Blessed by the ‘curse of Deve Gowda’

Last Updated 19 December 2020, 19:45 IST

An army marches on its stomach. Well, so do journalists.

I realised this the hard way during my initial days as a reporter while accompanying the then Karnataka Chief Minister H D Deve Gowda on a tour of Bengaluru. Like every other chief minister, Gowda, too, had promised to make a Singapore out of Bengaluru and had set out in right earnest on a day-long inspection of development works in the city -- with a bus load of journalists and bureaucrats in tow.

As it was an early morning assignment, I had skipped breakfast, and by 1 pm, my stomach had begun to growl. But there was no sign of Gowda stopping for lunch. As the protests from within grew louder, I asked Gowda’s secretary: “Does the chief minister never get hungry?” And the aide let out a secret: “He has raagi mudde (millet balls) for breakfast, which keeps him energised at least until evening.”

Finally, the chief minister decided to call it a day at 5 pm, and we were served some short eats. Then on, every time I accompanied Gowda on his tours, I made sure I had an emperor’s breakfast before I set out.

In 1996, a massive stroke of luck elevated Gowda to the post of prime minister, though his party – the then united Janata Dal -- had only a handful of members in the Lok Sabha: 46, actually, out of 543! With Gowda’s ascendance to the highest office in the country, his staple food, too, attained national status -- with the government directing all State-owned five-star hotels to serve raagi mudde. But the mudde’s glory was short-lived as Gowda had to demit office in less than a year.

With no party able to provide a stable government at the Centre, the country had to face mid-term elections in 1999. I trailed Gowda during the campaign in his home turf Hassan, when he noticed me at a public rally and invited me to travel in his car. With the Bengaluru experience still vivid, I politely declined the offer and decided to go my own way.

By the time I toured the rest of the constituency and caught up with Gowda at 8 pm, he was delivering a fiery speech in a small town, his enthusiasm not in the least diminished. And this time, too, I was told, he had not broken for lunch.

I thanked my stars!

A wily politician, Gowda was known to vanquish all his enemies, and one of his most powerful weapons was a simple touch.

As cub reporters, we were warned by our seniors not to cross Gowda’s path: “If ever he lays his hand on your shoulder, you will be ruined.” Stories of his victims were aplenty, be it a scribe who was transferred to a remote village or a politician who lost office. Naturally, we maintained an arm’s length from him.

One evening, when he was still CM, we journalists were trooping out of the chief minister’s official residence ‘Anugraha’ after a press conference, Gowda, as usual, insisted on seeing us off at the door. Petrified that his hand would fall on my shoulder, I tried to quietly slink away, but he was quicker. Gowda laid his hand on my shoulder and said: “Thank you for attending the press conference.”

“I am doomed,” I said to myself. But that was not what happened. A few months later, I received a good career prospect and moved on in life, never to look back since. All that Gowda was trying to do was shower some affection, and how he had been maligned!

Today, I no longer hear journalists speak of the Gowda curse. I hope it broke with me.

(Published 19 December 2020, 18:51 IST)

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