A charismatic, colorful and efficient administrator, R Gundu Rao was the chief minister of Karnataka for a mere three years – from 1980 to 1983. But his impact on the Karnataka political landscape has been immense.
A Congressman who worked up from the grass root level, R Gundu Rao can be described as the quintessential Indian politician for he successfully wore different hats at different points of his political career.
His Early Life and Political Entry
R Gundu Rao belonged to the Kodagu region of Karnataka. Born in 1936 to a middle class family, R Gundu Rao’s father was the headmaster of a local school at Kushalnagar. The young Gundu Rao completed his schooling in Kushalnagar. He was regarded as a talented sportsperson and won several trophies in local tournaments for his prowess in badminton.
Gundu Rao took his first steps in politics when he became the Kushalnagar municipal president. However, his political ambitions stretched wider and soon he contested for the State Assembly elections. He was twice elected as MLA and represented the Somwarpet constituency in 1972 and 1978.
His Rise to the Top
Gundu Rao reached the pinnacle of his political career when he became Chief Minister of Karnataka in 1980. While he was acknowledged to be an efficient administrator, the Chief Minister was known for his more colorful proclivities.
One of the more famous tales recounts that Mr. Gundu Rao dived fully dressed into a swimming pool which he had been asked to inaugurate. As Chief Minister of Karnataka, Mr. Gundu Rao had to tread a rather careful political path.
The political scene in Karnataka was practically a minefield with various caste configurations as well as a lot of regional satraps trying to come to power, but he was successful in negotiating his way through it. His flamboyant and rather loud personality definitely left its mark on his tenure as Chief Minister.
Several years after giving up his Chief Ministership, Mr. Gundu Rao contested for the Parliamentary elections. He was an MP from the Bangalore South Constituency from 1989 to 1991.
His Administrative and Political Achievements
Gundu Rao can be credited with giving Bangalore one of its more famous landmarks. He was the brain behind the construction of the Kempe Gowda bus station. The bus station with its unique design and its connections to different areas is still a much talked about feature of the city.
He sanctioned the setting up of several medical and engineering colleges in the state and was the force behind setting up the Kala Mandira in Mysore.
Politically, Gundu Rao faced tough times when the Gokak agitation broke out in the state. One of his biggest achievements was that he survived as a Brahmin chief minister in a state dominated by other castes. But Gundu Rao, to his credit, was never caste conscious and had once famously declared that he was a “chicken eating Brahmin”.
The former chief minister died very young. He was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 1993 at the age of 57.