The alliance partners in Karnataka have thrown down the gauntlet and taken the battle to the BJP by fielding top young Congress leader, Krishna Byre Gowda, to fight the Bengaluru North Lok Sabha seat against Union minister and former Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda. With this, a seriousness that appeared lacking till now in the fight for Karnataka’s 28 seats, has suddenly emerged.
Krishna – or KBG as everyone, including his wife Meenakshi, refers to him – is known for his political astuteness, pragmatism, and planning. His candidature, though left to the absolute last minute and with unnecessary fuss, indicates that the Congress will now work its hardest to fight the three seats in Bengaluru that have been held by the BJP for the last decade.
His candidature signifies that the Congress acknowledges the importance of the Vokkaligas by giving the ticket to a young leader of their community, which has felt bruised by the Siddaramaiah regime from 2013-2018. It renders the alliance more palatable to the JD(S), the party of Vokkaligas. It helps Congress candidate BK Hariprasad in Bengaluru South consolidate the considerable Vokkaliga votes, while KBG’s mentee, the Bengaluru Central candidate Rizwan Arshad, benefits from his suave, urban Bengaluru image.
KBG earned his reputation as a cool political fighter and clear-sighted planner the hard way. Ten years ago, he stood for elections in the southern part of Bengaluru city, nominated as the Congress Candidate at the very last minute. He stood against the formidable four-term BJP MP, Ananth Kumar, a man who had friends everywhere including his opponents’ parties.
In that election, the young, largely unknown KBG, with all of six years in political life and armed only with the knowledge of working with the Youth Congress as their Karnataka president for two years, gave Ananth Kumar one of the toughest fights of his political career. It was said in political circles, across party lines, that if KBG had been given some preparation time and if he had not been betrayed by some of his own partymen – who feared his sterling rise as Rahul Gandhi’s blue-eyed boy – he would have trounced Ananth Kumar in that election.
The importance of being KBG was underlined just last week. None other than former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, the towering patriarch of the Vokkaliga community, visited the 45-year-old key minister of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka, at his official home.
Deve Gowda is known to pay dramatic political visits at crucial times, but they are rare. And this was, perhaps, the first time that he visited a politician so much younger than himself, the son of one of his own cabinet ministers, the late C Byre Gowda, with whom his parting was acrimonious.
The basis for Deve Gowda’s gesture was politically astounding. He went to invite KBG to contest the Bengaluru North seat, which had been given to the JD(S), in a convoluted arrangement similar to what has happened in Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency. Congress leader Pramod Madhwaraj is contesting that seat on a JD(S) ticket despite not resigning from the primary membership of his own party. And no one seems to find that extraordinary, given that an alliance between the Congress and JD(S) is itself, to borrow a BJP phrase, ‘unnatural.’
KBG reportedly politely declined the offer and instead told the senior Gowda that he and his party would extend wholehearted support to the JD(S). Though he did not state in so many words that he would not contest on a JD(S) ticket like Madhwaraj, sources say he “managed it with his usual finesse.”
Deve Gowda had no option but to face the writing on the wall. He didn’t have a candidate to take on Union Minister DV Sadananda Gowda of the BJP, so he gave up the seat to his alliance partner. The Congress party, on its part, came to the exact same conclusion he did: that the alliance’s best candidate for Bengaluru North was KBG.
Bengaluru North is a constituency that KBG knows far better than Bengaluru South. The constituency he represents in the Karnataka Assembly, Byatarayanapura, falls under Bengaluru North. He had to dive in, cultivate, and win this city constituency, newly formed in 2008, shifting from his old segment of Vemgal in Kolar district, which was disbanded during the reconstitution of Assembly constituencies.
The problem for KBG is that again, he has been thrust into the fight for the Lok Sabha seat at the very last minute. His advantage, this time, is that he has more political knowledge, the support of both Congress and JD(S) workers and like Ananth Kumar, friends across parties.
Views expressed are the author's own.
Sowmya Aji is a political journalist who has covered Karnataka for 26 years.