Mandya, the sugarbowl of south Karnataka, is not so sweet when it comes to elections.
This Vokkaliga heartland has a history of bitter fighting ahead of any election, be it for village panchayats or for the Parliament. But previous tooth-and-nail fights pale in comparison to the intensity of the ongoing “mother of all poll battles”.
Contesting in this emotionally-charged constituency is a veteran actor and a budding one — both of whom are new to politics and hail from politically influential families. The ruling JD(S)-Congress coalition has fielded Nikhil K., son of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. The 31-year-old Nikhil, who is contesting on JD(S) ticket, is facing tough competition from actor Sumalatha — wife of the late actor-turned-senior politician M.H Ambareesh — who is contesting as an Independent.
The contest has gained political significance as the Opposition BJP, which is keen to gain a political foothold in the district, is backing Sumalatha instead of fielding its candidate. AICC president Rahul Gandhi, former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and a host of Congress leaders have campaigned for Mr. Nikhil, while the Chief Minister is camping in Mandya.
Ms. Sumalatha has been widening her support base with the backing of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, fans of Ambareesh, and electioneering by prominent actors Darshan and Yash. She is also trying to tap into the apparent anger in some quarters over the ‘dynastic politics’ in the JD(S). But what has given her added strength is the support of some of the disgruntled Congress leaders. These leaders, who were once part of the inner circle of Kumaraswamy, quit the JD(S) after their relationship with him soured.
The support of disgruntled Congress leaders for Ms. Sumalatha has embarrassed the coalition as they are also close associates of senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah. This has led to speculation that any negative result here may further strain relations between the allies. Any negative result here would be a political loss of face for the Chief Minister.
The JD(S)’s cadre is widespread here which is apparent in the clean sweep of all the eight Assembly segments coming under the Lok Sabha seat. But in the present situation, the party cannot take the constituency for granted. Political observers feel it will be a close fight. But the supporters of both the candidates are of the view that the last two to three days of electioneering may turn out to be crucial.
Interestingly, none of the serious issues concerning this agrarian district, which has witnessed a high number of farmer suicides, is being debated in this no-holds barred contest, where only individual prestige and personal attack have gained prominence.
To add to the tension are a string of controversies unfolding in the district with predictable regularity: I-T department searches on properties belonging to the people identified with the JD(S) and Congress; disparaging comments on Ms. Sumalatha; attacks on supporters of both the prominent contestants; transfer of District Election Officer N. Manjushri following Ms. Sumalatha’s allegations that she was biased towards the JD(S); and the transfer of SVEEP chairperson K. Yalakkigowda.
All eyes are on Mandya, the results of which are keenly awaited as political observers feel it may become a pointer to the future political course in the State.