Mandya: The Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) had planned a joint show of strength at Pandavapura in Mandya Lok Sabha constituency Monday, the penultimate day of campaigning before the seat goes to polls in the second phase Thursday. But a couple of hours before that, just 4 kilometres from the spot, Karnataka’s ruling alliance looked to be in tatters.
People of all ages stood side by side, holding flags bearing the Congress’ hand, the BJP’s lotus, the Raitha Sangha’s farmer with sickle, the JD(S)’s woman with a haystack on her head, and Independent candidate Sumalatha’s symbol of a man with a trumpet.
They were waiting at Chikkade village for film star Darshan, who has been campaigning for former actor Sumalatha, wife of the late actor-politician Ambareesh.
Chikkade is one of 20 villages in Pandavapura taluk where Congress workers have openly defied the alliance to back Sumalatha against fellow actor and JD(S) candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the son of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and grandson of former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.
“We represent all parties here. For us, the pride of Mandya is important. We don’t care what decisions our leaders at the top took,” said Harish, a Congress worker, who was trying to make himself heard above the high-decibel sloganeering and fireworks by youth awash in gulaal.
The old animosity between the Congress and JD(S) workers at the lower rungs remains, despite the alliance. “Congress workers here have cases foisted against us by the JD(S). Let them first withdraw them, and then we will co-operate,” said Harish.
United for ‘self-respect’ against Deve Gowda family
Tuesday saw Sumalatha round off her campaign with a massive roadshow that saw people fill the streets of Mandya in the sweltering heat.
The BJP has not put up a candidate and is backing Sumalatha. So are local Congress workers and sympathisers. Thus, it is entirely possible to find the same person holding up BJP and Congress flags mounted on the same staff.
This unity was amply demonstrated at the Swabhimaana Sammilana (united for self-respect) rally across the town of Mandya Tuesday. It witnessed the signature sight of these elections — Sumalatha flanked by Darshan and another matinee idol, Yash, who have collectively been called ‘jod ethu’ (twin bullocks).
Interestingly, supporters of former CM Siddaramaiah also displayed posters of their leader at this rally. Congress flags also made their presence felt.
The general feeling among the villagers is simple — “Hassan should not control the strings in Mandya”, meaning they don’t want to cede control to Deve Gowda’s family, which hails from Hassan.
The caste factor
Mandya is the heartland of the Vokkaligas (Gowdas) while Sumalatha is a Naidu who was born in united Andhra Pradesh. A JD(S) leader had even made derisive comments about her caste. But the JD(S)’s campaign strategy seems to show that even this has not dented her popularity, because it is trying every trick in the book to turn the tide in its favour.
Kumaraswamy even brought in Andhra Pradesh CM and Telugu Desam Party supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu to Pandavapura Monday to woo Telugu-speakers and Naidus. There are just 20,000 Naidu voters in the constituency, so the fact that the JD(S) is going all-out to woo them is, in the words of the locals, “a sign that the party is sweating, despite a former PM, a CM, eight local MLAs and the entire state machinery at its disposal”.
Locals at Aralakuppe village, who stood braving the summer heat to listen to Darshan campaign for Sumalatha, were of the opinion that the JD(S) didn’t need to “bring a Naidu” from outside to canvass against her. “We are happy with the Naidu we have here,” was the constant refrain.
A nervous JD(S)
The rejection of the alliance by grassroots Congress workers is a big cause of worry for the JD(S) and its candidate Nikhil, especially since Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah have made appeals to the workers to ensure that the scion of the Deve Gowda clan wins.
In the district headquarters, 25 km away from Pandavapura, the nervousness among local JD(S) leaders was palpable.
“The joint appeal by leaders of the two parties has made a difference in the last two days. We expect a lead in 27 out of 33 wards in the city,” said Gaurishankar, the president of the party’s Mandya unit.
At a temple that Nikhil was supposed to visit for prayers, JD(S) and Congress workers had varying views on his prospects. While Gurukumar, the Congress’ social media coordinator, said it looked like a win with a margin of 40,000-50,000, JD(S) councillor Manjula Udayashankar talked of a photo-finish.
JD(S) workers admit that Darshan and Yash are drawing huge crowds. But will this translate into votes, they ask.
“Our party infrastructure is strong down to the booth level, while Sumalatha has no party at all. We will ensure that our supporters cast their votes,” a JD(S) worker said.
There is enough merit in this argument, as the presence of JD(S) is all too evident. The party won all eight assembly segments under the Mandya Lok Sabha seat in the 2018 state elections. Sitting MP L.R. Shivarame Gowda is also from the JD(S), though he was dropped in favour of Nikhil this time.
Adding to the JD(S)’s woes is a certain amount of anti-incumbency, though the party is less than a year removed from the assembly polls. The state government’s farm loan waiver has not reached a majority of farmers, factories owe crores to sugarcane farmers in this sugar bowl of Karnataka, and there is a serious water shortage in some areas. There has also been a spate of farmer suicides in the last few years.
All these issues are bound to influence voter choices, but have been downplayed in the high-pitched campaign between the actors.
Kumaraswamy realises this. For instance, he was talking about opening a new sugar factory even before the Election Commission announced the dates for the polls.
On the loan waiver issue, he said the EC had unfairly stalled the implementation of his government’s Rs 46,000 crore scheme after the Model Code of Conduct came into effect, while imposing no such bar on the Prime Minister’s Kisan Samman Nidhi.
Sumalatha, meanwhile, has questioned the feasibility of the implementation of the state scheme, in the light of an empty treasury.
In the end, whatever the result, Sumalatha will make history. Either she’ll become the first Independent candidate to win a Lok Sabha seat from Karnataka, or she will still have to her credit the enviable distinction of a political rookie bringing a ruling party and a power political family rushing to defend its turf with all the resources at its command.
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