THE election of Janata Dal(Secular) candidate and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda from the Kanakapura Lok Sabha constituency in Karnataka is a significant development that is likely to lead to a political realignment in the State. He defeated the Congress(I)'s D.K. Shivakumar, the State's Cooperation Minister and a close aide of Chief Minister S.M. Krishna, by a margin of over 50,000 votes. Deve Gowda polled 5,81,669 votes, Shivakumar 5,28,133 and K.S. Easwarappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party 2,28,134.
The election was politically decisive for the major candidates and the parties they represented. For Deve Gowda, the victory has salvaged his political career. His swift rise in State and Central politics in 1995-96 was followed by an equally dramatic exit from the position of Prime Minister and a humiliating electoral defeat in Hassan, his home constituency, in the previous Lok Sabha elections. Deve Gowda rebuilt his own political base virtually from scratch, achieving in the process what appeared to be the near-impossible task of reuniting the Janata Dal (United), led by his former rival Ramakrishna Hegde, and the Janata Dal (S), prior to the elections. His victory was essential to give the reunited Third Front formation the credibility it would need in order to become a political force in the State once again.
Deve Gowda was one of the architects of Third Front politics at the Centre, and his presence in the Lok Sabha will provide an impetus to consolidation of that grouping. It is not for the first time that Deve Gowda has identified and used issues that are of foremost concern to the people to power his return to politics. In fact, he conducted a 'padayatra' to Bangalore from Vittenahalli village near Channapatna in the constituency between October and November 2001 in order to highlight the injustice meted out to farmers, when two farmers from the village were killed in police firing during an agitation over the right to tap neera from coconut trees.
During the electioneering, Deve Gowda raised issues that found an immediate response with the voters of the constituency that comprises both the rural and urbanised Assembly segments in and around Bangalore city. In his campaign, which covered almost every village of the constituency, Deve Gowda spoke of agrarian distress and suicides by farmers owing to the faulty economic policies and priorities; the virtual de-industrialisation of vibrant industrial pockets of the constituency owing to unfair competition and liberalisation; the absolute growth of poverty; and the spectre of large-scale unemployment that confronted the youth.
The victory of Deve Gowda, which will set the stage for the return of a vastly strengthened Janata Dal, is a major setback for the State Congress(I). The seat fell vacant following the death of a Congress(I) member, M.V. Rajashekhara Murthy. The Congress(I) did not follow the normal practice of putting up a relative of the MP in his place, although Murthy's widow would have been more than willing to contest. A powerful candidate was required to take on Deve Gowda, and Shivakumar, a relatively young Congress(I) leader, was chosen. A Congress(I) victory in Kanakapura not only would have dealt Deve Gowda and the Janata Dal a blow but would have been hailed as a mid-term mandate for the Krishna government. Shivakumar conducted an aggressive campaign, often treading the borderline of electoral misconduct. The Election Commission pulled up Shivakumar for a letter he wrote to government employees, highlighting the achievements of the State government, and asking them to vote for him. On election day, a Janata Dal(S) party worker was killed in Sathanur, the Assembly constituency represented by Shivakumar, allegedly by Congress(I) supporters. The defeat of Shivakumar, who is believed to be none-too-popular with the old guard in the party, may well open up rifts within the party.
The prospects of a win for Easwarappa, which were never too bright, only weakened considerably when the BJP's former ally, the Janata Dal(U), joined the Janata Dal(S). Despite a high-intensity campaign, the percentage of voting was rather low at 53. It was more or less uniform across all the eight Assembly segments - Kanakapura, Channapatna, Malavalli, Ramanagaram, Anekal, Magadi, Sathanur and Uttarahalli - which together account for 24.98 lakh voters.