At a cinema in Mandya, the sugar bowl of southern Karnataka, the audience bursts into whistles when Nikhil Gowda delivers a line about a farmer—how he is the real innovator. A family entertainer with the usual commercial tropes, Seetharama Kalyana is the 29-year-old’s second Kannada film in the lead role. The buzz, however, is over whether Nikhil, son of Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, will make his political debut in Mandya in this summer’s Lok Sabha elections.
Indications that the third generation of H.D. Deve Gowda’s family were being groomed for a political career have been there for a while. So, speculation about Nikhil is swirling in Mandya. There’s an equal amount of curiosity about cousin Prajwal Revanna debuting from neighbouring Hassan, the family stronghold.
Movies and politics go hand in hand in Mandya, locals say. Quite fittingly, therefore, there’s a bit of a ‘filmy’ turn building up as coalition partners Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress get down to negotiating a seat-sharing pact. Mandya was the home base for popular film star-Congressman M.H. Ambareesh who died three months ago. Now there’s a call for his wife, Sumalatha, also a film star, to contest the seat her husband once held, potentially queering the pitch for the JD(S) because Ambareesh has a strong fan following.
Mandya, which lies in between Bangalore and Mysore, is a Vokkaliga bastion where the two parties have a long-running rivalry, like they do in other parts of the Old Mysore region. “There are squabbles between the party workers here all the time,” says a local journalist. Leave alone inter-party rivalry, there have been tussles within the Congress’s ranks in the past between workers loyal to Ambareesh and Congress social media head Divya Spandana, also a former actress, who had stood for elections here previously.
Since May, when the JD(S) swept all the seven assembly seats in the district, there’s been worry in the Congress ranks over ceding space to its rival-turned-ally. To be sure, the Congress did agree to a joint candidate—local JD(S) leader L.R. Shivaramegowda—in the November parliamentary bypolls but now it appears a there’s a hard bargain for the seat. “We have to think about future elections too. If we give up our claim, they will take it as granted in three to four districts. We have to sustain our party,” says a Congress leader. Besides, there’s concern that the BJP, which does not have much of a presence in these parts, could find more room for itself if there’s a straight fight. In the November bypolls in Mandya, the BJP managed about 2.4 lakh votes.
Neither partner in the coalition has officially commented on the details of seat-sharing, a tricky task because of undercurrents in each constituency—the JD(S), it is understood, wants to contest in at least 10 of the state’s 28 parliamentary seats.
A similar tussle is evident in Hassan, which party patriarch Deve Gowda represents. For some time now, there’s been talk that Prajwal Revanna, son of H.D. Revanna—he’s Kumaraswamy’s elder brother and currently state minister—will take over the seat from his grandfather. In fact, Gowda had hinted as much last year when Prajwal was apparently upset for being passed over for an assembly ticket from the party. “We have no objection if Deve Gowda contests from Hassan, we will support him. But if he doesn’t wish to contest here, we would like a Congress candidate here,” says Congressman A. Manju, who is from the district.
There’s no official word yet from the JD(S) which looks to party boss Deve Gowda to take the final call.
- Speculation is swirling about Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy’s actor-son making his political debut from Mandya.
- There is also curiosity about Prajwal, Deve Gowda’s grandson from his other son, debuting from stronghold Hassan.
- Mandya would turn interesting if the Congress decides to field the late Ambareesh’s wife, given his popularity.
By Ajay Sukumaran in Bangalore