Ramakrishna Hegde revolutionized the political scene in Karnataka. Hegde was the first non-Congress politician to rise to the post of Chief Minister in the history of Karnataka. Hegde served as Chief Minister for three terms between the 10th of January 1983 and the 10th of August 1988. He was succeeded by S. R. Bommai.
Political Foray of Ramakrishna Hegde
Ramakrishna Hegde was born on the 9th of August 1926 in a small village called Siddapura in Northern Karnataka. He began his education at Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasi. He obtained a law degree from Allahabad University. Hegde’s political interest began way before he stood for election. Hegde took avid interest in the freedom movement, particularly in the Quit India Movement of 1942.
Although he was an active member of the Congress party, he began to grow disillusioned with the policies and implementation. Between 1954 and 1957, Hegde was the President of the North Karnataka District Congress Committee.
He was also the General Secretary of the Mysore Pradesh Congress Committee between 1958 and 1962. He won his first election as Member of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in 1957 and was given the post of Deputy Minister.
Between the years 1962 and 1971, he was given various portfolios such as:
- Excise and Finance
- Information and Publicity
- Panchayat Raj
- Youth welfare and sports.
As a cabinet minister Hegde gathered valuable administrative experience and a deep-seated understanding of the people and their everyday lives.
Post the infamous split of Congress in 1969, Hegde began to see Congress in different light. His enamor with the ideals of the party started slipping. He joined the newly formed Congress-O, as did his mentor S. Nijalingappa.
Post the Emergency, however Hegde chose to leave behind Congress and all its fractions. He joined forces with the Janata Party. He was the first ever General secretary of the Janata Party for Karnataka. He was also in political power as a member of the Rajya Sabha between 1978 and 1983.
Ramakrishna Hegde as Chief Minister
In the state elections of 1983, Janata party unanimously won the belief of the people and emerged victorious as the single largest party. This win for Janata Party, made Hegde the first non-Congress Chief Minister of Karnataka.
Ramakrishna Hegde gained the support of the left parties, Bharatiya Janata Party and 16 other individual parties. The support of the outside parties meant that his term went largely unchallenged and even supported from parties other than his own at least at the beginning.
The Lok Sabha elections of 1984, however was not in favor of Janata party. The dismal performance of the party led to the resignation of Hegde. In the 1985 elections, Janata party made a comeback of sorts with a good majority.
Ramakrishna Hegde’s Achievements
As a politician, Ramakrishna Hegde rallied and gathered support from various parties. He did retain power although several allegations of misuse of power were levelled against him, his family and his party. He initiated several changes in policies and administration that proved beneficial to people.
He was among the minority of politicians who asked for accountability amidst local government bodies. He was rallying for devolving power to the local bodies to increase accountability. Hegde believed in the power of the Panchayat. He made some administrative changes that afforded the three tier system of local government more financial and administrative powers.
His rule was instrumental in implementing Kannada as the language of administration across all tiers and fractions of the government. He is the only minister to have produced 13 financial budgets in the State Assembly.
Scandals during Ramakrishna Hegde’s Term
Rumors about corruption and bribery dogged his administration and his family when he was in power as the Chief Minister. The method of handling arrack bottling contracts by Hegde’s administration was condemned by the Karnataka High Court. It led to his resignation as Chief Minister. He resigned for a second time when the tapping of several prominent minsters phones came to light. Hegde took moral responsibility for the violation of privacy.
After his term as Chief Minister, Hegde became the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India. As directed by H. D. Deve Gowda, he was expelled from Janata Party by Lalu Prasad Yadav who was the President of the party at the time.
His expulsion led to the formation of his own party, “Lok Shakti” and a social organization, “Rashtreeya Nava Nirmana Vedike”. An alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party gave his party credibility and some measure of power. His failing health soon led to his retirement from politics.
Ramakrishna Hegde was a powerhouse, a multi-faceted politician who saw potential in every avenue of life. Besides being a freedom fighter and a politician, Hegde was also an artist. He portrayed various roles in drams and cinemas. His death in 2004 brought an outpouring of grief from all quarters of Karnataka.