The ever-smiling 61-year Gowda earned national prominence being the President of the Karnataka unit of BJP when the party won the Assembly elections for the first time in South India in May 2008.
Gowda, who became a member of the BJP in Karnataka after the split of the Janata Party, rose to Chief Ministership in 2011. Being active in politics since his College days, Gowda was a leader of the ABVP before becoming a member of the Jan Sangh.
He was the party's youth wing Yuva Morcha state secretary (1983-88), state BJP secretary (2003-04) and National Secretary of the party (2004). Mentored by BJP strong-man B S Yeddyurappa, Gowda was elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in 1994 and 1999 from the Puttur Assembly Constituency in Dakshina Kannada.
He became Deputy Leader of the Opposition in his second term as MLA. Gowda, an eminent administrator and a key policy-maker, has served in various committees of the Karnataka State Legislature including the Cell for preparing Draft Bill on prohibiting Atrocities on Women, the Committee of Energy, Fuel and Power, and the Committee for Public Undertaking.
He was nominated as the President of the Public Accounts Committee in 2003. Gowda was elected to the 14th Lok Sabha in 2004 from the Mangalore Lok Sabha Constituency, defeating senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily by a margin of 32,314 votes. In 2009, the party shifted him to Udupi-Chikmagalur Constituency.
In Parliament, he was on the Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests. In the 14th Lok Sabha, he was a member of the Committee on Commerce. Government of India had appointed him as Director of Coffee Board during January 2005.
In 2006, Gowda was appointed as President of Karnataka State BJP. He earned National Prominence being the President when BJP won the assembly election for the first time in South India in May 2008.
Gowda was elected to the 15th Lok Sabha from Udupi Chikmagalur Constituency before he became the Chief Minister of Karnataka. He was chosen as the Chief Minister of Karnataka in August 2011 following the resignation of his mentor Yeddyurappa.
As Chief Minister, he strived hard to improve the image of his party that had been tarnished due to allegations of corruption. He introduced various schemes such as Sakaala, aimed at providing time bound services at government offices.
Gowda was later replaced by Jagadish Shettar. After suffering big loss in May 2013 elections, BJP elected Gowda as the opposition leader of legislative council in Karnataka.