Despite being located barely two-three hours away from the state capital, dubbed as Silicon Valley, there is no dearth of problems in Mandya Lok Sabha constituency, which is predominantly an agricultural region. Among the issues that haunt the people here are lack of jobs, absence of agricultural processing units, locked industries and untapped tourism potential. Sadly, these issues are hardly making any noise in the din created by the political class in the high stakes election where Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil and veteran actor Sumalatha have locked horns.
Lack of jobs are forcing youths to migrate to cities such as Bengaluru and Mysuru. As a result villages are now turning into old-age homes. Some sugar industries such as MySugar — the biggest factory in the region - are shut and there is sign of them opening anytime soon. Sugarcane crops on hundreds of hectares have not been harvested because of the rush in the factories.
Though politicians have often promised to set up garment and food processing industries to provide jobs, the same is conveniently forgotten after elections.Social welfare schemes such as Anna Bhagya, farm loan waiver and Ujjwala Yojana have helped the masses here. But people are unhappy with government schemes such as Ashraya, Pashu Bhagya and Mudra loan. People say most of these are either cornered by followers of politicians or are only on paper.
While lack of jobs are forcing some to migrate, the same is also creating social problems as men can be seen gambling with whatever little money they earn.The JD(S)-Congress coalition does not seem to be doing much in the constituency as Congress workers are busy indiscreetly backing Sumalatha in order to prevent erosion of the strong party base here. BJP does not have a strong base in this Vokkaliga heartland and the party is likely to stand behind Sumalatha, in the hope that she may support BJP at the Centre if the need arises. In a way, it has become a contest between JD(S) and Congress-BJP combine.
Sumalatha has been able to get some traction among voters while contesting as an independent. No widow of any politician has ever lost in the district in their first election. However, all these winners were Vokkaligas and caste is a big factor in Mandya, which has the highest percentage of community voters at 45 per cent. Strong backing of Vokkaligas, eight party MLAs and three ministers in the state will all help JD(S).
Many JD(S) followers believe that Sumalatha is getting huge support because she is a film star and that will not translate into votes. Though the Gowdas have been criticised for giving too much preference to family members, the argument does not have many takers in Mandya as they think that it is a common practice.
Yathisha (35), a Vokkaliga and an Ambareesh fan, said, “I will vote for her because of Ambareesh. But I am not sure if my family will do the same.”Channegowda, a septuagenarian and a restaurateur in Nagamangala, said he will vote for Nikhil given the poor health of his father Kumaraswamy. “Kumaranna is sick and we cannot ignore his request,” he said and added that he would have voted for Sumalatha if it were assembly polls.
Javarappa, a Dalit from Hampapura village in KR Nagar taluk, said Nikhil comes across as a hudugaatada huduga (playful boy). But there are many who think Nikhil is capable. Madhu Nayaka, a diploma holder from Kalenahalli village, said a youth like Nikhil can deliver better. Shankaregowda, a farmer from Palahalli village in Srirangapatna taluk said a victory for JD(S) will help the constituency as the same party is in power in the state.
In Doddarasinakere in Maddur taluk, which is Ambareesh’s native, voters are divided here too. “Sumalatha may get some sympathy votes. But at the same time, people are also not ready to ditch Transport Minister D C Thammanna who is from the same village,” said Gooli Mahesh, a political party worker.