BJP insiders say that the party's leaders in Mandya were unwilling to plunge into a battle they were bound to lose.

BJP backs Sumalatha in Mandya What it means for the Cong-JDS coalition
news Lok Sabha 2019 Sunday, March 24, 2019 - 12:02

With the BJP announcing that the party would back Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya for the Lok Sabha polls instead of fielding its own candidate, it is now a two-way fight in the region. Late on Saturday night, the BJP announced that it was officially backing Sumalatha, wife of late popular Sandalwood actor and former Congress MP Ambareesh, who decided to contest as an independent from the Mandya segment after the Congress refused her a ticket.

BJP insiders say that the party's leaders in Mandya – Dr Siddaramaiah and former MLA Ashwath Narayana – were unwilling to plunge into a battle they were bound to lose. "We would have only split the votes in Mandya and this would have benefitted Nikhil Gowda. Our goal is to bring down the coalition in its own fortress. Sumalatha is a strong candidate in her own right. She has the ability and acumen to provide a tough fight. Since she refused to contest on a BJP ticket, it was better to back her and capitalise on the votes against JD(S) and Congress," a BJP source said.

During the 2018 bye-polls, the BJP had won over two lakh votes in the Mandya region. A party which has never been able to win more than one lakh votes in the previous Parliamentary elections in Mandya, had won more than it expected.

"Based on our calculation, the Vokkaliga votes will split. Anti-government votes, which comprise about 2.5 lakh votes, would be cast in favour of Sumalatha. The AHINDA votes (Kannada acronym for minorites, OBC and Dalit) votes will be split, especially since several leaders representing Dalit and Adivasi groups are supporting Sumalatha. The anti-Congress votes will also be cast on her behalf. If BJP had put up a candidate, Sumalatha would have had a higher chance of losing. The main goal was to split the Vokkaliga votes," the BJP source added.

Strange bedfellows support Sumalatha in Mandya

Karnataka's Mandya region, known for its large population of Vokkaligas, has been a bastion of the JD(S) for decades now. The region is also known for its factional division based on whether one is a Congress or a JD(S) supporter.

While the region is known for its Vokkaliga presence, Mandya also has about 70,000 Dalits, 30,000 Muslims and over 3,500 Christians. According to Census data, there are 3,83,594 Hindus in the district and of these, over two lakh voters belong to the Vokkaliga community.

“One of the reasons why the area is a JD(S) bastion is because the Vokkaligas all voted for Deve Gowda. This is because the community has always been favoured by the JD(S) over other communities. The Vokkaligas will only vote for people who represent their caste and Sumalatha has now ensured that the JD(S)’s vote bank can be broken,” a Congress leader said.

In addition to shaking up the caste equation, Sumalatha has amassed support from factions, which would never have come together otherwise. A section of Congress leaders, who were unhappy with the party’s decision to ally with the JD(S) broke away and have offered to support Sumalatha. The BJP, which has built up an anti-Congress identity, is now working together with certain Congress leaders to ensure Sumalatha’s victory.

“During the 2018 bye-polls, the BJP, for the first time, won over two lakh votes. This was because of anti-incumbency. But most importantly, they got the backing of people who were against the coalition. If Sumalatha has to face the JD(S), which is pouring in a huge amount of money to ensure Nikhil Gowda wins, sometimes, rivals have to come together, especially if it’s beneficial,” a BJP source added.

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