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A charming, witty personality

By A. Jayaram

BANGALORE, DEC. 12. The former Chief Minister, Mr. J.H. Patel, who passed away in the early hours of Tuesday, was one of the most charming, well-informed and witty personalities in the political life of the country.

Mr. Patel's end came at 3.30 a.m. on Tuesday at Manipal Hospital here where he was admitted on December 6 for a prolonged liver ailment which had weakened him. Mr. Jayadevappa Halappa Patel was 70 and is survived by his wife, Ms. Sarvamangala, and three sons.

Mr. Patel, who was the Chief Minister of Karnataka between May 1996 and October 1999, had been in indifferent health for over a year. He had been shattered by the death of his granddaughter in a road accident along with two of his sisters a few months ago. Mr. Patel had been hospitalised more than once while he was Chief Minister for a liver ailment and other complications.

He became Chief Minister, heading a Janata Dal government, succeeding Mr. H.D. Deve Gowda, who was catapulted to Prime Ministership. Mr. Patel's political career suffered a serious setback when he was roundly defeated in his home constituency of Channagiri in Davangere district at the hands of a BJP rebel, Mr. Vadnal Rajanna, in the September 1999 Assembly elections. Mr. Rajanna has since joined the Congress(I).

Mr. Patel had always been acknowledged as one of the few geniuses in the political scenario of the State and was also well-known for taking the least expected decisions.

He was well- read, possessed an acute mind, a sparkling wit and was a public figure who did not hide his tilt towards Bohemianism. Remember his famous ``wine and women'' confession in a television interview. There was no hypocrisy in Mr. Patel's public life and habits and for him ``genius seemed to go with gin'', to quote the words of Justice Tekchand, who had headed the committee on Prohibition.

Mr. Patel was one of the central figures in the star- crossed history of the Janata Dal in the past four years. In 1996, he sided with Mr. Deve Gowda and his lieutenant, the then Union Civil Aviation Minister, Mr. C.M. Ibrahim, when they summarily expelled Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde from the party. Till then, Mr. Patel was known to be close to Mr. Hegde.

But the greatest surprise sprung by Mr. Patel was in August 1999 when he announced an electoral tie-up between the Janata Dal and the BJP following a meeting with Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde and the Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes.

The Janata Dal split with Mr. Patel's Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Siddaramaiah, and others joining the Deve Gowda bandwagon, the JD (Secular). The uncomfortable alliance with the BJP cost both the parties (JD-U and BJP) dearly in the election to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha. The election results showed that far from coming to power, the BJP barely managed to retain the seats it had won in the previous Assembly.

The two Janata Dals were reduced to minor parties in the Assembly.

Another startling decision taken by Mr. Patel was after the 1978 Assembly elections. He was one of the 46 Janata Party MLAs (out of 59) who defected to the Karnataka Congress formed by the late Devaraj Urs. Mr. Deve Gowda never condoned the defectors for their act of perfidy.

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