It was Kempe Gowda Day on Monday. Prominent Vokkaliga leaders occupied the dais including Deve Gowda, HD Kumaraswamy, Sadananda Gowda and Vokkaliga seer Nirmalananda Swami. As DK Shivakumar started to speak, he got stupendous response from the crowd. DK, as he is popularly known, though appreciated his political bête noire too, drove home the point that three Ks built Bengaluru – Kempe Gowda, Kengal Hanumanthaiah and SM Krishna. Deve Gowda and son Kumaraswamy were left red faced.
Those who know Vokkaliga politics in the state knew the import of DK’s address. There is a tug of war going on among the leaders of the community and DK made it clear that day.
In 2018, when the Karnataka electorate threw a fractured mandate, the political drama that played out in the state for over a fortnight had everyone cued in – midnight hearing in SC, resort politics, resignation of BS Yediyurappa and formation of JDS–Congress coalition government. Something impossible was achieved and on the steps of Vidhana Soudha the coronation HD Kumaraswamy took place, with a galaxy of Indian politics – from Mamata Banerjee to Mayavati, from Sonia Gandhi to MK Stalin, from Sharad Pawar to KCR, from Arvind Kejriwal to Kamal Hassan – in attendance. This picture was a direct message to the BJP that it has a formidable force to contend with, but what happened in 2019 Lok Sabha elections was an anti-climax.
It was nothing short of a miracle then as the BJP lost in the numbers game by a whisker, and it was achieved as two Vokkaliga leaders Kumaraswamy and DK, who were sworn enemies, joined hands. The biggest losers were Lingayat strongman BS Yediyurappa and Kuruba leader Siddaramaiah.
It has been four years since, and Karnataka has seen four chief ministers in the interregnum – Siddaramaiah, Kumaraswamy, Yediyurappa and now Basavaraj Bommai – and a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Today the very same leaders DK and HDK, as they are popularly known, are at each other’s throat. The reason is that both are vying with each other to get the mantle of undisputed Vokkaliga leader.
For decades the Gowdas – Deve Gowda and clan – have been the first political family of the Vokkaligas. SM Krishna, though a Vokkaliga from Mandya heartland and Deve Gowda’s contemporary, was edged out.
The battle for the Vokkaliga mantle has passed on to the second generation – between DK and HDK. While HDK is Deve Gowda’s son, DK, who is Kirshna’s protégé, became family through his daughter’s was marriage to Krishna’s grandson Amarthya (Cafe Coffee Day Siddharth’s son).
An apparent result of dynastic politics is that the JDS is losing support especially in the Cauvery basin, their bastion. The loss of then sitting Chief Minister’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy in 2019 Lok Sabha is a case in point. All seven assembly constituencies in Mandya were with JDS, yet the party failed to ensure his victory.
JDS has since then rapidly declined, while DK’s popularity has steadily grown.
DK’s jail time proved counterproductive for the BJP and the Congress Party finally made him the state president despite resistance from the Siddaramaiah faction.
The Gowdas have been critical of him, for they know DK’s organisational and resource mobilization skills. DK has in the past couple of years consolidated his position in Vokkaliga-dominated districts of Mysore, Mandya, Hassan, Ramanagara, Tumkur, Kolar, Bengaluru Urban and Rural, Chikkaballapur, Chikkamagalur and parts of Shimoga much to Gowdas’ discomfiture.
The open revolt in JDS in recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections can be seen in this backdrop. JDS MLAs like AT Ramaswamy and Shivlinge Gowda of Hassan, Srinivas of Tumkur, Shrinivasa Gowda of Kolar and GT Deve Gowda of Mysore have rallied behind DK.
There is a general sentiment among the Vokkaligas that DK should ascend the CM throne given the current political scenario. The BJP is going to the hustings sans Yediyurappa, the JDS is getting weaker because of exodus of their legislators. The big question is will this sentiment convert to vote? And will DK replace the Gowdas as their numero uno leader?