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A meteoric rise stymied by untimely death

Our Bureau Bengaluru | Updated on November 12, 2018 Published on November 12, 2018

Ananth Kumar vanquished Nilekani during LS poll

Union Chemical and Fertiliser, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, HN Ananth Kumar who passed away on Monday morning, was a product of the emergency.

Incarcerated for nearly 30 days during the Emergency, he came in contact with BJP leaders, Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani who were also housed in the same Central Jail in Bengaluru in which he was. It changed his fortune once the emergency was lifted.

His association with the two leaders fast-tracked his career in the party and before long he was nominated as the BJP’s candidate for the 1996 Lok Sabha elections from Bengaluru south, a constituency where voters have tended to favour right wing parties.

To his credit, Ananth Kumar won the same seat for five more terms till his death and managed to defeat his toughest opponent till then, the iconic Nandan Nilekani, the former UIDAI chief and a co-founder of Infosys.

The contest received worldwide attention and Nilekani put up a spirited challenge but was not able to overcome the Modi wave during the 2014 General Elections which swept the BJP to power.

Ananth Kumar’s oratory skills were evident during the visit of the party’s central leaders including Advani to Karnataka. He was roped in translate their speeches into Kannada, especially during their election campaigns across the state. He received the same adulation as Advani and the others did during those public rallies.

In Karnataka political circles, he was known as the rising political star and was seen as the most likely to become the chief minister of the state whenever the BJP came to power but caste considerations kept him away from leading the government.

The BJP leaders compensated him by making him a union cabinet minister in March, 1998. He was given the key ministry of civil aviation during succeeding terms in 1998 and then in 1999 but his tenure was ridden with controversies especially over the awarding of order for Airbus aircraft to Indian Airlines. The then Indian Airlines managing director, P C Sen who fell out with him during that period, was sacked overnight.

His closeness to Advani was not seen in good light when the Narendra Modi became the prime minister but the fact that he won a key fight against Nilekani got him a cabinet berth. His organisational skills came to the fore when he was able to get the GST Bill passed in Rajya Sabha even though his party did not have the requisite majority in the house.

The passing away of Ananth Kumar will definitely have a bearing on the BJP’s Karnataka wing rearranging the political equations there as the late minister was seen as the only strong challenger to former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa among the party leaders in the state.

Prime Minister Modi is expected late tonight to pay his respects while the BJP President Amit Shah will attend Ananth Kumar’s funeral tomorrow. Ananth Kumar was diagnosed with lung cancer early this year and flew down to the US for treatment. He returned to Bengaluru to continue his treatment at a local hospital. He passed away in the early hours of Monday morning. He was 59.

In his condolence message, Modi described him as a remarkable leader and served society with utmost diligence and compassion. "Extremely saddened by the passing away of my valued colleague and friend, Shri Ananth Kumar Ji. He was a remarkable leader, who entered public life at a young age and went on to serve society with utmost diligence and compassion. He will always be remembered for his good work," Modi tweeted.

Published on November 12, 2018
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