Her husband Ambareesh was a popular actor and leader of the Congress in Karnataka. In 2019, a year after his death, Sumalatha Ambareesh won the Lok Sabha elections as an Independent from Mandya with the Congress’s help. This time around, Sumalatha, who trumped the Janata Dal (Secular) in its bastion, is backing the BJP in the coming Assembly elections.
Asked about reports that she was planning to contest from Mandya, Sumalatha recently clarified that the BJP did not ask her to do so. But state BJP spokesperson MG Mahesh told The Indian Express that the MP could still be fielded from Mandya if the situation demanded it. “There is a lot of time and things are very dynamic. It can change at any moment. If the situation demands it, we will field Sumalatha from the BJP.”
Sumalatha’s detractors said she would not have a “strong impact” because of a restricted support base and that she won the 2019 polls largely due to support from the Congress and farmers’ groups. Her support for the BJP and silence on the “Nandini vs Amul” debate did not go down well with Ambareesh’s followers, according to some local leaders. The Mandya District Co-operative Milk Producers Society’s Union Ltd, is one of the largest milk cooperatives in the state, with lakhs of farmers selling milk to 1,279 dairy cooperative societies.
But MG Mahesh said Sumalatha’s support for the party would make a “big difference” in the district. “Sumalatha Ambareesh brings a good share of Ambareesh followers as well and she also has great women following being a woman MP as well. We are anticipating good results in all seven Assembly seats of the district.”
The BJP has been making attempts to breach Mandya, which is a stronghold of the JD(S) and where the Congress also has some presence, and getting Sumalatha’s support is part of its plans. In 2018, the results in the district were overwhelmingly in the favour of the JD(S) that won all seven seats. A rift between then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Ambareesh is said to have contributed to the Congress’s failure. Five years earlier, the grand old party won two seats and got the support of Karnataka Sarvodaya Party MLA KS Puttannaiah of Melkote.
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Mandya is part of the Old Mysuru region where both the Opposition parties are dominant. While the Congress emerged on top here in 2008 and 2013, winning 26 and 23 of the 48 Assembly seats respectively, the JD(S) was the victor last time as it bagged 25 of the Assembly constituencies and the Congress tally dropped to 16. This Opposition stranglehold is what the BJP is trying to break and the ruling party has been focusing on Mandya since August when the state core committee decided at a meeting that Old Mysuru was among its priorities. Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed an event in Mandya in December.
The BJP strategy has involved bringing back Tipu Sultan into the focus, alleging that the 18th-Century ruler of Mysuru demolished a Hanuman temple to build the Jamia Masjid in Srirangapatna that stands to this day. The BJP, including its state chief Nalin Kateel, also claimed that Tipu was killed by Vokkaliga chieftains Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda and not the British. The ruling party erected an arch in Mandya hailing the Gowdas ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on March 12 to inaugurate the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway. The arch was later replaced with that of Vokkaliga seer Sri Balagangadharanatha Swami.
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“A new wave has begun in Mandya district. You will see sensational results and it will surprise everybody,” Sumalatha said as she extended her support to the BJP. On Sunday, she held closed-door meetings and campaigned for the party in Maddur on Monday. Taking the JD(S) to task, she said dynastic politics needs to end and it was time to teach a fitting lesson to the seven MLAs of the Kumaraswamy-led party. She said the BJP fields party workers who are deserving. The MP also took a dig at the JD(S) for neglecting Mandya’s development and said some people received votes, but development was taken elsewhere.