Ramakrishna Mahabaleshwar Hegde (29 August 1926 – 12 January 2004) was an Indian politician who served as the tenth Chief Minister of Karnataka for three terms between 1983 and 1988. He was elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in 1957, 1962, 1967, 1983, 1985 and 1989, and to the Rajya Sabha for two terms, 1978–83 and 1996–2002. He also served as Minister of Commerce and Industry in the Union government (1998–1999).
Hegde was born at Siddapura in Uttara Kannada district into a Havyaka Brahmin family, the son of Mahabaleshwar Hegde by his wife Saraswati Amma Hegde, who hailed from Sirimane village near Sringeri. Hegde completed a part of his studies at the Kashi Vidyapeeth in Varanasi and later obtained a degree in law from Allahabad university. A lawyer by profession, he participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942 and was an active member of the Congress Party.
Hegde became the president of the Uttara Kannada District Congress Committee from 1954 to 1957 and rose to become the general secretary of the Mysore Pradesh Congress Committee in 1958, a post he held until 1962. Much of his early administrative experience was built up during the governments of S. Nijalingappa (1956–58 and 1962–68) and Veerendra Patil (1968–71). He was first elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in 1957 and appointed a deputy minister. He was later promoted to cabinet-minister rank, holding diverse portfolios such as Youth Welfare and Sports, Cooperation, Industries, Planning, Panchayat Raj, Development, Information and Publicity, Excise and Finance between 1962–71.
During the famous split in the Congress in 1969, Hegde followed in the footsteps of his mentor Nijalingappa and joined the Congress (O), the faction that was opposed to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Legislative Council for a few years until 1974. The 1975 Emergency crackdown on opposition leaders saw his arrest along with several other state and national level leaders. When the emergency was lifted, he joined the Janata Party and became the first general secretary of its Karnataka state unit. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha during 1978–83.
When the Janata Party came to power by emerging as the single largest party in the 1983 State elections, he emerged as a consensus Brahmin candidate between the powerful Lingayat and Vokkaliga lobbies. In the process, he became the first non-Congress chief minister of Karnataka.A master strategist, he cobbled up a two-thirds majority for his government by an arrangement of outside support from other parties. His government secured the outside support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Left parties and 16 Independents.
Following the poor performance of the Janata Party in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections (it won only 4 out of the 28 seats from Karnataka), Hegde resigned on the grounds that his party had lost its popular mandate and sought a fresh mandate for his government. In the 1985 elections, the Janata Party came to power on its own with a comfortable majority. As Chief Minister between 1983 and 1985 and again between 1985 and 1988, he became an active votary of State rights within a federal set-up, but one who made no concession to regional or linguistic chauvinism. Secondly, he took innovative initiatives in expanding the federal principle within the State, primarily in the area of devolving power to local bodies and in trying to enforce accountability. During his Chief Ministership, Karnataka pioneered legislation on Panchayat Raj that devolved a substantial degree of financial and administrative powers to a three-tiered structure of local government.He supported the tireless work of his Minister for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Abdul Nazir Sab, in promoting devolution of power to the gram panchayats in the state, and the Karnataka implementation became a role model for the rest of India. corruption through the institution of the Lokayukta.Also, he started the ‘Kannada watchdog panel’ to oversee the implementation of Kannada in administration. He has the rare distinction of presenting thirteen finance budgets in the state assembly.
As Chief Minister, Hegde enjoyed immense personal popularity and was acknowledged as an efficient administrator.However, as days passed by, his rule was mired with several scams involving alleged corruption on the part of his own family. His son was accused of taking money for a medical seat. There were allegations made by the Congress (I) against him in a case involving the transfer of shares by the NGEF company.
He submitted resignation from chief ministership on 13 February 1986 when the Karnataka High Court censured his government for the way it handled arrack bottling contracts, but withdrew his resignation after three days on 16 February.
He resigned and quit office in 1988 after allegations of phone tapping of prominent politicians and businessmen in the State. Hegde then filed a case against Subramanian Swamy in 1989 and 1990 after Swamy accused him in tapping.
He was also the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of India during the tenure of V. P. Singh. He was expelled from Janata Dal by its president Lalu Prasad Yadav, as per the instructions of Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda in 1996. Following his expulsion, Hegde formed the Rashtreeya Nava nirmana vedike a social organisation and then his own political party ‘Lok Shakti’. He allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the alliance won a majority of the Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka in the 1998 General Elections. He became the Commerce minister in the BJP led NDA government in 1998. After the Janata Dal split of 1999, the faction led by his protégé, Chief Minister J. H. Patel, and the Lok Shakti merged to form the Janata Dal (United) and allied with the BJP. However, the alliance suffered a set back in the 1999 General Elections owing to the anti incumbency against the Patel Government and the Congress party emerged victorious in Karnataka.
Hegde was married at a very young age to Shakuntala, a lady of his own Havyaka Brahmin community. The marriage, which lasted throughout their lifetimes, was blessed with three children, a son named Bharath and two daughters named Samata and Mamata. Shakuntala was a conventional lady, a devoted wife and mother who adhered to the traditional view that a woman’s dignity exists in staying away from the public gaze and the rough and tumble of public life. Their marriage remained stable, although Hegde had short affairs with a whole string of young women. Finally, late in his life, Hegde, began his last, longest and most serious affair, with Pratibha Prahlad, a dancer who was more than thirty-six years younger than him. Born in 1963, Prahlad belonged like Hegde to an educated and affluent Kannada Brahmin family, and was the niece of CNR Rao, the celebrated scientist. She was by nature very different from Shakuntala. As a dancer, she had no aversion for the public gaze, and had attracted attention not only for her dancing talents but also for suing three different parties for “inappropriate” behavior towards her. Two of these parties were men who taught her in college and at a dance academy respectively. She been a firebrand feminist in her college days, and an outspoken advocate of a woman’s right to live “on her own terms.” In private, Hegde made it known that it was Pratibha’s firebrand spirit, articulation of radical views and imposing personality that attracted him to her. These qualities were certainly very different from those of the placid and retiring Shakuntala, who even accepted the existence of this affair with a remarkable absence of uproar. In private, Shakuntala pointed out to family that she was a grandmother already, and that it was not unusual for a powerful man like Hegde to have a relationship on the side with a much younger woman before it was too late for him to enjoy such an experience. Indeed, Hegde was at the height of his career as Chief Minister of Karnataka when he became acquainted with Pratibha. Their affair, which lasted over fifteen years until his death, resulted in the birth of twin sons, Chirantan and Chirayu.
Despite the weakening of his political stock, he continued to play the role of elder statesman in the fractious Janata Parivar. He gradually moved away from active politics owing to his poor health. He died in Bangalore on 12 January 2004 after prolonged illness at the age of 77. His death caused an outpouring of grief in Karnataka.
A versatile personality, he also acted in many dramas and movies such as ‘Marana Mrudanga’, Praja Shakti. He was the political mentor oif a wide number of politicians such as Jeevaraj Alva Abdul Samad Siddiqui, M.P. Prakash, P. G. R.Sindhia, R. V.Deshpande, and groomed many younger politicians. In the latter part of his life he became depressed and trusted only few friends like Jeevaraj Alva, Abdul Samad Siddiqui and Shri Manas Ranjan. His wife, Shakuntala Hegde, unsuccessfully contested for Rajya Sabha as a BJP candidate in 2004.