Mandya: Two days ago, former prime minister and JDS supremo HD Deve Gowda campaigned for his grandson Nikhil Kumaraswamy in Mandya district. Undeterred by the summer heat and coalition partners Congress workers’ open revolt, Gowda crisscrossed the sugar belt, literally pleading with people to send a third-generation Gowda to the Parliament.
He almost cried at many public meetings. But that did not melt the hearts of Congress workers. The moment Gowda left Mandya, they once again declared that battle for Mandya is between the JDS and Congress, and the BJP is not a player here.
A day later, a visibly shaken HD Kumaraswamy attacked the alliance partner Congress for his plight. Speaking to the media, he said that the Congress and others had created a “Chakravyuha” to defeat his son in Mandya. Almost daring the Congress, he said he would be exposing many people after the results.
Amid these developments, Nikhil met Congress leader Siddaramaiah seeking his support in Mandya. The former chief minister, who is being indirectly blamed by the Gowdas for the Mandya fiasco, agreed to campaign for him with his father.
The “independent” candidate from Mandya, Sumalatha Ambareesh, alleged that fearing defeat, the Gowdas have launched a desperate campaign against her in Mandya. Sumalatha has official backing of the BJP and Raitha Sangha (farmers' party) and the unofficial backing of the local Congress unit
There are 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, but eyes seem to be set on Mandya.
Mandya is located between state capital Bengaluru and royal city of Mysuru and is considered Karnataka’s sugar bowl. Vokkaligas, whose tallest leader is Deve Gowda, comprise about 60% of the population here.
With the BJP a marginal player, the fight here is between the Congress and JDS. After they formed a coalition government headed by the JDS, the Congress ceded Mandya to the latter, triggering a tsunami of protests by its local workers.
The local JDS and Congress workers were expecting the Gowda family to field a local candidate from Mandya. The sitting JDS MP LR Shivarame Gowda, who won the by-election just six months ago, was hoping to retain the seat. But, the Gowdas announced the candidature of HDK’s actor son Nikhil.
Actress Sumalatha, whose husband Ambareesh was a Congress minister and an MP from Mandya, was eyeing a Congress ticket from here. Incensed over party agreeing to give up the seat, she filed her nomination as an independent candidate backed by the BJP. The local Congress workers and leaders who always fought the high-handedness of the JDS have thrown their weight behind her, making it an explosive election.
Openly defying the party diktat, the local Congress workers and leaders are aggressively campaigning for Sumalatha across the constituency. The leaders of the party in Bengaluru are looking at the developments in disbelief. They blame JDS’ local politics of revenge for the current crisis.
A top Congress leader on condition of anonymity told News18 that Gowda family had harassed Congress workers and leaders in Mandya for flimsy reasons and they are now fighting against JDS with vengeance.
“Mandya Milk Union is with the Congress. The PWD minister and Gowda’s son HD Revanna has troubled our people and functioning of the Union. CM HDK kept quiet. Now we are not in a position to pacify them. It is entirely a local fight” he said.
Guru, a local Congress worker said that it was like the UDF and LDF fighting elections together in Kerala. “The JDS is a minor player in 24 districts of Karnataka. In six districts they are in direct fight with us. In Hassan and Mandya, it is the fiercest. There is a lot of enmity between JDS and Congress workers here. How can they work together? By fielding CM’s son, the JDS has angered all of us” he said.
Even though Sumalatha is an independent candidate, local Congress people call her their party nominee. Both Congress and BJP flags were seen together at her rallies.
A Mandya trader Srirange Gowda described her as a Congress “candidate” backed by the BJP. “In rest of Karnataka, Congress and JDS are fighting the BJP. In Mandya, Congress and BJP together are fighting the JDS. It is a strange situation” he said.
The Congress workers who spoke to News18 admitted that they are fighting JDS candidate just to save the party in Mandya. They argue that backing Nikhil will force their workers to go with the BJP. If they fight him, the workers remain with the party even if she loses they say.
“A win for Sumalatha would be a good news for the Congress. Since the BJP has about one lakh votes here, she can win only because of the Congress support. That’s why she is contesting as an independent. At least our party will survive,” they told News18.
The BJP which has no major role to play is gleefully watching the unfolding developments in Mandya. Their leaders believe that Sumalatha will join the BJP if she gets elected. The local Congress leaders dispute their claims saying that she will be with the Congress.
A close aide of Sumalatha told News18 that she would go with the winner in New Delhi on May 23.
All Eight MLAs in the constituency are from the JDS and the Gowda clan is banking on their clout for Nikhil’s victory. The JDS has already invoked Mandya Asmithe (Mandya self-respect) dubbing Sumalatha as an outsider.
Sitting MP L R Shivarame Gowda said that Sumalatha was a Naidu from neighbouring AP and not a Gowda from Mandya. “If she wins, she will make Mandya Naidu land. She should be defeated” he said.
The JDS is hoping to win Mandya with their organizational power and caste card. Sumalatha is hoping to hand out a defeat to CM HDK’s son using her husband Ambareesh card, also exploiting the anger of Congress workers.