JD(S) Mandya candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy (left); independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh
Actor and Janata Dal (Secular) candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy and actress Sumalatha Ambareesh, in the fray as an independent, are fighting a pitched, high-stakes battle in the JD(S) bastion of Mandya
In an electoral battle between two unequals, age-wise or otherwise, a star war is on for supremacy in Karnataka’s Mandya Lok Sabha constituency where polling is due on April 18 in the first phase of voting in the state.
In what could have been a sure victory for Janata Dal (Secular; JD(S)) candidate and Kannada-Telugu films actor Nikhil Kumaraswamy, in the party’s bastion, the dramatic entry of multilingual south Indian actress Sumalatha Ambareesh in the fray as an independent has queered the pitch and divided the people across the constituency in the old Mysuru region, about 100 km southwest of Bengaluru.
Though 55-year-old Sumalatha is not new to the electorate in the key constituency—which her late husband and Kannada rebel star Malavalli Huchche Gowda Amarnath ‘Ambareesh’ represented thrice, once as a JD(S) member and twice as a Congress member—29-year-old Nikhil, a novice in politics, is betting on the party’s stronghold to debut in Parliament, more as the son of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and grandson of JD(S) supremo and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda.
The sudden death in Bengaluru on November 24, 2018 of the 66-year-old Ambareesh has snatched Mandya of its demigod, as he was not only a son of the soil, but also the most popular leader of the district, through which the river Cauvery flows southwards.
The loss was so huge that Ambareesh’s body had to be flown on November 25 to Mandya from Bengaluru, to allow lakhs of his people, including his legion of fans, to pay homage to him from Mandya, Mysuru and Chamarajanagar districts.
“The outpouring of grief, love, affection and respect lakhs of people have for Ambareesh is to be seen to be believed. He was everything for the people of Mandya and could identify with anyone, irrespective of age, caste, creed or gender. I was moved by their warmth and feelings to Ambareesh, who cared so much for them. I am contesting to represent him politically too and continue his legacy of serving them,” said Sumalatha while electioneering with Kannada stars campaigning for her to win the battle.
Though Ambareesh was with the Congress for over a decade and served as Union Minister of State of Information and Broadcast in the first UPA government (2006-07) and a cabinet minister in the Siddaramaiah government in the southern state (2013-16), he did not contest in the May 2018 assembly elections for health reasons.
“As the Congress allowed JD(S) to contest from Mandya under the seat-sharing pact as pre-poll allies, I decided to contest as an independent for the sake of Ambareesh and the people of Mandya who were very dear to him,” says Sumalatha.
Mandya was one of the two Lok Sabha seats the JD(S) won in the May 2014 elections, with Hassan being the other. Another Gowda grandson Prajwal Revanna is contesting from Hassan this time, in place of Deve Gowda, who has represented the constituency for a record 6 times since 1991. Prajwal is the son of state PWD minister HD Revanna. Nikhil’s mother Anita Kumaraswamy is a member of the state assembly from the Ramanagara segment.
As Ambareesh was an icon in the film industry, a dozen Kannada actors and actresses, including popular heroes Darshan and Yash, have joined the campaign for Sumalatha, as her husband was a legend and considered a part of the triumvirate along with matinee idols Rajkumar and Vishnuvardhan.
Nikhil debuted in the tinsel world with a Kannada-Telugu bilingual film ‘Jaguar’. His latest film ‘Seetharama Kalyana’ in Kannada, was released recently. His third film ‘Kurukshetra’ is under production.
As Nikhil too belongs to the politically dominant Vokkaliga community in the region, especially in the old Mysuru region, the JD(S) hopes he will be able to defeat Sumalatha at the hustings and allow the party to retain the constituency, in which the party had won all the 8 assembly seats in the May 12, 2018 elections.
“Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy are very popular in the old Mysuru region, especially in this (Mandya) district, as they are treated as ‘son of the soil’ despite hailing from Holenarsipur (in Hassan district). The party’s symbol—a woman carrying paddy on her head —and its manifesto represent lakhs of farmers and rural folk across the state,” JD(S) spokesman Ramesh Babu told IANS.
With the JD(S) heading the 10-month-old coalition government even after winning only 37 seats in the 225-member house in the assembly polls, and Kumaraswamy waiving a staggering Rs 48,000 crore in farm loans, the party is upbeat on Nikhil benefiting from the goodwill farmers and the rural electorate have for the Gowdas.
“In the assembly elections, our party won 25 of the 55 seats in the old Mysuru region, which is the highest in the state. Since then, our party has consolidated its presence with a slew of pro-farmers and pro-people policies and programmes for the socio-welfare development of them. These have generated a lot of goodwill to our party, and Nikhil is bound to benefit from this,” Babu asserted.
Inputs by Team Lede