The Battle for Mandya : Nikhil vs Sumalatha

This summer, Sandalwood will fret not over a clash of films at the box-office but over a high-profile clash of two actor-turned-politicians at the electoral box-office. The scenic political theatre is Mandya in the Cauvery delta in south Karnataka.

The Janata Dal (Secular) sees this patch as home territory and wrangled the seat as part of its alliance with the Congress. That disappointed Sumalatha, the wife of the late Ambareesh who was a three-time MP from Mandya. She had expected that the Congress would let her contest from the constituency. That was not to be and Sumalatha who has acted in over 200 films in five languages, has now decided to throw her hat into the ring as an Independent candidate. 

Courtesy : Sumalatha Ambareesh’s Facebook page

Why this contest becomes important is because she will be against the gen-next of the Gowda clan. Deve Gowda’s grandson and chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil is the JD(S) candidate from Mandya. Not a surprise that the parivaar is not amused at Sumalatha trying to spoil the 29-year-old’s political party. 

It showed up when Nikhil’s uncle and Karnataka Energy minister HD Revanna made a personal and sexist attack on Sumalatha saying, “It is not even a month since her husband died and instead of grieving, she is showing political ambitions and says she wants to contest elections. See what level they have stooped to.”

On Monday, Sumalatha appealed to her political rivals not to indulge in mud-slinging. 
“I request all my political competitors not to attack anyone personally. We have youngsters who are looking up to us. It is our bounden duty to set a precedent before them. We can’t be misguiding them,” she said. 

But this is not just a political story as Nikhil is also an actor. Though only two films old – Jaguar and Seetharama Kalyana – Nikhil has filmy pedigree as dad Kumaraswamy was a film producer before jumping full-time into politics. Which is perhaps why Sumalatha at her press conference on Monday to announce her decision to contest, was flanked by top Kannada stars, Yash and Darshan. She has support at home too as son Abhishek Ambareesh is an actor as well. 

Interestingly, Ambareesh who passed away in November 2018 had earned the sobriquet of the `Rebel Star’ during his years in tinseltown. It is ironical that his wife has decided to raise the flag of revolt against the party he spent most of his political years in. 

“I want to continue the legacy of my husband,” said Sumalatha. There is a background to this, albeit filmy. Ambareesh was also referred to as `Mandyada Gandu’ (Mandya’s man). This was after he had starred in a 1994 Kannada film `Mandyada Gandu‘ and just about every Mandya resident even today, can hum the popular title song. Sumalatha wants to show that “Mandyada Gandu” and his family deserves respect. 

On the face of it, Sumalatha does not stand a chance. But last week, she visited former chief minister SM Krishna, who  moved from the Congress to the BJP, to seek his blessings. Mandya provides the BJP with a good opportunity to fish in troubled waters. Even elements in the Congress, unhappy with the decision to give away Mandya to a political greenhorn, could bat for Sumalatha in a clandestine manner. 

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