An actor and the Chief Minister’s son, and an actress and a late MP’s wife are the prime cast in the seat seeing the biggest drama as the JD(S) and Congress try to finalise their coalition for the Lok Sabha polls.
The Mandya constituency in southern Karnataka is the heartland of the Vokkaligas — a dominant community of the region to which former prime minister H D Deve Gowda belongs. The Congress has also had a hold here in the past. While leaders of the two parties are fairly clear that Mandya will be in the JD(S) kitty, ground-level workers are holding out.
In the six elections held for the seat over the last two decades, the JD(S) has won thrice — the 2018 bypoll, 2014 and 2009 — as has the Congress (the 2013 bypoll, 2004 and 1999). The BJP’s best performance came in the 2018 bypoll, when the Congress did not field a candidate in deference to partner JD(S).
Apprehensive of losing political capital and allowing the BJP a foot in the door by handing the constituency on a platter to the JD(S), Congress workers have been beseeching party leaders to field a candidate. A second source of concern for local leaders of the Congress is the JD(S) plan to field Deve Gowda’s grandson and Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy’s son, film actor Nikhil Kumaraswamy (34), from Mandya.
Nikhil would thus become the sixth member of the Gowda family in electoral politics — Deve Gowda and another grandson, Prajwal Revanna, are also expected to contest the Lok Sabha polls; apart from Kumaraswamy, brother/minister H D Revanna, and wife/MLA Anitha, in state politics. The BJP on Monday accused the JD(S) of turning politics into “a family business”.
The decision to field Nikhil is also seen as a bid within the JD(S) first family to prevent conflict arising from the decision to field Prajwal, the son of Revanna, from the family bastion of Hassan.
Worried over the JD(S) plans, a local Mandya Congress leader said, “If we do not field a candidate, our support base in the constituency will get completely eroded by the next Assembly elections in the state.”
Click here for more election news
Several Congress workers have been pushing the case of actress Sumalatha, the wife of late film star M H Ambareesh, from Mandya. Ambareesh had won Mandya thrice, twice on a Congress ticket and once as a Janata Dal candidate. Sumalatha is keen despite the lack of any political experience. A few days ago, she said, “Some Congress leaders are trying to convince me to back out by offering other posts. I want only a Congress ticket. I will consider contesting as an Independent once the Congress makes its stand clear.”
Indicating how serious she is, the actress recently gifted land to the widow of CRPF constable H Guru who was killed in the February 14 Pulwama attack.
While senior Congress leader D K Shivakumar has said Sumalatha would be convinced to leave the fray, the BJP has already reached out to her, with former deputy CM R Ashok saying they were willing to give her a ticket. The JD(S) too has been trying to mollify her, with Kumaraswamy pointing out at a public meeting in Mandya last week that he had flown Ambareesh’s body to Mandya for locals to pay their last respects.
Local leaders like N Cheluvarayaswamy, who had quit the JD(S) last year and joined the Congress, are reportedly also backing Sumalatha. Meanwhile, a snide remark by Revanna about the actress entering the poll fray within months of her husband’s death has drawn criticism all around and sympathy for Sumalatha. This has coincided with a social media campaign opposing Nikhil’s entry into politics from Mandya.
Other Congress leaders, however, admit the JD(S) has a bigger claim over the seat. “The JD(S) won seven of the eight Assembly seats in Mandya in the 2018 elections. It is naturally their seat,” a Congress leader said.
Recently, former CM and chairman of the Congress-JD(S) coalition coordination committee Siddaramaiah said, “Mandya will go to the JD(S). Whether Sumalatha will contest as an Independent or not is up to her.”
JD(S) leader Danish Ali said the Congress has not even demanded the seat in their discussions. “This is a media creation.”
Should Mandya not materialise for Nikhil, JD(S) sources said he may be shifted to neighbouring Mysuru, which is also considered a safe seat for the party. In that case, the JD(S) is likely to field former IAS officer Lakshmi Ashwin Gowda from Mandya.
The other seat
Dissent is also brewing in Hassan constituency, which has elected Deve Gowda to Parliament five times and is being considered by the JD(S) for initiation of his grandson Prajwal Revanna, 28, the son of Karnataka PWD Minister H D Revanna, into politics. This is being opposed by the former Congress MLA from Hassan, A Manju.
Manju, who was a minister in the Siddaramaiah government, has said local Congress workers will support only Deve Gowda and no other family member. Fanning Congress apprehensions, Manju has been spotted with BJP leaders.
Deve Gowda, meanwhile, has not clearly indicated the seat he himself will contest from, although it is widely believed to be Bangalore North. JD(S) sources said the party president could also contest from Mysuru.