Veteran journalist Sugata Srinivasaraju’s Furrows in a Field explores with critical insight and sympathy the exceptional life of H.D. Deve Gowda in regional and national politics. It examines his federal commitment; his deep knowledge of irrigation, agriculture and constitutional law; his secular steadfastness, and unassuming interventions in matters of national importance.
Furrows in a Field uncovers the green shoots of a generous federal alternative to the bigotry of religious majoritarianism and the dead end of secular uniformity’—Sugata Bose, Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs, Harvard University, and author of His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire.
H.D. Deve Gowda has been in public life for nearly seven decades. He started at the very bottom, as a member of the Holenarasipur Taluk Development Board and reached the very top as India’s eleventh prime minister, in 1996. In between, he was an independent legislator, spent long years as leader of Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, had been an effective irrigation and public works minister, and chief minister in 1994 after many missed opportunities. Even twenty-five years after he stepped down as prime minister, he has remained relevant in Indian politics. Despite this long, arduous yet fascinating journey that began in a poor peasant household in the plains of Hassan, there has been no comprehensive assessment of his life and work. This biography endeavours to professionally fill the gap.
Gowda’s biographer Sugata Srinivasaraju is a bilingual journalist, author and columnist. He has editorially led some of the leading regional-language print, television and digital news organizations in the last decade. For a decade and a half prior to that he was in prominent roles in English-language newsrooms across India. He has been a Chevening Scholar in the UK, and a Fellow of the Aspen Institute in the USA. Sugata’s books include Keeping Faith with the Mother Tongue: The Anxieties of a Local Culture (2008), Pickles from Home: The Worlds of a Bilingual (2012), and in Kannada, Kittale, Nerale, Perale: Avasarakke Yetukida Maatu Baraha (2016).
Speaking about the book, author Sugata Srinivasraju says “The history of post-Independent Indian politics has been partial to some and cruel to many. It has celebrated a chosen few but ignored numerous stars. For me, studying HD Deve Gowda’s life, politics, and times has been about restoring the balance. It has been about tracking our own perceptions, prejudices, and misjudgments. It has been about exploring the diversity and democratic traditions of India and its vibrant federal character. It was about situating a person who had made it to the pinnacle of power without pelf, patronage, or pedigree.
As I wrote this book, the life of Deve Gowda presented itself to me as a fascinating intermingling of the local and the universal; of the traditional and the modern; of the urban and the rural; of ritual and reason. The finest realization was that none of these binaries have ever existed apart but have always made meaning together. As the writing of this biography drew to a close, I felt immensely lucky and gratified. Very rarely are learnings so fresh and bountiful.”
The narrative of Furrows in a Field is instructed by Gowda’s rich parliamentary record, archival material and interviews conducted with people associated with him at various stages of his life. The layered narrative is further nuanced by Gowda’s own voice, gargantuan memory, a close reading of the time when he made history and the currents of destiny that preceded it.
Milee Ashwarya, Publisher, Ebury Publishing & Vintage Publishing, Penguin Random House India, says, “Most of us know little about the life, politics, and contribution of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. Furrows in the Field by Sugata Srinivasaraju fills this gaping hole, and is one of the best political biographies that I have read. This is an essential read for anyone interested in Indian politics, and I am delighted to publish the book.”
When Gowda became prime minister, many people intuitively registered that our democracy had not been rigged or captured by elites and dynasts, and there was indeed space in our system to rise for a self-made person with no godfathers. He became a symbol of aspiration in a newly aware democratic India. It generated hope and continues to do so. If Gowda could be prime minister, anybody could in a free and democratic country.
Although Gowda has spent most of his years in Karnataka and has become a symbol of the federal idea, this book argues that the diverse national imagination and sincerity that he deployed as prime minister had magically lit up different corners of India.
In his introduction to the biography, the author, Sugata Srinivasraju writes, “Gowda was the ultimate outsider to every pattern and structure that existed in politics in India till he became prime minister. Nobody predicted that he would last this long in politics. His decennial political obituaries were promptly written. Nobody predicted that beneath the rustic exterior there was a rooted cosmopolitan individual who, in his idiosyncratic way, rejoiced in the diversity of this nation, embraced constitutional values and argued that it should stand on reason, and not religion.
The year 2021 marks a quarter-century since Deve Gowda became prime minister. India has transformed beyond imagination in these twenty-five years. When Gowda met Bill Gates on his first-ever visit to India in 1997, nobody ever thought that Satya Nadella, the brilliant son of one of his secretaries, B.N. Yugandhar, would take over Microsoft as CEO in a couple of decades. Gowda was at the cusp of India’s transition from an old order to the new. He had loosened the foundation on which the old elite stood.”
Praise for the Book
‘A vivid and textured biography showing how Deve Gowda’s agrarian roots and regional moorings shaped his brief stint at the apex of national power. Srinivasaraju illuminates a long life of struggle, with key insights into the complexities of caste, class and religion in Karnataka, and the contributions of the south to all-India politics. Furrows in a Field uncovers the green shoots of a generous federal alternative to the bigotry of religious majoritarianism and the dead end of secular uniformity’—Sugata Bose, Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs, Harvard University, and author of His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire
‘H.D. Deve Gowda’s short tenure as prime minister was not inconsequential. As chief minister of, and as a minister in, Karnataka, he made several contributions that have endured. As a public figure living for and breathing politics for almost six decades, he has carved out and occupied a distinctive niche. His commitment to the cause of farmers, particularly, has been legendary. It is only fitting that this remarkable man has at last found a biographer who does full justice to his life story. Through this extensively researched work, Sugata Srinivasaraju has made a major contribution to contemporary Indian history’—Jairam Ramesh, member of Parliament, and author of A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon
‘This meticulous and detailed account of H.D. Deve Gowda’s very full life that spans nearly nine decades, provides a rich treasury of insights into the politics of India since Independence. Sugata Srinivasaraju has produced a powerful and resonant book. His writing is vigorous and expressive. This is a work of scholarly exactitude, critical sympathy and warm humanity’—Jeremy Seabrook, British writer.
‘This fascinating biography of former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda demonstrates that outsiders could rise to power in twentieth-century India’s democracy—and not by default, but because kisan politics was still meaningful then. This book does not only tell the life story of the most improbable prime minister of India, it also narrates the trajectory of the country over several key decades—with special references to Karnataka, a state whose rural countryside, too often obliterated by the shine of Bangalore, is apprehended here through one of its sons’—Christophe Jaffrelot, research director, CERI–Sciences Po, Paris, and professor, King’s India Institute, London
‘This richly illustrated biography captures the triumph of an unpretentious prime minister who had more grassroots experience than many of our more celebrated prime ministers. It is unfortunate that he did not survive long in the chair. Indian democracy would have been reassured and deepened if he had’—Saeed Naqvi, journalist and author