Twists and turns of the Modi-Deve Gowda relationship

Narendra Modi’s statement in Udupi on May 1 that Deve Gowda was a senior politician and needed to be shown respect is a new chapter in a series of exchanges between the two prime ministers

Narendra Modi and HD Deve Gowda have blown hot and cold towards each other over the years. Therefore, when the prime minister spoke about Deve Gowda’s seniority and experience in Karnataka’s Udupi on May 1 2018 – setting off speculation of a post-poll alliance between their parties – he was simply giving their relationship of verbal jousts and camaraderie another turn of the wheel.

Modi seemed to have taken the lead in this instance. Taking a swipe at Congress President Rahul Gandhi, he told crowds that the latter, a political novice, had “insulted” one of India’s most senior and well respected leaders. “Whenever Deve Gowdaji came to Delhi... I met him...When he comes to my house, I...open the door of his car and welcome him. And when he returns, I go up to his car and leave him. He is opposed to us politically…. But I heard how Congress President Rahul Gandhi was referring to him at election rallies 15-20 days ago. Are these your values?” he demanded to know.

Deve Gowda did not respond to the compliments paid by the PM. However, his son, HD Kumaraswamy, took it on himself to rubbish Congress CM Siddaramaiah, who took Prime Minister Modi’s statement as further proof of what Gandhi and he had spoken of in their campaign. “Is this new love a sign of the not-so-secret understanding between BJP & JDS?” he tweeted.

Siddaramaiah was also pointing to the 2014 general election campaign when a somewhat less charitable Modi had engaged in a war of words with Deve Gowda over the suitability of his own candidature for the PM’s post. It was Deve Gowda who had led verbal exchanges in that poll season.

Speaking to the press in Shimoga, he declared that he would leave Karnataka if Narendra Modi became PM. In response, Modi retorted that Deve Gowda was always welcome to live in his home state of Gujarat. “You are a senior person, a former prime minister. I am akin to your son...I will make all arrangements for you in Gujarat. Whether you want to stay in an old-age home, a house, a farmhouse or at my own place (I’ll make the arrangements accordingly),” he said at a poll speech in Chikkaballapur.

The JD(S) chief had answered sharply. “There is no security for ordinary citizens in Gujarat. I would not like to live there. I have my sons to look after me. Let Modi look after the interests of minorities in his state first,” he said in Hasan.

However, the relationship weathered the bitterness of 2014. Speaking to Network 18 in 2016, Modi commented on how the “coteries” and “brokers” of Delhi had rejected prime ministers and political leaders who came from humble backgrounds or those connected to the people and the “ground”. In that context he mentioned Deve Gowda along with others such as Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai, BR Ambedkar and Charan Singh. “Deve Gowdaji, a farmer’s son became the PM, but he was presented as a leader who was always sleeping,” he said.

Deve Gowda responded to the PM’s words by wholeheartedly agreeing with him and thanking him for "exposing the despicable culture" of the elites who controlled Delhi.

That was last of what was heard between the two prime ministers in that particular round. In the current round, Deve Gowda has said he would “disown” his son Kumaraswamy if he allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party post the election. But that was before the PM’s statement of May 1. Perhaps the last word is yet to be uttered.

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