Mandya, the rich sugarcane growing district in south Karnataka, about 100 km from Bengaluru, is often viewed through the prism of its farmer agitations around agriculture, the Cauvery river water sharing dispute with neighbouring Tamil Nadu, and the concentration of the dominant Vokkaliga community, which wields significant influence over the state’s politics.
But these issues have been replaced in the run-up to the ongoing Lok Sabha polls by others like pride, self-respect and legacy.
“This is about bringing back Mandya’s self-respect. As a woman and daughter-in-law of this land I earnestly ask you not to lose this opportunity," said an emotional Sumalatha Amarnath (Sumalatha Ambareesh), appealing with her saree pallu held out, in her last address before end of campaigning on Tuesday.
The emotional appeal by the actor-turned-politician and wife of popular Kannada movie star M.H.Amarnath, better known as Ambareesh, is designed to make up for the lack of political tact on her side. Sumalatha jumped into the poll fray after the death of her husband in November last year and against the Congress that gave up Mandya to its coalition partner as part of an alliance agreement. Her opponent is 31-year-old Nikhil Kumaraswamy, who along with his cousin Prajwal Revanna will herald the entry of the third generation of politicians from the household of former Prime Minister H.D.Deve Gowda.
While Sumalatha is contesting in the shadow of her hugely popular husband, Nikhil is banking on his family to send him to Parliament, making the fight in Mandya a battle of legacies.
Often finding itself among local headlines for its passionate participation in agitations and blocking of the all-important Bengaluru-Mysuru state highway, Mandya is transforming as the toast of prime time news with heads of national publications making a beeline to report from the district this time around.
“The challenge is huge as I am up against the ruling party. All eight legislators are from JD(S), three of them are ministers, CM, ex-PM and the might of their other family members," Sumalatha said when Mint caught up with her recently on her campaign trail.
While most people in the district line up to get a glimpse of the actress, most women often assure her full support in the polls.
Her opponents also resort to similar tactics knowing well the volatile nature of the Mandya voters, known to be swayed by emotions.
“If they want, they will take money and still turn en masse against a party to teach them a lesson," said a senior politician who was member of the JD(S) for several years.
Chants like “annan notu akkang vote" that roughly translates to take money from Anna (Kumarswamy) and vote for Akka (Sumalatha).
Karnataka chief minister Kumaraswamy has shed tears on stage, often citing the adverse impact on his health of the alleged witch hunt against his family.
Sumalatha has the backing of disgruntled Congress and JD(S) supporters as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that is looking for an entry into the Vokkaliga heartland, where it has limited presence.
The seat is also testing the coalition’s resolve to remain together as a defeat for Nikhil in all probability could see the JD(S) pull out of the alliance and government. Even a section of the local JD(S) leaders has rebelled against the party after they were overlooked in order to promote the family of their supremo. Irrespective of the results, the contest is likely to have a lasting effect on the political landscape of Mandya-- known as the sugar city of Karnataka--which has seen a really bitter battle.
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