Proving that being a party of the Deve Gowda family will not guarantee one a seat in Karnataka, Sumalatha, wife of late Congress leader Ambareesh, defeated Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, in Mandya. What seemed like a neck-and-neck fight in the morning soon turned into a landslide victory for Sumalatha. As an independent candidate backed by BJP, Sumalatha secured 6,98,213 votes while Nikhil Kumaraswamy secured 5,71,777 votes.
By defeating Nikhil Kumaraswamy, Sumalatha has become the first independent candidate to win a Lok Sabha seat from Karnataka in 52 years. She is also only the third independent candidate ever to win a seat in Karnataka in the history of Lok Sabha elections so far. In the erstwhile state of Mysore, independent candidate Dubey Rajaram Giridarlal won from the Bijapur North segment. He became the first independent candidate to win a Lok Sabha seat from the state. Ten years later, Dinakar Desai won as an independent from the Kanara constituency in 1967. Now, 52 years later, Sumalatha has won the segment.
“People have showed so much love. It’s not my victory but Ambareesh’s victory. It’s only because of the love people placed in him that I could achieve this. It’s a victory for all the people of Mandya. The people have shown that they do not give in to offers of money and the politics of caste. I will be eternally indebted to the people of Mandya. For not being cowed down by all the attacks they suffered, hats off to Darshan and Yash. For all the hurtful things people said about Darshan, Yash and me, the people have given them an appropriate answer. I thank the Congress cadre, the farmer’s association and the BJP as well,” Sumalatha told TNM.
In one of the most watched and controversial election battles fought in Karnataka, Sumalatha, a political debutant, emerged victorious not just because she defeated Nikhil, who is also a political novice, but also because she managed trump the influence of the JD(S)’s first family that was backing Kumaraswamy's son.
A traditional stronghold of the JD(S), the Mandya Lok Sabha constituency witnessed a high-power battle between Sumalatha and Nikhil. Seen as a mature, poised and intelligent contestant, Sumalatha also had the sympathy factor going, especially after the death of her husband – the legendary Sandalwood star Ambareesh, who was also a three-time MP from the region.
During the election campaign, Nikhil Kumaraswamy was portrayed as the heir apparent to Kumaraswamy. With the JD(S) currently in power in Karnataka through its coalition with Congress, JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda saw the Lok Sabha elections as an opportunity to introduce his grandsons into politics. Although Nikhil has no experience in politics or administration, he quickly made headlines and gained popularity during his campaign due to his family’s backing.
However, as Sumalatha was a strong contender, she had to face several misogynistic jibes from members of the JD(S) during the campaign. CM Kumaraswamy’s brother and PWD Minister HD Revanna for instance tried to shame Sumalatha, saying that she was showcasing her political ambitions months after Ambareesh’s death when she should be grieving him. She was also branded an opportunist willing to use her husband’s death to her advantage by the JD(S).
However, Sandalwood stars Darshan, Yash and a huge section of the Kannada film industry had offered their support for Sumalatha. In addition, several Dalit, Adivasi and women’s groups in Mandya had pledged their support too. With her growing popularity, CM Kumaraswamy had also made a veiled threat to end the acting careers of Darshan and Yash as they were actively campaigning for Sumalatha.
However, Sumalatha managed to defeat the might of the Deve Gowda-Kumaraswamy might and penetrate a decades-long stronghold of the JD(S).