Bengaluru: A decade after they parted ways over political differences, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and former prime minister H. D. Deve Gowda, are facing off again. It’s also a fight between the protege and his mentor, and this time, on an almost equal footing.

The fight, unlike previous Karnataka elections after 2006, will be the first time that Siddaramaiah, who has completed five years in office, will be an equal to Gowda, in terms of power and influence. Some people even feel Siddaramaiah has long surpassed Gowda’s influence.

But Gowda is not the one to give up easy as he championed the state’s efforts in the contentious Cauvery water dispute with Tamil Nadu.

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The two leaders, who couldn’t be more similar as they are both known as “24/7" politicians, have come face to face many times in the past, but Siddaramaiah was always the underdog as he did not enjoy the same level of influence, power or reputation as his mentor-turned-rival in electoral battles. Though the two clashed in 2013 Karnataka elections, Siddaramaiah was not leading the Congress then, even though he was considered a frontrunner for the top job.

The two leaders have campaigned extensively against each other, resorting to levelling allegations of corruption, tacit understanding with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and poor administration—both hoping to emerge as the bigger man in the race for Karnataka.

Janata Dal (Secular), or JDS, considers south Karnataka as its bastion due to a high concentration of the politically dominant Vokkaliga community, believed to be the second largest caste-grouping in the state.

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Gowda had lost his first battle against Siddaramaiah, when the latter scraped through with a slender margin of 257 in the 2006 Chamundeshwari constituency bypolls, after the latter parted ways with the JDS and its supremo, who had favoured his son, H. D. Kumaraswamy for the post of chief minister.

The JDS, considered a Vokkaliga party, has been trying to consolidate the community’s votes in south Karnataka to bag as many seats as possible and retain its reputation as “kingmakers" if the state delivers a fractured verdict.

“In the last five years, Siddaramaiah has had a greater influence than Deve Gowda did in the 1990s," Narendar Pani, a political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), said.

Pani states that Siddaramaiah wields influence over the entire state as opposed to Gowda, whose influence is limited to a region and community. Though, for now, it seems as though Siddaramaiah, the protege has the upper hand, Gowda, the mentor, will have the last laugh, if the predictions of a hung assembly holds true.

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