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H.D. Deve Gowda has been in public life for nearly seven decades. He started at the very bottom, as a member of the Holenarasipur Taluk Development Board and reached the very top as India’s eleventh prime minister, in 1996. In between, he was an independent legislator, spent long years as leader of Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, had been an effective irrigation and public works minister, and finally, chief minister in 1994 after many missed opportunities. Even twenty-five years after he stepped down as prime minister, he has remained relevant in Indian politics. Despite this long, arduous yet fascinating journey that began in a poor peasant household in the plains of Hassan, there has been no comprehensive assessment of his life and work. This biography endeavours to professionally fill the gap.
The book’s narrative is instructed by Gowda’s rich parliamentary record, archival material and interviews conducted with people associated with him at various stages of his life. The layered narrative is further nuanced by Gowda’s own voice, gargantuan memory, a close reading of the time when he made history and the currents of destiny that preceded it. Although Gowda has spent most of his years in Karnataka and has become a symbol of the federal idea, this book argues that the diverse national imagination and sincerity that he deployed as prime minister had magically lit up different corners of India.
When Gowda became prime minister, many people intuitively registered that our democracy had not been rigged or captured by elites and dynasts, and there was indeed space in our system to rise for a self-made person with no godfathers. It generated hope and continues to do so.