Bengaluru: Actor-turned-politician Sumalatha Ambareesh on Monday said she will contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate, ending weeks of speculation on her choice of platform to contest from Mandya, about 100 kilometres from Bengaluru.
Accompanied by popular Kannada stars and scores of fans, Sumalatha's candidature puts her up against Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, whose son Nikhil Kumaraswamy has been named as the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition's choice from Mandya.
"For the people of Mandya and fans of Ambareesh, I have taken this decision to contest the upcoming elections on my own," she said.
Wife of late Kannada actor and senior Congress leader, H.Ambareesh, Sumalatha emulated her husband’s ‘rebel star’ title by taking the independent route after she was denied support by the Congress, which ceded the Mandya parliamentary seat to its alliance partner, Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) as part of its pre-poll agreement.
The Congress tried to dissuade Sumalatha from contesting in Mandya and even offered tickets from Bengaluru South, Bengaluru North parliamentary seats as well as entry into the legislative council.
Sumalatha said the Congress should have fought harder to retain the Mandya seat since workers were facing an 'identity crisis' in the district.
JD(S), which won all eight assembly segments under the Mandya parliamentary constituency, believes that it had the first right over the Vokkaliga-dominated district. The Congress managed to retain Mysuru-Kodagu parliamentary constituency to prevent surrendering the Vokkaliga community votes completely to its alliance partner.
Sumalatha's decision further adds to the problems of workers of the two parties who can barely see eye-to-eye in several districts of south Karnataka where the Congress and JD(S) have had a bitter and violent history of political clashes over the decades. The fact that workers were rebelling against being forced to work with each other despite the state-level alliance also points to the disconnect between the decisions of leaders and ground-level realities.
Even the decision to field Nikhil, who goes by the screen name of Nikhil Kumar, is not helping the party’s prospects. Nikhil's candidature is seen by many as a move to retain the balance of power within the H.D. Deve Gowda household, which is seeing a power struggle between the two sons of the former Prime Minister.
Apart from Congress worker refusing to work with the JD(S), Nikhil’s candidature has been opposed by several leaders within his own party.
Gowda has announced the entry of two of his grandsons — Nikhil and Prajwal Revanna — into politics from Mandya and Hassan constituencies, respectively. Though Prajwal, son of H.D. Revanna, has been active in political circles within Hassan, Nikhil has been more focussed on his acting career, giving local leaders more reason to protest, who feel the latter’s candidature has been imposed on them.
The fight between the alliance partners has helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) make inroads into a district and region where it had little or no presence at all. The state leadership of the BJP has not ruled out supporting Sumalatha. Coupled with the support from disgruntled Congress and JD(S) workers, Sumalatha stands a chance to make Nikhil’s entry into politics a much harder task.