The Mandya Lok Sabha constituency in Karnataka’s Vokkaliga heartland has seen a high-voltage contest between Janata Dal (Secular) candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the son of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, and Sumalatha, the wife of three-time Congress MP and film star Ambareesh who died last year.

The Vokkaliga, or Gowda, community is counted among the Other Backward Classes. Karnataka is ruled by a coalition of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress.

Sumalatha contested as an independent because the Congress did not give her a ticket. She was backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. She also had the support of some Congress workers who were reportedly unhappy that the seat – once a party stronghold – had been alloted to coalition partner Janata Dal (Secular).

“I am not denying the fact that a few people, Congress people, are not supporting me but being a candidate I have all my responsibility,” Nikhil Kumaraswamy told NDTV on the campaign trail. “I am going to their home asking for their support. If they do that, well and good; otherwise, I have my JD(S) karyakartas, eight MLAs, three MLCs, and an MP who is strongly backing me.”

Nikhil Kumaraswamy is the grandson of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda. His cousin Prajwal Revanna was contesting from the party bastion of Hassan, creating the impression that the family was looking to safeguard its political future.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Janata Dal (Secular) had mobilised the Vokkaliga community to defeat all eight Congress candidates in Mandya district. As a result of this, the Congress’s Siddaramaiah, who was chief minister at the time, lost his Assembly battle in Chamundeshwari in the neighbouring Mysuru district .

In March, the Congress expelled seven members for supporting Sumalatha. But the next month, HD Kumaraswamy lashed out at his ally, accusing Congress leaders of colluding with the independent candidate and hatching a “chakravyuha”, a deadly battle formation described in the Mahabharata, PTI reported. The same day, an emotional Deve Gowda alleged that insurgents in the Congress’s ranks were working against his grandson, indicating that Nikhil Kumaraswamy was facing an uphill battle.

“Many have decided to cause Kumaraswamy embarrassment,” Deccan Herald quoted him as saying. “The situation has become extreme. Even Siddaramaiah cannot resolve this now. Many people have strayed too far now. We will not go to their doorstep, but we will go to the people.”

A heated campaign

The campaign was heated from the beginning. In March, HD Kumaraswamy’s brother, state Energy Minister HD Revanna, made derogatory comments about Sumalatha. This eventually forced Janata Dal (Secular) state President AH Vishwanath to apologise to her, The News Minute reported. In April, Sumalatha accused the Janata Dal (Secular) of plotting to defame her late husband by offering cash and freebies to two of his former employees and asking them to speak against him, The Hindu reported. The allegation was denied by Minor Irrigation Minister CS Puttaraju.

Days before the election on April 18, an audio clip emerged in which a person believed to be Chetan Gowda, the son of Mandya MP LR Shivarame Gowda, claimed that the Deve Gowda family was willing to spend Rs 5 lakh per booth to ensure Nikhil Kumaraswamy’s victory, The News Minute reported. Another person is then heard saying Rs 150 crore will be spent overall in the constituency.

The Janata Dal (Secular) believes that the high turnout of 80.24% on polling day was a result of its workers’ success in bringing party supporters to booths. However, The Hindu reported that a series of controversial remarks about Sumalatha, combined with her intense and emotional campaign that was backed by Kannada actors Darshan and Yash, and the support of the BJP and the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha might swing votes in her favour.

Sandesh, the president of the Devaraj Urs Backward Classes Forum, told The Week that Sumalatha would win the votes of Lingayats, Brahmins and Jains, giving her chances of getting elected a big boost.