Battleground Chamundeshwari: Can Siddaramaiah defeat his former friend, now foe?

JD(S) candidate GT Deve Gowda speaks to TNM about his friendship with Siddharamiah, the fallout and the rivalry.
Battleground Chamundeshwari: Can Siddaramaiah defeat his former friend, now foe?
Battleground Chamundeshwari: Can Siddaramaiah defeat his former friend, now foe?
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“I am not scared of taking on Siddaramaiah. He is scared of contesting against me,” says GT Devegowda, the JD(S) MLA from Chamundeshwari constituency.

A veteran politician, GT Devegowda and Siddaramaiah were once close friends but are now sworn enemies. The “other Devegowda” as he is popularly known, GT Devegowda, a native of Gungaralu Chatra village, has been a JD(S) strongman in Mysuru district for decades.

Once a close associate of Siddaramaiah, Devegowda is a former minister and a three-time MLA from Hunsur and Chamundeshwari. He started his political career as Secretary of the Agriculture Primary Co-operative Society in the 1970s.

“Back then, anyone who held positions in the co-operative was considered powerful in Mysuru. Although I did not realise it back then, it was a stepping stone for my career," GT Deve Gowda tells TNM as he takes a break in the midst of his hectic campaign.

He is in the limelight now as he will be taking on his mentor and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

Hailing from the farming community, GT Devegowda was first seen in the political sphere when he supported the then Congress candidate Kempere Gowda in the 1978 polls.

Back then, the battle was between the Congress and the Congress (I). Kempere Gowda had lost the polls to the Indira Congress candidate Jayadevaraj Urs.

“GT Devegowda had campaigned for him a lot and he managed to get Kempere Gowda around 8,000 votes,” a JD(S) veteran says.

Soon, GT Devegowda quit the Congress and joined the Janata Party. It was during the 1983 assembly elections that he met Siddaramaiah.  Their friendship lasted for over two decades.

“In the 1990s, I wanted to contest the zilla panchayat elections. I won the election and became the ZP President. It was this victory and support that Siddaramaiah could not stand. He felt threatened and he began plotting against me since then. But I did not realise it until much later,” alleges GT Devegowda.

GT Devegowda then contested assembly elections and won from Hunsur in 2004. He, however, lost the parliamentary elections to Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar by a narrow margin in the same year.

“From 1983 onwards, Siddaramaiah always tried to bring me down. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Siddaramaiah worked against me to make Wadiyar win the elections. That was when our friendship turned sour,” GT Devegowda says.

GT Devegowda, in fact, says he is very bitter. “I helped him whenever he wanted my help. He stopped taking my advice and also took away my position as the Chairman of the Karnataka Co-operative Federation,” he adds.

After falling out with Siddaramaiah, Devegowda joined the BJP in 2007. However, he shifted to the JD(S) in 2013 and won the Chamundeshwari seat.

“It was never my intention to enter politics. I never thought I would be contesting against Siddaramaiah. He has lost the support of the people in Chamundeshwari. Do you think the people will support someone who abandoned them 12 years ago?” he asks.

The Congress, however, terms these allegations pure lies.

“There are 76,000 Vokkaligas in Chamundeshwari. Here in Chamundeshwari, the Vokkaliga community has never accepted GT Devegowda as their leader, and many have a very good opinion of the CM. There is also anger against GT Devegowda who has been accused of cheating (people of) land in the setting up of KEDB (Karnataka Eco Tourism Development Board). Many Vokkaliga leaders here are Siddaramaiah’s close friends. That’s why no matter which hero contests from here, they cannot defeat Siddaramaiah. It is because of this support that they have started spreading false news,” says Vijay Kumar, Mysuru Rural District President of the Congress.

The numbers

The JD(S)’ calculation is that even if Siddaramaiah gets the Kuruba, OBC and Muslim votes, he will not have the support of the dominant Vokkaligas and Lingayats.

Though many residents told TNM that they are wary of the Chief Minister, there are segments in the constituency where Siddaramaiah still holds support.

“After Siddaramaiah became the MLA from Varuna, the Kurubas, Dalits and OBC population in Chamundeshwari have been treated badly. GT Devegowda does not listen to us. If he wins, maybe the CM will help us,” says Govindu, a resident of Mallegowdana Koppalu.

However, there is also strong support for JD(S) President HD Kumaraswamy. In villages like Belawadi, Halekesare, Yelwal and Chikkanahalli where the Vokkaligas form the majority, residents speak fondly of Kumaraswamy and his candidate GT Devegowda.

“GT Devegowda has come to every house. When women are in labour, his people are there to help. When there is need for money, he is ready to loan it to us. He was very helpful during the drought,” says Jayesh, a resident of Halekesare.

JD(S) insiders say that the neck-to-neck fight in Chamundeshwari will eventually depend on which way the Lingayats and Vokkaligas swing.

“There are some voters who may swing either ways. They mostly belong to the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities. These voters will determine who will win,” a veteran JD(S) leader says.

According to GT Devegowda, the people of his constituency are happy with his style of working.

“There is a demand for Kumaraswamy to become the state’s Chief Minister. Siddaramaiah’s arrogance is not going to get him votes. People prefer a leader who is an ordinary person like me, someone who is accessible and transparent,” he says, as he wraps up the interview.

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