Game faces on, Siddaramaiah, Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy are doing their best to ensure that the coalition pulls off this election
In the last few days, a two-year-old video of a music launch of a Kannada-Telugu movie has become such a butt of jokes that even Google Maps had to remove it as a location to find Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and the candidate of the JDS-Congress alliance from Mandya Lok Sabha constituency.
The video contains visuals of Kumaraswamy Senior making a weak attempt at acting. He says : “Nikhil, ello kaantailla. Elli iddiyappa.” (Nikhil, I cannot see you. Where are you?)
At this point, Nikhil appears from among the huge crowd to say: “I am here among the people who love you and grandfather (HD Deve Gowda, the former Prime Minister.)”
The video was taken at the music promotion of the well-received movie “Jaguar” in which Nikhil was launched by producer Kumaraswamy Senior into Sandalwood. The event was forgotten until Nikhil was fielded as the alliance candidate in Mandya, the basin district of the river Cauvery.
The memes followed of course, wondering “where is Nikhil” in the constituency. The trolls carried a lot of political weight because Sumalatha Ambareesh was promoted by the anti-JDS alliance Congressmen as an Independent candidate. Sumalatha is, in her own right, a multi-lingual actor who is the wife of Kannada film icon, Ambareesh, who passed away late last year.
The electoral tussle in Mandya, in more ways than one, symbolises the political maladjustment between the alliance partners who have run a coalition government for 11 months. The constituency represents the concentration of the bitterness of rivals Congress and the Janata Dal Secular ( JDS) of four decades in southern Karnataka.
“How can we go and work for a JDS candidate after fighting such bitter battles over so many years ? The leaders should have consulted the party rank and file. Or, at least fielded Sumalatha. Even if our leaders compromise, we cannot,” said Manjunath, a party worker and a farmer. Manjunath was part of the reception party for Sumalatha in Sarangi village of KR Pete assembly segment.
On her part, Sumalatha communicates a simple line. She tells the women: “I am sure all of you watch television. You have seen what kind of mentality exists in society when it comes to women. You have seen what all names I have been called just because I decided to contest in the name of your dear Ambareesh. It is a question of the self-respect of Mandya.”
The “self-respect” issue rankles her Congress supporters because Nikhil hails from the neighbouring district of Hassan, the home turf of the HD Deve Gowda family. Like Ambareesh, Nikhil also hails from the Vokkaliga community which is spread across most districts of southern Karnataka. But, as another party worker, who did not want to be named, put it: “We are different. Couldn’t they have found another candidate from Mandya itself?”
The BJP, which does not have much of a base in the district, has backed Sumalatha. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the Mysuru rally that his party backs her. This has given room for the JDS to campaign that she would move over to the BJP if she is elected or even defeated. Chief minister Kumaraswamy has adopted the campaign line that a vote for Nikhil will help the coalition government to continue in power and provide funds for development to the district.
A Local Congress Problem?
But Kumaraswamy has taken the interesting political line that the problem of Mandya is a local issue for which the state Congress leaders are not responsible.
In a conversation at Gejalagere, Mandya constituency, Kumaraswamy said: “Only in Mandya there is some bickering and this is not from the state Congress leaders. It is from some Congressmen who left us two years ago. Here, the BJP, a section of Congressmen, farmers association and the local media are backing the Independent candidate. That will not affect my son. He will win by a margin of three to four lakhs.’’
His confidence emanates from the fact that the JDS had swept the assembly elections last year. And the party legislators are busy garnering support for Nikhil.
Kumaraswamy’s comment about the sincerity of the Congress leaders at the state level should be read as that of former chief minister Siddaramaiah.
To the uninitiated, Siddaramaiah was always considered the protégé of Deve Gowda in the Janata party and the Janata Dal of yesteryears. The relationship soured when Siddaramaiah realised that he would never be able to become the chief minister if he remained with the former Prime Minister’s JDS.
Since last year, when the coalition was forced on him by the Congress high command, the relationship between mentor and disciple appears to have thawed considerably.
So from where-is-Nikhil to where does the Congress-JDS alliance stand, it appears a lot of telephone lines appear to have been burnt, more so, between Delhi and Karnataka. In short, between Deve Gowda, the JDS President, and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president.
The upshot of all this is that the show of unity that Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah presented to the media a couple of weeks ago has been taken seriously across the board.
Both the leaders, individually and together, have genuinely tried to sort out the differences at the local level in constituencies like Tumakuru, where Deve Gowda is contesting, and even Mysuru where the rivalry between mentor-mentee Siddaramaiah and the JDS’ GT Deve Gowda, higher education minister, had made the BJP more than comfortable. A chat between Siddaramaiah and GT, as he is popularly called, last week appears to have turned the heat on the BJP.
Deve Gowda has gone around campaigning in each of the constituencies where the Congress candidates have been fielded in Bengaluru like Bengaluru North (where BJP union minister Sadananda Gowda is facing a tough battle against Congress minister Krishna Byre Gowda), Bengaluru Central (where BJP’s PC Mohan is facing the Congress’s young turk Rizwan Arshad) and even Bengaluru South (where the Congress’ BK Hariprasad is taking on Amit Shah’s favourite Tejaswi Surya).
And, Siddaramaiah has gone to all those constituencies with either Deve Gowda or Kumaraswamy to campaign for the JDS candidates with the exception of constituencies where there are no OBCs and where the Vokkaliga voters are too many. “We don’t want Siddaramaiah to be a red rag to that section of the Vokkaligas which felt discriminated during his regime,” said a Congress strategist on condition of anonymity.
It is this kind of sensitivity, despite the bitterness of the past, that a combination of Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah has brought to the table to ensure that nobody is left asking on May 23: where is the alliance? Just like Kumaraswamy Senior was asking, two years ago, where-are-you-Nikhil.