'Ananth Kumar was lawyer, but I made him politician'
Bhaurao Deshpande's room number 504. That's where my journey with Ananth Kumar started in the 1980s when he was practising law at the Karnataka High Court.
One day I made him remove his black coat and told him, "Stop your practice. You'll make a good politician. There's a good opportunity." He listened to me and we went on to live in the same room.
From there, we moved to then Deputy Speaker Mallikarjunaiah's quarters. Ananth Kumar, his wife Tejaswini and I lived there for about 4-5 years. Although he was newly-married, he never hesitated to spare time to travel the length and breadth of the state. Today, if at all the BJP is a party of repute - a party that once came to power and now has so many legislators - it is because of the big role Ananth Kumar played.
Ananth Kumar's contribution in building the party, and the struggle, cannot be compared at all. So firm he was that he would decide on his morning walks what he wanted to do to help build the party. That was a time when BJP had just two legislators, there was virtually no organization that existed and we'd not get even 500 people at a public meeting. That was the level at which he started working. He constantly engaged himself in strengthening the party.
During Emergency, we were in jail for several months. We got back to work as soon as we came out. Neither he rested nor I. We didn't know what rest was. For many years, he worked as party general secretary while I was the president. He never cribbed that he did not get a senior position at the Centre. Nothing made him deviate from his gentlemanly ways. His only goal was to make the party grow.
If Karnataka has seen any development today - be it the Kempegowda International Airport or the Namma Metro - Ananth Kumar's contribution was significant, especially when he was a senior member of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet.
Ananth Kumar got elected from the Bangalore South Lok Sabha seat six times in a row. Whoever went to Delhi to see him, including a grassroots party worker, was welcomed into his chamber. He would summon officials and make sure the visitors went back only after their problem was resolved.
If it wasn't for Ananth Kumar, the BJP-JD(S) coalition wouldn't have happened. Even after the coalition fell, it was Ananth Kumar who travelled with me throughout the state to strengthen the party.
LK Advani did not agree at all when the BJP and JD(S) formed a coalition in 2006. "Not possible," Advani said. "You should be the chief minister throughout. Otherwise, not possible." It was Ananth Kumar who took us to Vajpayee and convinced him that it was a good opportunity for the BJP to form a government under my leadership, even if it was for just 20 months. So, if it wasn't for Ananth Kumar, the coalition wouldn't have happened. Even after the coalition fell, it was Ananth Kumar who travelled with me throughout the state to strengthen the party.
When I became Deputy Chief Minister, Ananth Kumar pushed me to take the Finance portfolio, assuring me that he'd guide me through it. He really insisted on this. I listened to him, took the Finance portfolio and that led to good success for the party and the government.
He was just 59! Who could have expected this? Just three days back, Tejaswini and I spoke to the doctor at the hospital. We were told he was recovering and that there was nothing to worry. So, I went ahead with my tour in Kalaburagi. I reached the city this morning and heard about his demise. It seems his health deteriorated in 3-4 months.
There was never a day we were apart - good times, bad times, in power, without power - we took steps together to strengthen the party. All the speculation in the media that he was my competitor was baseless.
I have no words, but I have hundreds of memories. When my wife died, he came to Shikaripura and consoled me, gave me strength.
This is a big loss for the state and the country. It looks like nobody is in a position to fill this gap. The party has been orphaned with this loss.