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Lok Sabha election 2019: It’s a battle of legacies in Vokkaliga heartland of Karnataka’s Mandya

Located in the heart of the Vokkaliga dominated Old Mysuru region, locals in Mandya say it is a battle between two legacies — that of the family of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda on one side and Ambareesh’s on the other.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 28, 2019 13:38 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Mandya Lok Sabha constituenct,Mandya district,Karnataka
The Congress and JD(S) might have formed an alliance in Bengaluru, but this carried little weight in Mandya.(HT Photo)

Sitting on the pyol of his house, Muthu Raj says campaigning by political parties is conspicuous by its absence in Thoppanahalli village in Karnataka’s Mandya district this time.

Three months ago, the local Janata Dal(Secular) leader Prakash was murdered in nearby Maddur town, and since then there has been little appetite for politics here, the 26-year-old farmer says.

There is little evidence in the village of the pitched battle raging between Nikhil Kumar, son of chief minister HD Kumaraswamy, who is the candidate of the JD(S)-Congress alliance, and Sumalatha Ambareesh. Sumalatha is the wife of the late film star and former Union minister MH Ambareesh and is contesting as an Independent candidate, for the Mandya constituency. Both of them are marking their debut in electoral politics.

Located in the heart of the Vokkaliga dominated Old Mysuru region, locals in Mandya say it is a battle between two legacies — that of the family of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda on one side and Ambareesh’s on the other.

Since December 24, 2018, when Prakash was hacked to death in Maddur, exactly two years after two others were murdered in Thoppanahalli, a large police van sits in the middle of the village and acts as the only reminder of the incident. Though police officials said none of the seven people arrested had any political affiliations, despite the fact that three of were involved in the double murder two years ago, Muthu Raj disagrees.

“In these areas, everybody’s political affiliations are known to everybody else, and what began as a small fight over a water pipeline resulted in the murders of three people,” Muthu Raj said. “The rivalry was very fierce between the Congress and JD(S) supporters here. Everything is bitterly contested, even the right to put up flex boards in support of their respective parties,” he said.

The Congress and JD(S) might have formed an alliance in Bengaluru, but this carried little weight in Mandya.

Satish, another resident of Thoppanahalli, said he was tired of telling anybody who would listen that political leaders were all friendly with each other. “It is only us common folk who fight, unable to overcome our party affiliations,” he said.

And signs of this simmering disagreement with the political leaders were visible on Wednesday in Mandya city, where Sumalatha filed her nomination for the elections. In the procession outside the district deputy commissioner’s office, there was a large chunk of Congress workers.

For them, the unity between the two parties was hard to digest. The talk there centred on the pride of Mandya, which was allegedly hurt by the decision of the JD(S) to field Nikhil Kumar.

“Were there no workers from Mandya who could contest for the JD(S) to field someone from the family? Why foist an outsider on us? We will definitely vote for the daughter-in-law of Mandya,” Nagaraj, a Congress supporter sporting a party scarf, said.

According to Nagaraj, Congress leaders in the state capital were offering little resistance to the capture of the Mandya region by the Deve Gowda family. “On the state highway from Bengaluru to Mandya, everything is controlled by the Deve Gowdas. In Bengaluru Kumaraswamy is the chief minister, in Ramanagara his wife is the MLA, Kumaraswamy himself is the MLA in Channapatna town, and family member DC Thammanna is the MLA in Maddur. Now, they want Mandya, too,” he said.

As opposed to this, Nagaraj said, there was huge sympathy for Sumalatha. “Nobody can forget Ambareesh, I myself am a huge fan of his and a member of his fans’ association,” he said.

As the procession moved along, speakers began blaring the song “Mandyada Gandu” (Man from Mandya) from the movie of the same name starring Ambareesh, who hailed from the district.

“Till he came along, we did not know that members of Parliament received so much funds to develop their constituency,” Nagaraj said.

The sympathy wave aside, Sumalatha has her task cut out. The district has been a stronghold of the JD(S), which was evident in the 2018 assembly poll, when the party swept the district and won all eight assembly segments that form a part of the Lok Sabha constituency.

In the assembly polls, the JD(S) received 7.64 lakh or 54% of the 14.14 lakh votes polled. The Congress came a distant second, getting 4.55 lakh votes. As a result of this performance, the JD(S) contested the Mandya Lok Sabha by-election, which was one of five seats for which bypolls were held in November last year, as part of the coalition.

That was when it became clear to the coalition that the alliance could have an unpleasant outcome in the district. Though the seat was won by JD(S)’s LR Shivaramegowda by a comfortable margin, only 8.87 lakh or 52.66% voters exercised their franchise, a significant reduction from the 11.92 lakh who turned out to vote in 2014.

Crucially, though, the BJP finished second receiving 2.44 lakh votes, its best ever performance in the constituency, bettering the previous best of 1.64 lakh votes in 1991. The votes the BJP received in the by-election was higher than the votes it polled in the eight assembly segments of the constituency in the state assembly elections of 2013 and 2018 and the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 put together.

Nagaraj said this was because many Congress supporters had voted the BJP in the by-elections, unable to get themselves to support their bitter rivals. “Most of us did not vote and those who did, voted for the BJP. Voting is our right the same way that supporting a party of our choice is a right. This is why we want to tell the Congress state leadership that no matter what instructions they have received from the party high command, we just cannot vote for the JD(S),” he said.

However, given the JD(S)’s strength in the district, party workers are confident that Nikhil will blow Sumalatha out of the race. Prasanna Gowda, a supporter, said there was little chance of an Independent candidate upsetting a formidable party like the JD(S). “We have almost all gram panchayats and taluk panchayats. We have eight MLAs, so I doubt she stands a chance,” he said.

According to Prasanna, a resident of Siddayyana Koppalu Village on the outskirts of Mandya, Ambareesh was a popular actor no doubt a much-loved person in the district.

“But his contribution as a politician to the constituency was negligible. He never really visited much, leaving his henchmen to do his bidding here,” he said. As opposed to this, there was the Deve Gowda family, “which has always stood by farmers”. He points to the promise in the Budget presented in February by chief minister Kumaraswamy to set up a new sugar mill as evidence.

“We will always vote for Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy because that is a family that was born for politics. It will be better if these film personalities stay away from politics,” Prasanna said.

In every village there are rival groups, Prasanna said, and both sets of supporters could not ever agree on supporting each other. The rivalry is so intense that it has prompted the Pundarikaksha, owner of the Vadiraja Coffee Shop in Mandya city, put up a notice asking customers to refrain from discussing politics.

“I put up the notice about a week ago,” Pundarikaksha said. “I had had enough of the arguments between the rival camps, who would almost come to blows,” he said, adding that this was the first time he had taken such a measure in the 25 years since the establishment was set up.

“Many customers have appreciated this move because the discussion on this election is happening just about everywhere,” he said.

First Published: Mar 28, 2019 13:37 IST