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Hegde, a multifaceted personality

By A. Jayaram

BANGALORE, JAN. 12. With the passing away of Ramakrishna Hegde on Monday, Karnataka and the nation have lost a political leader who could be introduced without reference to the office he held.

Mr. Hegde had been in the news at least in Karnataka for over four decades. Whether in or out of office, he commanded an audience and a following. He was one of those who tried to elevate public life in the State. He was well read and a person of refined tastes.

He was, perhaps, the most charismatic of the post-States Reorganisation politicians of the State and had a pan-Karnataka image. Though hailing from Uttara Kannada district, Mr. Hegde had won elections to the State Assembly from Kanakapura in Bangalore Rural District and Basavangudi in Bangalore city. He was unsuccessful though when he contested from Bagalkot in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, losing narrowly in a constituency with a different social base.

However, it will be wrong to portray Mr. Hegde as a mere politician, though he had the distinction of being the State's first non-Congress Chief Minister.

A man of the Nehruvian mould, he could carry himself with ease in any gathering — the highbrow, the erudite, the elite, or the general run of people. Observers had not failed to notice the dichotomy in his persona. The Hegde of the pre-Emergency (June 1975-March 1977) period was a different personality. It was as a simple khadi-clad and Gandhi cap-sporting MLA from Sirsi, Mr. Hegde arrived on the scene in 1957. But over the years, he shed that image and turned flamboyant and came to be much sought after by the upper brackets. Mr. Hegde himself had said that he loved life. He was a trenchant critic of the D. Devaraj Urs administration as the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council during 1972-75. His passage at arms with the then Finance Minister, M.Y. Ghorpade,and the Industries Minister, S.M. Krishna (who is now the Chief Minister) in the Upper House are part of the State's legislature history.

Mr. Hegde was among the political leaders to be imprisoned under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act by the Indira Gandhi regime during the days of the Emergency. It was a bearded Hegde who emerged out of jail and he sported the beard from then on.

Mr. Hegde was born into the famous "Doddamane" family of Siddapura in Uttara Kannada district on August 29, 1926. His parents were Saraswathi and Mahabaleshwar. It was a wealthy Havyaka Brahmin household until its members joined the freedom movement. The Doddamane Hegdes were leading lights of the non-tax campaign against the British in the early 1930s. The family property came to be confiscated. One of those to influence his life and career was his widowed elder sister, Mahadevi Thayi, who joined the Congress and later the Sarvodaya movement of Acharya Vinoba Bhave.

Mr. Hegde took his M.A. (Economics) degree from the Benaras Hindu University and degree in Law from the Allahabad University. One of his teachers in Allahabad was the former President, Shankar Dayal Sharma.

Mr. Hegde's wife, Shakuntala, belonged to the family of Yajis of Chikmagalur. Of his three children (one son and two daughters), his elder daughter, Mamata, has joined politics recently.

Though he began his public life as an advocate, Mr. Hegde was soon attracted by politics. It was the then Chief Minister, S. Nijalingappa, who recognised his talents and appointed him as Deputy Minister for Planning in 1957. Another former Chief Minister, Veerendra Patil, and Mr. Hegde were to become the trusted lieutenants of S. Nijalingappa and stood by him after the Congress split of 1969.

Mr. Hegde was the Chief Minister of Karnataka from January 1983 to August 1988. He was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission during 1989-90 when V.P. Singh was heading the National Front Government at the Centre. Mr. Hegde was the Union Commerce Minister in the second Vajpayee Government. He was not included when the NDA came to power in October 1999. For a time, he served as Chairman of the Indo-French Commission.

Death mourned

The Karnataka Cabinet has mourned the demise of Mr. Hegde.

The Cabinet recalled Mr. Hegde's contribution to the welfare of the socially backward classes, minorities, and farmers. Setting up of the Lok Ayukta, reserving 25 per cent seats for women in local bodies, reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 in local bodies election, and setting up of a Minorities Commission were some of the achievements during his rule, it said.

The Governor, T.N. Chaturvedi, has expressed shock over the death of Mr. Hegde.

In a message, Mr. Chaturvedi said: "Mr. Hegde was a man of great conviction and political sagacity. A man of the masses, he was a gentleman to the core and at the same time, fearless and straightforward in espousing the cause he was committed to."

Mr. Hegde held many public offices both in the State and at the Centre and it was during his stewardship that the State made big strides towards all-round development. "Value-based politics" was his penchant in public life and he practised it in his long and chequered political life, the Governor said.

In his death, the country had lost a person of sterling character. He had left a large number of friends and admirers who would deem it their duty to carry forward his ideology. "I pray for peace to the departed soul and all moral strength to the members of his family in this hour of bereavement," Mr. Chaturvedi said.

The Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, and his Cabinet colleagues, and leaders of different political parties, have expressed profound grief at the demise of Mr. Hegde.

In a message, Mr. Krishna said: "Mr. Hegde, who was in politics for a long time, had served with distinction as Deputy Minister, Minister, Chief Minister, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, and also as Union Minister. In his death, the State has lost an intellectual, statesman, and a well-wisher of Karnataka State."

The Janata Dal (Secular) president and former Prime Minister, H.D. Deve Gowda, also mourned the death of Mr. Hegde.

He told The Hindu that "Mr. Hegde and myself had a three-decade association although we had differences on occasions. He played an active role in the Jayaprakash Narayan movement and his contribution to the growth of the nation and the State was immense. His death has caused a vacuum." Mr. Gowda had served as the Public Works Minister in the Hegde Government.

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