In Holenarsipura, Deve Gowda family’s dominance ensures no one questions Prajwal

Many people in Prajwal Revanna’s hometown Holenarsipura are shocked by the allegations against him, but are hesitant to say it. The reason, political observers say, is half a century of the caste dominance of the Deve Gowda family, who are Vokkaligas.
In Holenarsipura, Deve Gowda family’s dominance ensures no one questions Prajwal

Most people in Holenarsipura have heard of the “pen drive videos” involving Prajwal Revanna, the grandson of Janata Dal (S) supremo and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, and the son of Holenarsipura MLA HD Revanna. Although Prajwal became a Member of Parliament riding on Deve Gowda’s popularity, the nostalgia of that legacy isn’t strong enough to shield him from public ire and shock over the alleged sexual abuse. 

People hesitate to talk about the abuse freely. When they do, they say that in Holenarsipura, Prajwal’s hometown, one has to be careful while talking about HD Revanna’s family.

One of the first people that TNM spoke to in Holenarsipura, a town of 30,000 people, was a Bachelors student, who goes to the college where Revanna and his wife Bhavani sit on the College Development Committee. We were told that they often address students at college events. 

The student agreed to a video interview and we assured her that her face and college ID tag would be blurred. “[Bhavani] often says that she has only two sons and that we are all her daughters. If something like that had happened to one of her daughters, what would she have done? They [Revanna and Bhavani] should condemn his actions and not stand by him,” she said.

A few hours later, the student found us on Instagram and requested us not to use her interview, as her family was angry with her. “They won’t let me come back home. Please don’t use the video,” she said.

Later, a shopkeeper near the government bus stand at Holenarsipura told us that he knew of the videos. Asked what he thought of an MP’s alleged involvement in the incident, he said, “What is there to say? We watch the news, we go about our work.” 

A woman who runs a bakery in a busy part of the town told us what she thought about the incident. “What has happened is bad. But nobody talks about their family publicly. Especially women,” she said in a lowered voice, despite the fact that the noise from the traffic would have made her inaudible to anyone but us. 

Manjayya Shetty, a retired bank employee, told TNM, “Deve Gowda’s family is good. But Prajwal Revanna doing something like this has brought sadness to Holenarsipura.” 

Who is Prajwal Revanna? 

A third generation politician, Prajwal Revanna’s entry into politics is hardly surprising. Seven members of his family, including his grandfather, parents, brother, aunt, uncle, and two cousins have contested elections to local bodies, the state Assembly and Parliament since Deve Gowda contested his first Assembly election in 1962. There is discontent that the party now exists only to promote the Deve Gowda family. 

Prajwal obtained a Masters degree in Engineering from Australia before venturing into politics in 2014, just before the Lok Sabha elections. Only 24 years old at the time, he quickly became a prominent figure alongside Deve Gowda in the old Mysuru region, which is a JD(S) stronghold. He was well-liked by the people and mingled with them easily, and is also credited with playing a role in building the youth wing of the party. 

Prajwal’s entry into politics sparked a feud between his father Revanna and uncle Kumaraswamy, which still continues. It flared up when Prajwal was denied a ticket for the Hunsur seat in the 2018 elections. He accused his own party of practising “suitcase politics”. He said, “Party loyalists were forced to sit at the back but those with suitcases get a front seat.” 

Pressure mounted on Deve Gowda to accommodate Prajwal after Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy got the Lok Sabha ticket from Mandya in 2019. Ultimately, Deve Gowda gave up the Hassan seat for Prajwal during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. With tears in his eyes, the former prime minister had appealed to the people of Hassan to elect his grandson. Prajwal went on to win 53% of the votes, beating Deve Gowda’s record in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Hassan was the only seat JD(S) won in Karnataka in 2019. 

However, the popularity faded post elections because as an MP, Prajwal has been perceived as inaccessible. A resident of Holenarsipura told TNM, “Till today, Revanna handles everything. We have never seen Prajwal call a press conference or reach out to people.” 

