Life in HD: Deve Gowda Celebrates 25th Year of Taking Oath as PM, Says Can’t Retire

Gowda maintains that he did everything he could to solve India’s problems during the 11 volatile months of his tenure.


New Delhi,June,1,2021:June 1, 1996, is an important date in the history of modern Karnataka. Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda or HD Deve Gowda took oath as the Prime Minister of India on that day.

His overnight elevation to the highest executive post in the country was totally unexpected. That’s because he had no experience in Delhi politics. When the leaders of the so-called Third Front elected him to the most powerful and coveted post in India, Gowda had barely spent 18 months as the chief minister of Karnataka.

The reaction to this earth-shaking news was mixed. Some mocked the selection of PM. Some hailed it as a triumph of democracy. Some hoped he would do something by breaking the highly powerful cartels in New Delhi. And his detractors were jealous and heartbroken.

Few expected his government to last even a year. And they were right.

In his home state of Karnataka, only one faction celebrated the “son of the soil’s” journey to New Delhi. The rest kept quiet, joking privately about his habits and demeanour.

Deve Gowda is a lucky person. He is the only former Prime Minister alive today to celebrate the silver jubilee of his oath-taking. And he is the only former Prime Minister who is still politically active, who refuses to quit. At 88, he is still sharp and breathes and eats politics.

Gowda’s tenure as the Prime Minister was short. Just 11 months. Some say it was totally uneventful and there is nothing much to write about.

But, Gowda disagrees. He always maintains that he did everything he could do to solve India’s problems during those 11 volatile months.

He never gets tired of telling his close circles how he tried to normalise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir after six years of non-stop bloodbath by declaring assembly elections.

“When I took charge, my first priority was Kashmir. Despite intelligence chief Shyamal Dutta’s warning, I visited Kashmir. Held a meeting with all stakeholders to understand the ground situation. I quickly cleared a power project and waived off the loans owed to banks by local tour operators. This generated goodwill for us,” Gowda told this journalist.

He also takes great pride in the fact that he personally persuaded Dr Farooq Abdullah to return to India and participate in the elections in 1996.

“The resumption of the democratic process in Kashmir is my achievement,” he said beamingly.

The signing of the Farakka water treaty with Bangladesh is another milestone he claims.

Gowda laments that he and his predecessor PV Narasimha Rao got no credit for the Pokhran nuclear test conducted during the AB Vajpayee regime in March 1998.

“The groundwork was done by Rao and me during our tenure. But, we could not go ahead because of hostile international situations and domestic concerns,” Gowda said.

Interestingly, the Delhi Metro project was cleared during his premiership. “Many argued that Metro was not necessary and it is too expensive. PVN Rao had also faced the same opposition to this. I overruled them and gave a go-ahead. Today, Delhi Metro is considered one of the best and the largest in the world. Unfortunately, when it was inaugurated in 2002, I was very much in Delhi. But, the then BJP government did not invite me to the function,” he said.

Routine governance apart, his regime was full of intrigue, skulduggery and backstabbing. Immediately after he took charge as the PM, Gowda and then Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav together dismissed stalwart Ramakrishna Hegde from the party he co-founded. That decision proved costly for the Gowda family in later years in Karnataka. Hegde’s dismissal is still haunting them.

Gowda’s close confidante and union minister CM Ibrahim spoiled the chances by unnecessarily taking on the then Congress president Sitaram Kesari. A wounded Kesari swore revenge and toppled the Gowda empire in New Delhi in less than 11 months.

“When the Congress moved a no-confidence motion against my government, Vajpayee had offered his support to me. But, I politely declined it,” Gowda said.

His attire, mannerisms, and eating habits became a joke in the highly snobbish and elite Lutyens’ Delhi. But, Gowda withstood the temptations and trappings of the highest office he had briefly held.

“I went to New Delhi as a humble farmer. And I returned the same. Maybe I was a misfit there. I was not treated well by them. It is not for a simple villager like me,” he said.

Both his enemies and friends gossip that Gowda is still hoping that he will get a second shot at the Prime Minister’s post. At 88, Gowda is philosophical. He dismisses such news as rubbish. He maintains that he has no such illusions and the country needs a younger, dynamic leader at this juncture.

“But, I won’t retire from politics. I want to serve the people till I die,” says the veteran of 16 elections.

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