Deve Gowda was born on 18 May 1933 in Haradanahalli village of Holenarasipura taluk, Hassan District, Karnataka. He earned his Diploma in Civil Engineering from Smt.L.V. Polytechnic, Hassan, Karnataka. He married Smt. Chennamma and the couple have 4 sons and 2 daughters.

Deve Gowda joined the Indian National Congress party in 1953 and remained its member until 1962. In 1962, Deve Gowda was elected to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly from Holenarasipura constituency as an independent candidate. Later, He was elected from the same constituency to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly for six consecutive terms from 1962 to 1989. He joined the Congress(O) during the Congress split and served as the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly from March 1972 to March 1976 and again fron November 1976 to December 1977. He served as a minister in the Janata Party Government in Karnataka headed by Shri Ramakrishna Hegde from 1983 to 1988. He became President of the state unit of Janata Dal in 1994 and was the driving force behind the victory of the party in the 1994 State Assembly elections. He was elected from the Ramanagara constituency sworn in as the 14th Chief Minister of Karnataka in December 1994.

In the 1996 general elections,When the United Front (a conglomeration of non-Congress and non-BJP regional parties) decided to form the Government at the Centre with the support of the Congress, Deve Gowda was unexpectedly chosen to head the government and became the 11th Prime Minister of India. He took over as Prime Minister of India on 1 June 1996 and continued until 11 April 1997.

In 1999, when some senior leaders of the party decided to join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA, the party split into many factions. Many secular leaders including the Late Madhu Dandawate joined the Janata Dal (Secular) faction headed by Deve Gowda who became the National president of the this faction. He was defeated in the 1999 general elections but staged a comeback by winning the Kanakapura By-elections in 2002.

The 2004 elections in Karnataka witnessed the revival of his party’s fortunes with the Janata Dal (Secular) winning 58 seats and becoming a part of the ruling coalition in the state. Later, the party joined hands with the BJP and formed an alternate government in 2006.