MANDYA: From the APMC Yard to small tea stalls along the highway, discussions on the electoral battle between the JD(S) and Sumalatha Ambareesh is all one gets to hear in Mandya. While the perception, emotion and hype are all in favour of Sumalatha, the actual electoral battle may not be a cakewalk for either the veteran actress or Chief Minister Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumar.
Despite Mandya being his party’s bastion, with all eight assembly segments in the kitty, Nikhil is deemed an “outsider” who has ventured into politics too soon. Sumalatha, riding high on the mammoth support she’s getting from the emotionally charged voters, is under threat by the JD(S), that has an organised structure to reach out to every last voter.
In the absence of a crack team, Sumalatha has only Ambareesh’s fan associations leading her campaign. She is pitted against a JD(S) phalanx — eight MLAs of who three are ministers, four MLCs, besides senior Congress leaders like DK Shivakumar rallying behind Nikhil Kumar.
“Nikhil is very young. He will have many chances, but this is the perfect time for Sumalatha. She is educated, speaks in a mature manner even when people sling mud at her. We have nothing against Nikhil but we want someone from Ambareesh’s family as MP,” said 68-year-old Puttaswamy, as his friends nod in agreement, at a lazy tea shop in Doddarasinakere of Mandya.
The statements of HD Revanna, DC Thammanna and Kumaraswamy against Sumalatha have left a deep impression in the minds of the people who elected Ramya from Congress in the 2013 bypolls.
“Kumaraswamy gave money to (Pulwama martyr) Guru’s family, but that was the government’s money, not his. Sumalatha gave her own land. People won’t forget that,” said Shivanna, who runs a tea stall in Maddur taluk.
Compassion seems to be the fuel for Sumalatha’s wagon. “Are there no local candidates in Mandya that Nikhil has been imposed on us? It is an insult to the people of Mandya if an outsider should represent them,” said Dr Ravindra, a Congress office-bearer who sat on a three-day protest against Nikhil’s candidature. For the local Congress unit suffocating in the coalition setup, Sumalatha’s candidature has given hope. The women, especially, are all for Sumalatha.
Momentum a big challenge
Sumalatha’s popularity has risen fast, fuelled by the personal attacks against her. Now, her supporters are hoping to keep the momentum going, lest it begins diminishing. For now, emotional appeal is Sumalatha’s trump card. In the absence of party support, Sumalatha is dependent on Congress and JD(S) who have decided to support her.
“Winning an MP election without a party is difficult. Reaching out to people when you don’t have an organisation is impossible. But with party support, Sumalatha has every chance of winning,” said a BJP leader from Mandya. The BJP has decided not to field a candidate if Sumalatha contests as an Independent. It may pose a threat for Sumalatha, but she stands to gain from Congress, JD(S) and BJP voters put together.
JD(S) supporters and workers are willing to jump ship, for the love of Ambareesh. “I have voted for JD(S) all my life. My uncle is a JD(S) zilla panchayat member but this time, I will vote for Sumalatha, even if she stands from BJP,” said Puttegowda, a farmer from Nagarakere in Maddur. He and a dozen farmers at the APMC Yard agreed that Sumalatha had already won the election, it is only a matter of announcing results. But the tide, thanks to the JD(S) grass roots structure, may turn closer to the elections, unless Sumalatha puts in place a mechanism to reach out to every voter.