik was involved in an accident and had serious head injuries. For nearly four months Gowda shut the world away in order to be with his son and returned to politics, grin intact without anyone being the wiser.

While Yeddyurappas dependence on his astrologer is very publicnude Yoga on moonlit nights being just one of the things hed been asked to do during his very prickly tenure as the chief minister of the stateGowda quietly sacrificed roosters to daiva shaktis or divine pagan spirits, which are important deities in the Tuluva belt, with no media coverage of the event. It was later discovered that Gowda had a dangerous condition connected to his pancreas, and rooster sacrifices and ritual bhoota kola (traditional Tuluva animistic worship) had helped ameliorate his condition.

Again, while both Yeddyurappa and Gowda had a quiet climb in the hierarchy of state politics, they dealt with detractors differently. Yeddyurappa brashly cut out local leaders, trusted a few of his aides and had a clique made up of friends and family, Gowda worked slowly. When he entered the chief ministers office in August 2011, it was peopled with Yeddyurappas men. Quietly, slowly, with the grin intact, Gowda removed Yeddyurappas officer on special duty, a distant relative called Mallikarjuna. Then he removed two key lieutenants of the former chief ministerPuttaswamy Gowda, who was Yeddyurappas political advisor, and RP Jagadish, his media advisor.

All this was done so quietly and carefully that it barely created a flutter in Delhi or even in Bangalore.

Yeddyurappa, however, got the point. The man he had installed as chief minister, a man who had served him loyally as state BJP president, was coming into his own. As Yeddyurappa upped the ante for his return to the chief ministers office, he claimed the support of at least 45 MLAs. Almost at once, Gowda has claimed the support of at least 25 of his own MLAs, led by ministers Anand Asnotikar and Balachandra Jarkiholi. And as it happens very often in Karnataka politics, both camps are occupying scenic beach resorts to drive home their point.

If Sadananda Gowda has a weak spot it is his caste. A Vokkaliga, he is a member of one of the two dominant castes in KarnatakaVokkaligas and Lingayats. Unfortunately, in a party that depends on the support of Lingayats to a large extent, this could be a liability. As the Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, tries to woo the Lingayat community (which had moved away from the Congress in the past), the BJP could get jittery about losing their support base.

While Gowda has countered Yeddyurappas gambit by his show of strength, the confusing picture perhaps needs Ravi Narayans forecasting skills to bring in some clarity. Or maybe the quiet Gowda has co-opted him as well

nistula.hebbar@expressindia.com