The CPI(M)’s Hassan district secretary Dharmesh alleged that Prajwal has done little for the constituency in the past five years. According to him, Prajwal won the election solely because of his family’s political clout and his grandfather’s legacy. “Despite winning like that, he could have won people’s trust and worked for the betterment of people but he did nothing,” he said. 

Dharmesh alleges that it is still Revanna who runs the show, while Prajwal is relegated to holding the occasional meeting. “Revanna manages everything, holds meetings, and is the one who makes decisions. There was discontent already. The filing of the fake affidavit and sexual abuse cases has added to it and has caused embarrassment for the people.”

Prajwal was briefly disqualified as the MP after his election was challenged by A Manju, a JD(S) MLA who contested against Prajwal in 2019 on a BJP ticket. Prajwal was accused of filing a false affidavit. The Supreme Court later stayed the disqualification. 

Deve Gowda’s legacy, Revanna’s republic

Even though Deve Gowda was prime minister for less than a year between June 1996 and April 1997, there is still widespread respect for him for having put Holenarsipura, a small town on the edges of the Western Ghats, on the national map. Many still describe him that way: “He is a man from a small town”, “Someone from our town became prime minister”, “He built a regional party”, “He is a senior politician”. But, often in the same breath, they say that he unduly favours Vokkaligas, the caste he belongs to. 

Little has been written about the caste dominance that fuelled Deve Gowda’s rise from an engineering contractor to the politician who went all out to keep his son Kumaraswamy in power. 

Deve Gowda held the Holenarsipura Assembly seat for about 27 years and his son Revanna for 24 years, totalling over a half a century. Revanna started his political career by contesting and winning the zilla panchayat elections, and then moved on to state politics. 

“How did they hold on to power for so many years? It is because of caste,” said Dharmesh. 

He described Revanna’s hold over the district as a “fiefdom” in which he has a stranglehold over all aspects of life, ranging from milk cooperatives and educational institutions, to having a say in which IAS and IPS officers are appointed in the district. 

The influence Revanna wields is reflected in the latest allegation levelled against him – of kidnapping a woman allegedly sexually abused by his son. A 20-year-old man filed a complaint against Revanna and his associate for allegedly abducting his mother at the MLA’s behest on April 29. 

Speaking to TNM, senior leader of the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti (B Krishnappa faction) Govindraju called Revanna’s family “casteist”. He said, “If by chance Dalits wish to meet the MLA and go to his house in the morning, he gets annoyed. He will look at them as if to say, ‘Why do I have to see you in the morning?’ and sends his people to send them away.” According to him, Revanna and his family are “more Brahminical than Brahmins”. 

Asked if the same could be said of Deve Gowda, Govindraju disagreed, “I wouldn’t say the same about Deve Gowda. It was not to that extent. He always treated people well.”

However, it cannot be denied that Deve Gowda too has used his influence to maintain Vokkaliga dominance. Both he and Revanna led a targeted attack against Vijay Kumar, a Dalit journalist from Holenarsipura for reporting on caste discrimination in Hassan district. Dalits of Vijay Kumar’s village Sigaranahalli, barely two kilometres from Deve Gowda’s birth village Haradanahalli, were socially boycotted for five months and four Dalit women were fined for entering a local temple. Even though other journalists too reported the story, it was only Vijay Kumar who was singled out by Deve Gowda himself, who called him a liar.

Read: In former PM’s backyard, story of a Dalit journalist and social boycott of an SC family 

“The whole family has a feudal attitude,” Dharmesh said, recalling the violence in Sigaranahalli in 2015-16. He said that people who go to Revanna’s house are made to stand while speaking to him. “There are never chairs for people to sit and talk,” he alleged.

He said that along with caste dominance, the family gave equal importance to amassing power. “Their family is a power centre. They never allowed any social movement to take root here, as they wanted everything to be in their control. They did not allow any other leadership to grow, even within the JD(S).”

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute