It is an indisputable fact that in the post-Independence political history of Karnataka, Jayadevappa Halappa Patel’s chapter is the most colourful one. JH Patel, a staunch socialist leader, was in some ways different from the other 22 chief ministers of Karnataka.
Politicians of all hues and veteran journalists of his time unequivocally acknowledge that it is rare to find a politician of Patel’s kind — someone who had concern for all sections of society regardless of caste, creed, and culture. In him was a political figure who stood high above the run-of-the-mill, someone who cannot be replaced.
Though Patel was known for his progressive ideas, his idealism often overshadowed his political acumen.
“As the 15th chief minister of the state, Patel stands very tall because of his comprehensive and inclusive vision. Being a shrewd politician and a trained parliamentarian, Patel was also committed to his principles; he faced the harshest criticism with a smiling face and remained composed all the time. He faced tremendous hurdles, challenges, and opposition during his tenure and dealt with them with patience and tact — which have made exceptional marks in time,” notes veteran journalist and former member of Legislative Council P Ramaiah.
His unending love for alcohol and women often put him on a sticky political wicket, even when moral policing in Karnataka was less harsh compared to the present situation.
A discussion on regional language pride will remain incomplete without a reference to JH Patel as he is the first to speak in a regional language in a Parliament session, the book notes.
‘Lohia would listen to him attentively’
JH Patel was an ardent follower of socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia.
“Even Lohia would listen to Patel’s point of view attentively during serious discussions held in my house in Sagara of Shivamogga district. If someone interrupted Patel when hewas making his point, Lohia would instruct them to listen to Patel’s words in full,” recalls Jnanpith recipient and writer Chandrashekhara Kambara, who served as a lecturer in a college at Sagara in the early 70s.
A 300-page collection of articles
Had Patel lived, he would be in his 90s now. He left this mortal world in the new millennium.
After 21 years of his death, ML Shankaralingappa, who served as media coordinator for Patel, brought out Madhyama Mattu JH Patel, a 300-page volume of articles on the former CM in Kannada in 2021.
JH Patel Foundation published this work. Shankaralingappa got the Kannada book translated into English as Media and JH Patel and it was released on 12 December 2022, the 22nd death anniversary of Patel.
While journalist R Mohan Babu edited this volume, journalist-turned-writer and translator Preethi Nagaraj translated the Kannada articles into English.
As many as 46 veteran journalists, senior politicians, and writers including Jnanpith recipient UR Ananthamurthy have recalled their association with Patel in this volume. Writer Chandrashekhara Kambara has written a foreword recalling his early days with him in Sagara, Shivamogga district.
It was the year 1967. The fourth Lok Sabha had been in session for just a few days when a first-time MP from a small town in the central Karnataka region created history of sorts by speaking in fluent Kannada as the House listened in rapt attention.
Media and JH Patel has a 40-page annexure on issues raised by him in Parliament in the chapter ‘Heralding Kannada in Parliament’.
“Nobody had spoken in a regional language in Parliament until JH Patel did. The Speaker allowed him to go ahead. Nobody from the southern part of India until then had affirmed their right to speak in their mother tongue,” says Preethi Nagaraj, who wrote ‘Patel uncle was the brightest star’.
Kambara in his foreword notes: “Patel spoke in Parliament about the growth of languages and drew the attention of all the people who loved and responded across India. For a whole month, that speech resonated across India.”
UR Ananthamurthy on JH Patel
UR Ananthamurthy in his piece makes an interesting observation about JH Patel:
“It is very important from a historical perspective to understand the growth of Patel, who was born into a feudal family and raised in riches, metamorphosing into a dreamer of social change and giving away all his wealth as he went on to become a minister to pursue a not-very-popular style of politics. These kinds of people are present all the time. That is why politics is, similar to love and spirituality, a heady thing.”
However, writer Preethi Nagaraj did not mince words in questioning contradictory shades of Patel — a non-believer — when he inaugurated the newly created district of Chamarajanagar from the temple town of Mahadeshwara Betta (and not from the district headquarters) and wore Ayyappa male of a Sabarimala devotee. At the same time, she has praised him for his dynamism in accepting something as a matter of faith and argues that “it was not Patel’s failure”.
‘Made life of a TV journalist so much easier’
Appreciating the effort of Shankaralingappa, Kambara says: “Many books have been published in his name, but putting together the articles written by media persons is a significant effort. How the media covered Patel in those times is a thing to ponder.”
“Patel liked the media, and journalists also loved him as they knew him well. An interaction with Patel was sure to yield something to write about. Whether the reports about him are factual, exaggerated, or cynical, he took them all in his stride,” Shankaralingappa observes.
Patel had cultivated a habit of reading newspapers — regional, national, and international. The articles in this volume are a reflection of how Patel and the media understood each other well. The articles in this collection are written with utmost honesty, adds Shankarlingappa.
While remembering Patel on his death anniversary, Maya Sharma, journalist and consultant editor at NDTV, said: “As chief minister of Karnataka, he was good-humoured with journalists. His one-liners were funny and just a few seconds long — which made the life of a TV journalist who deals in seconds while editing a story so much easier!”
This book contains an article written by JH Patel himself. It is interesting to note that the piece was written some 25 years ago and is still relevant.
The editor has also given a list of development activities carried out during his tenure as chief minister for documentation purposes. The articles penned by MC Nanaiah, a close associate of JH Patel, Basavaraj Horatti, the present chairman of the Karnataka Legislative Council, and Mahima Patel, son of the former chief minister, are also worth reading in this well-produced volume.
Arekere Jayaram, a senior journalist, noted when the former chief minister passed away: “Patel was one of the better-known parliamentarians produced by the state. He was a brilliant speaker in both English and Kannada known for his repartee and witticisms. His speech was disarming and he used to humble critics with ease. But as chief minister, he found it difficult to live down his image as a laggard.”
The present generation is imagining Patel as a folk and cultural hero, after listening to anecdotes about his political career from senior politicians and veteran journalists. Media and JH Patel will help them understand him from various perspectives through the prism of media persons.
(Muralidhara Khajane is a senior journalist, writer, and film critic. He is the author of ‘Random Reflections: A Kaleidoscopic Musings on Kannada Cinema’. These are the personal views of the author)