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Why BJP is banking on Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya

Her base includes her late husband Ambareesh's fans, Cong and JDS supporters

Sumalatha Ambareesh Sumalatha Ambareesh, Independent MP from Mandya | PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's presence in Mandya on Sunday to inaugurate the Bengaluru-Mysuru Expressway is sure to give impetus to BJP's bid to make inroads into the Vokkaliga-dominated Old Mysuru region that has always favoured the Janata Dal Secular led by former Prime Minister HD Devegowda and the Congress Party. 

The saffron party, hoping to make it a triangular fight in the May Assembly polls, is leaving no stone unturned to garner support in the region, that includes wooing local leaders into the party. Independent MP from Sumalatha Ambareesh (59), wife of Kannada actor and former minister late Ambareesh, is also part of the BJP's strategy to change the region's dynamics. 

JDS had won all seven seats - Mandya, Malavalli, Srirangapatna, KR Pet, Maddur, Nagamangala and Melukote in the 2018 polls. But it lost one seat (KR Pet) after sitting MLA K.C. Narayana Gowda jumped ship to the BJP and won it back in the bypolls. 

The BJP that is hoping to wrest at least four seats in the district was in for a shock after internal squabbles and rumours of Narayana Gowda (Sports minister) joining the Congress party exposed the lack of credible leadership. The BJP replacing K. Gopalaiah (Mahalakshmi layout) with Revenue minister R Ashok (Padmanabha Nagar) as the Mandya district incharge minister helped little as both ministers belong to the Vokkaliga community but are from Bengaluru. 

The BJP, which is on the hunt for a popular face to expand its support base, is now banking on Sumalatha's popularity, especially the diverse sections of her supporters which includes Ambareesh's fanbase, the Congress and JDS supporters who backed her in the high-voltage Parliament elections in 2019 when she took on incumbent chief minister HD Kumaraswamy's actor son Nikhil Kumaraswamy. 

Sumalatha had won by 1.26 lakh votes and became the first independent woman candidate to enter Lok Sabha from Karnataka. The poll campaign too had created waves for being the most vitriolic and misogynistic as her opponents poured out insults and made personal attacks. But it was the focused effort of her team and her poise that won her applaud.

Her late husband's image as "Mandyada Gandu" (The Man from Mandya) both on screen and off screen helped Sumalatha find wider acceptance in Mandya, which has penchant for matinee heroes. Ambareesh, who had won Mandya seat thrice - once on JDS ticket and twice from the Congress Party, also had a short stint as the union minister before he quit in protest against the state government decision to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu (as per the Supreme Court order). This earned him the respect from Mandya's sugarcane farmers. 

The last elections also saw the coming together of a heterogeneous mix of supporters who ensured Sumalatha's victory.

After being denied the ticket by the Congress, Sumalatha decided to contest as an independent and found support from a section of the Congress leaders and cadres. The BJP announced its unconditional support and refrained from fielding a party candidate against Sumalatha in a bid to defeat the ruling JDS-Congress combine. 

The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) too pledged its support to Sumalatha, along with disgruntled leaders from the JDS camp who resented the Devegowda family promoting its own family members. While Devegowda had vacated his Hassan seat for his grandson Prajwal Revanna and was hunting for a safe seat for himself, his younger son and incumbent chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy had fielded his actor son Nikhil Kumaraswamy from Mandya. 

The high-voltage campaign saw the Kannada film industry divided over the issue of extending support to Sumalatha and Kumaraswamy, who was also a film producer. 

Sumalatha's rallies were a huge draw as she was flanked by Kannada superstars Darshan and Yash (of KGF fame).

This time, the BJP hopes that Sumalatha's magic can work wonders for the party that is focussed on bagging a clear majority and avoiding a hung verdict. 

Sumalatha put to rest speculations of her joining the BJP to rest and also dismissed the possibility of her only son Abhishek (29) contesting from Mandya. 

Two days prior to Modi's visit, Sumalatha, who held series of meetings with her supporters, finally announced that she would extend support to Modi government at the Centre on the condition that the BJP would extend all the support to "develop Mandya".

"There is a need to clean the polluted atmosphere in Mandya district and I am supporting Modi-led government for the betterment of Mandya and not for the sake of my political future," said Sumalatha, who also ruled out her son entering politics saying she was opposed to dynastic politics.


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