| Hegde: Mr Clean
Bangalore, Jan. 12: Former Karnataka chief minister and Union commerce minister Ramakrishna Hegde, who played a key role in shaping non-Congress Opposition, died at his house here today after a prolonged illness.
Hedge, 77, who never recovered from his multiple ailments even after surgery in London last year, suffered a brain stroke last night and died of internal bleeding at 2.15 pm, his personal physician Dr Ramana Rao said.
Hegde rose to prominence in state politics as a minister in the undivided Congress government headed by S. Nijalingappa in the late 1950s. He went on to dominate Karnataka politics after becoming the chief minister of the Janata Party-led first non-Congress government in early 1983.
Hegde, who was a national general secretary of the Janata Party under Chandrashekhar, shot into national limelight after he called mid-term Assembly elections soon after the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi won the Lok Sabha elections in a landslide. He managed to lead the Janata Party back to power in April 1985 and his star rose so quickly that by 1987 he was being projected as the Opposition’s alternative to Rajiv.
Hegde was one of the prime ministerial candidates to head the United Front government in 1996 but lost out to his Karnataka arch-rival H.D. Deve Gowda.
The growing Hegde-Deve Gowda rivalry led to the former’s expulsion from the Janata Dal as one of the first things the new Prime Minister did was to get the party to show his rival the door.
But Hegde again demonstrated his vote-catching ability in Karnataka, when his fledgling Lok Shakti party tied up with the BJP for the 1998 Lok Sabha polls and the alliance won most of the 28 Lok Sabha seats on offer. With the Lok Shakti being a part of the National Democratic Alliance, Hegde served as commerce minister in the A.B. Vajpayee government.
The much-acclaimed value-based politician had to quit as chief minister in 1987 when it emerged that he had authorised phone-tapping to keep tabs on rivals within the party. His departure as chief minister sparked the bitter rivalry between Hegde and his one-time loyalist Deve Gowda.
They patched up and led a reunified Janata Dal back to power in Karnataka in 1994, but fell apart again even before Deve Gowda could be elected chief minister.
The latter is regarded as having carefully plotted Hegde’s exit in 1987 by teaming up with his party rivals at the national level like Chandrashekhar and Subramaniam Swamy.
This eventually led to the split in the state Janata Dal, with Hedge and Deve Gowda heading rival factions.
Hegde, who helped to unify various Janata Dal factions at the national level in the run-up to the 1989 parliamentary elections, became deputy chairman of the Planning Commission during V.P. Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister.
Hegde’s death comes at a time when talk of reunifying the splinter Janata factions had gathered steam with Lok Sabha and Assembly elections drawing near. His supporters will now have to initiate the political moves themselves.
A freedom fighter, Hegde was jailed for 18 months during Emergency.