The sleeping giant of Tumkur and missing Gandhi of Bidar  | Pakistan Today

The sleeping giant of Tumkur and missing Gandhi of Bidar 

  • A trip through Karnataka

Only those who have been struck by lightning once believe that lightning can strike at the same place twice.

On 1 June 1996, in circumstances comprehensible only to astrologers, a patriarch from Karnataka, HD Deve Gowda became India’s 11th PM. He lasted only 10 months, being abandoned by his principal coalition partner, the Congress, in April 1997. Those few who remember that little interlude recall a rather laisssez-faire government; with no questions asked and none answered as those so inclined made hay in that brief sunshine.

Better known is the remarkable consistency with which the PM would fall asleep during public functions. When a newspaper published a photograph of him dozing, he commented: “A sleeping politician is always awake about national politics. I am not like politicians who sleep on national issues though they may be awake physically.”

The question that has risen to the top of Karnataka discourse is this: why did Rahul Gandhi reject Bidar as his saviour constituency and opt for Wayanad in neigbouring Kerala? If Bidar is not safe, which seat is?

Twenty two years later, he is convinced that he will become PM again. His  astrologer has told him so. If you ask him, he passes a broad hand across a broad forehead, indicating that if such glory is written in his destiny, it will happen.  This is why he, now 86, is a candidate, once again with Congress support, from the Lok Sabha constituency of Tumkur.


My friend Gopal Hosur and I leave Bangalore and reach Tumkur in about 90 minutes.  We enter through a flyover; the first urban sight is a technology institute, and then we turn into streets claimed by stores and citizens.  A mini mall under construction. Small boutiques, jewellery stores, and wine shops.  Administrative buildings and amenities like bus stations are far superior, all across Karnataka, to most other states.

Tumkur always had a reputation far bigger than its size, as home to the Swami Siddhganga Math; its venerable founder died recently at 105, and his disciple-monks continue the excellent charitable work he began, feeding 10,000 children twice a day.


Roti is made of rice in Tumkur, akkirotti, or rice-roti. It is thin, flat, rolled spread served with dry red chilli. It is delicious; but I could barely finish one.

The lunch conversation at our long table is, naturally, about the elections. It becomes clear very quickly, they are about one person: Narendra Modi. You either want him for another five years, or you do not. If the contest had been with just the BJP, Deve Gowda’s perennial “Mannina Mega” [Son of the Soil] line, might have worked yet again. But he is also up against Modi, and the final consensus on his chances is “50-50”.


There is some good news for the non-partisan onlooker: the jokes are getting better. “Thank God,” said one BJP leader, “that Deve Gowda doesn’t have 28 grandchildren, or they would have taken all the state’s constituencies.” At the moment, just two of them, Nikhil Kumaraswamy and Prajwal Gowda, have become candidates, the former from the family fiefdom,  Mandya, and the latter from Hassan. His son, HR Kumaraswamy, is chief minister.

Dynasty has two barrels in Karnataka: the Gowdas and of course the triangle of Gandhis– Rahul, Priyanka and her husband Robert Vadra. The two are yet to ensure harmony between the lower rungs of their parties. Deve Gowda grieved publicly about sabotage. Maybe the story is bigger. When his minister convened a meeting in Mandya to plead for amity, there was confusion when some participants began shouting pro-Modi slogans.


It is interesting how both the subjects stay the same, and the arguments similar, whether you are talking to people in Tumkur or Hospet or Bellary or Dharwad or Belgaum. Rahul Gandhi is not seen as a credible claimant for the Prime Minister’s office; indeed, that is why Deve Gowda fancies his own chances. In Calcutta, Mamata Banerjee told a press conference in the last week of March, “He [Rahul Gandhi] has said whatever he felt like. I won’t like to make any comment on it. He is just a kid.” Which sums up the feeling across party lines, although it is a bit odd to describe a 49-year-old as a kid.

The question that has risen to the top of Karnataka discourse is this: why did Rahul Gandhi reject Bidar as his saviour constituency and opt for Wayanad in neigbouring Kerala? If Bidar is not safe, which seat is?

Some political mathematician should check what Congress has lost to gain a seat for its President. In Wayanad Rahul Gandhi has become a supplicant before a dominant Muslim League; he cannot afford to criticize the heirs of Jinnah. If Rahul Gandhi only wanted Muslim support, he could have gone to Bhopal, where he would also have faced the BJP. Instead, he chose to challenge Marxists with the support of Muslim League. That is the message sent countrywide.


Whenever I think about the trials of election candidates I am reminded of the North American crow which can hide seeds in as many as 6,000 locations and remember each one of them. This is the kind of memory that a candidate needs. He must recall thousands of names and faces of his supporters. Traditional politicians were brilliant at this. Those who cannot do this often have name-whisperers close. It works.


Our national highways sparkle; lesser roads are being upgraded on time.  Research and technology add quality add life to product. The soil around the ore-heavy Bellari is soft; roads used to crumble quickly. Now they hold firm.  In the public mind, the new infrastructure is synonymous with Modi and Gadkari.

At Hospet, I witnessed how Modi has personalized development for the voter. An enthusiastic supporter was predicting a result far in excess of even BJP assessments. Then he added, “I got the road built from Hospet to the coast.” How? “I wrote to PM, and when the road started I got an email saying that work had begun.” Roads are not built because of an email, but the thoughtful reply had made one voter in Hospet a shareholder in a national mission. This is the dividend in an election where above 80 percent of voters want progress. A multiplier effect has made Modi the man who brought change to your door.


What do you do on a long road journey, from Bangalore to Belgaum, through Tumkur, Bellary, Koppal and Dharwad? A column in the British magazine Spectator  set me thinking. The ancient Greeks believed that ‘At the moment of death we can see the future’. At which moment does a losing candidate realise that the future is defeat? No serious candidate enters the fray to lose. But there comes a moment when you realise that there is no hope. If you realise this sooner rather than later, you can at least stop the spending.


Every morning begins  with tea and newspapers. The  31 March edition of a famous Bangalore newspaper  published this report, which I reproduce verbatim: “With the polls approaching, sales of T-shirts and merchandise branded with PM Narendra Modi’s slogan ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ have spiked over the past 10-15 days. Satyanarayan Prasad, a vendor, said nearly 15,000 T-shirts were sold by him in the last 10 days. According to him, the clothing is being bought not only by BJP supporters, but by all youngsters. The T-shirts are priced between Rs 120 and Rs 250.”

This story yields the following conclusions:

-Support for PM Modi extends far beyond the BJP base.

-The T-shirts had not come from sophisticated factory; the image on them was slightly off-kilter.

-The pricing indicated that purchasers were from the middle and lower-middle class; the young, in other words, who had not got employment according to Opposition allegations. Whether this was true or not, Modi is the hope icon of the young.

-There is no market for Rahul Gandhi T-shirts.


M J Akbar

Mobashar Jawed Akbar is a leading Indian journalist and author. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Guardian. He has also served as Editorial Director of India Today. He tweets at: @mjakbar.