Bengaluru: For a man who analysts say has always been at the right place at the right time, the Cauvery water sharing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu could well come as a godsend.
Former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda is trying to reinvent himself ahead of the 2018 assembly elections in Karnataka by rallying support on the Cauvery plank, say political analysts.
Gowda, who has always positioned himself as a farmers’ leader, has been at the forefront of voicing the concerns of farmers during the present crisis. Gowda met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week and is talking about a second meeting soon, even though Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah is yet to meet Modi on the issue.
Last week also saw Gowda conducting an aerial inspection of the reservoirs, farmfields and waterways in the vicinity of the Cauvery basin. He told reporters later that he will present his observations on the ground realities before Modi and Siddaramaiah.
Gowda getting into the act is hardly a surprise since his Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), is seen as a party of landholders who come from the dominant Vokkaliga caste, in the districts across the Cauvery basin. The Cauvery basin districts are important, not in terms of numbers, but for two other reasons—one, they represent the powerful lobby of sugarcane farmers and, two, they are a strong Vokkaliga stronghold—a crucial votebank for the ruling Congress, and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the JD(S).
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Simply put, the desperation of the three parties to enlist the support of the Vokkaligas puts Gowda in a position to be kingmaker, if not the king himself, after the 2018 election, say analysts.
Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, 83, became Karnataka chief minister in 1994 —a term marked by Cauvery and irrigation politics. And some analysts say his handling of water issues also led to Gowda eventually becoming India’s 11th prime minister in 1996.
As CM, Gowda dutifully obeyed a tribunal order to release Cauvery waters to J. Jayalalithaa’s-led Tamil Nadu, following mediation by then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. He denied rumours he did so with an eye on upcoming Lok Sabha elections. However, his party unexpectedly won 15 seats in that election and, within weeks, Gowda had moved to Delhi to occupy the country’s most powerful office—as it happened, with the support of a coalition of divergent parties, including Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK.
“He clearly wants to reassert his career. This is perhaps his last attempt to be relevant both at the national and the state stage," says Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro-vice chancellor of Jain university.