The locals have not taken well the dynasty politics of the Gowda family. Combine this with the disappointment the locals harbour for the JD(S)-Congress government, the district might vote for change.
It's palpably hot in Mandya, a high profile constituency located roughly 100 kilometres from Bengaluru. While the temperature is nearing the 40 degree Celsius mark, the political heat too is soaring.
Autos and vans with JD(S) trademark green flags are making rounds as loudspeakers screech ‘Vote for our son Nikhil Kumaraswamy’.
However, a political debutant Nikhil, son of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and grandson of JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda, is hardly seeing the local support the Gowda clan is otherwise used to. Nikhil will be facing Sumalatha, wife of late actor and politician MH Ambareesh.
Sumalatha is contesting as an independent after the Congress declined her candidature and gave the Mandya seat to its alliance partner JD(S).
The locals, it seems, have not taken well to the dynasty politics of the Gowda family. Combine this with the disappointment the locals harbour for the JD(S)- Congress coalition government in the state, the district might vote for change and development.
The region has seen little development. In addition, the distress among farmers, most of whom grow sugarcane, is mounting. Local administration officials say 150 farmers committed suicide in the last one year. Sugar mills owe farmers Rs 140 crore.
Shambhoonahalli Suresh, district president, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a farmer association, said, “In the last 20 years, nothing has changed either under the Congress or the JD(S). Both the governments did nothing for the district, which is suffering from water shortage, high farm loans and lack of development.”
While the shortage of water and the quality of drinking water are serious issues, given that sugarcane is a water-intensive crop, Mandya has few employment opportunities other than agriculture.
When HD Kumarasamy became the Chief Minister in 2018, he had promised to waive off loans and renovate deteriorating sugar mills. Nothing has happened so far, say locals.
The final blow for the locals came when Nikhil was announced as the candidate, instead of choosing from local party workers. "While the Gowda family still has support, the move might finally make Mandya natives vote for development and change instead of caste," a local working with the farmer union in the district said.
“Nikhil and the Gowda family is from Hassan (about 120km from Mandya). There are many leaders from the district whom they could have chosen. But no, they have to choose Nikhil of all people. So we are supporting Sumalatha,” he added.
That will be a change in the trend. Caste has till now played a key role in electoral battles in Mandya, a Vokkaliga heartland. So far the district has not chosen anyone other than a Vokkaliga to be its MP or MLA. Even though caste is an important factor, having a local touch is significant. Nikhil is largely seen as an outsider, whereas Sumalatha is the wife of their favourite late actor, politician and 'son of Mandya', Ambareesh.
Ambareesh was the MP from 1998 to 2009, winning three general elections. Though he was a part of the JD(S) in 1998, he shifted to the Congress in 1999. In the 2009 general elections, he lost to N Chaluvaraya Swamy of the JD(S). But when Swamy resigned in 2013, actress Ramya or Divya Spandana from the Congress won the bypoll. Shivarame Gowda of the JD(S) won in 2018 in a bypoll when the incumbent MP CS Puttaraju, who won in the general election in 2014, resigned in 2018.
Ambareesh, who died in 2018, has remained in people's mind. This will help Sumalatha, a popular actor who was seen in southern language movies in the 1980s. Though she hails from Andhra Pradesh, Sumalatha has been in Bengaluru since 1991, when she married Ambareesh.
Jayapal S, a farmer, said, “So JD(S)’ caste card might not be enough to turn the tide.” Basavanna P, another farmer from Mandya, said, “People here have been electing JD(S) and Congress leaders time and again though none has helped us. However this time it could actually be different.”
Apart from the BJP and a few disgruntled Congress workers, the farmer union is backing Sumalatha. Latha Sankar, president of the women's wing of KRRS, said, “We are supporting Independent candidate Sumalatha in the hope that she will do something for us.”
There are some reports that Sumalatha's team is trying to bring actor Rajnikanth to campaign for her in Mandya. The Kannada film industry, also known as the Sandalwood industry, is already backing her. Kannada actors Yash and Darshan are seen campaigning for her.
There are other factors that need to be considered, cautioned some locals on the condition of anonymity.
Despite the popularity, Shiva Sankar, a local small businessman, said that deep-rooted caste politics might favour Nikhil since he is a Gowda. “All said and done, Nikhil is a Gowda whereas Sumalatha is not,” he said.
Another major factor – cash votes. A Deccan Herald report quoting Chetangowda, son of Mandya MP L R Shivaramegowda, stated that the JD(S) has spent Rs 150 crore in the constituency to ensure that Nikhil wins.Though the report has not been verified, locals say Nikhil has the bandwidth to pay to get votes whereas Sumalatha will not be able to. “This might be a deciding factor on who wins,” said the local.