Why Sitaram Kesri despises H D Deve Gowda
George Iype in New Delhi
It was not familiarity that bred Congress president Sitaram Kesri's
contempt for Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda. It was the absence
of a courtesy visit, a telephone call or a word of greeting from
the humble farmer that led Kesri to pull the rug from under
And Deve Gowda, unaware of the 82-year-old politician's injured feelings,
flung salt into Kesri's wounds by doing little to deflect the Central Bureau of
Investigation from investigating the assets disproportionate
to his income case against the Congress leader and, worse, conceding
Rajesh Pilot's request for an inquiry into the murder of Kesri's physician,
Dr Surendra Tanwar.
"Deve Gowda behaved as if he was a chief minister in New Delhi.
He resorted to cheap tactics to get continued Congress support,''
observes a Kesri loyalist.
Five days after Kesri withdrew support to the United Front government,
many in the Congress recall how Kesri's anger towards Deve Gowda
has been building up ever since he succeeded P V Narasimha Rao as
party president last September.
Soon after the election in Uttar Pradesh threw up a hung assembly,
Kesri went to Deve Gowda's 7, Race Course home to ask
for the United Front's support in helping the Bahujan Samaj Party-Congress
alliance form a government in Lucknow.
After meeting him for 10 minutes, the prime minister told Kesri
that the UF steering committee would discuss the issue and that he would
come over to Kesri's 7, Purana Qila home to inform him of the
Deve Gowda never drove to Kesri's modest bungalow; instead, the Congress
leader learnt from Front spokesperson Jaipal Reddy's media briefing
that the UF had rejected his appeal.
''Kesri went into a rage, abusing Deve Gowda, threatening that
he would bring the government down,'' recalls one of the Congress leader's
Kesri's dislike for Deve Gowda grew after that episode. The Congress
president felt the
prime minister did not accord him enough respect, not only as
leader of the party without whose support his government
would not exist, but also as a senior politician.
Deve Gowda never bothered to mend fences with Kesri. Instead
of interacting with Kesri, the premier resorted to politicking with other
Congress leaders. He would
often call on other Congress stalwarts -- K Karunkaran and Narasimha Rao
to name two of them -- to explain the UF stand on critical issues.
Records at Karunakaran's Tughlak Road home reveal that Deve
Gowda visited the Kerala politician eight times. In comparison, the
prime minister visited Kesri's home only twice.
Ignored and neglected by Deve Gowda, Kesri's
patience was exhausted, his anger slowly metamorphosed
"It is true that Deve Gowda did not care to consult the Congress
president on crucial issues. The prime minister would call on
other senior Congress leaders ignoring Chacha (as Kesri is known
in party circles)," says Congress
Working Committee member Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Azad told Rediff On The NeT, 'the feeling that Deve Gowda was
consulting his predecessor (Rao) irritated Kesriji.''
Another cause for ire: Deve Gowda visited Narasimha Rao at the
All India Institute of Medical Sciences when the former premier was admitted
there for minor eye surgery.
But when Kesri was bed-ridden with a viral fever in January, the
prime minister did not bother to visit the patient.
Soon after, in February, Kesri refused
to attend Deve Gowda's iftar party and the latter reciprocated with
Kesri's followers list a more serious slight: The Congress chief
sent a high-level party delegation to Deve Gowda asking him to remove
Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari last month.
The prime minister promised to remove Bhandari within 24 hours
Kesri waited for days, but nothing happened.
The real problem though was Kesri's feeling that Deve Gowda was doing nothing
to keep the heat off him. The Congress president was repeatedly quizzed by CBI officers
about accumulating assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and
in January, Kesri finally snapped.
When CBI officers -- who, it must be said,
were directed by the Delhi high court and not the prime minister's office --
met him to pursue their inquiries, he reportedly shouted at them and
dared them to send him to Tihar jail.
"Deve Gowda directed the CBI and Enforcement Directorate to dig up several cases against
Kesri and other party leaders,'' a Congress leader said on Friday.
Congress sources said Kesri found the line of CBI
inquiry humiliating. For instance, the agency
wanted to know where he got Rs 100,000 to marry off his daughter
The case that worried Kesri most was the Dr Tanwar murder case
Dr Tanwar, who was murdered in October 1993, was Kesri's personal
Kesri's role in the Rs
35 million Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery
scandal is also being investigated by the CBI since he was then
the Congress treasurer.
Today, while the Congress and UF leaders are engaged in a war
of nerves, the Kesri-triggered
crisis has taught them a new political lesson -- coalition
governments fall because of personal enmity too.