The Widow Conundrum Haunting Gowda Family in Karnataka’s Mandya 

Ambareesh’s wife, Sumalatha, has become a problem for the Gowda family, which wants to launch Nikhil Gowda in Mandya

5 min read
CM HD Kumaraswamy (right) with his father, HD Deve Gowda (left). 

As much as caste, emotions play a decisive role in winning elections in Mandya district in Karnataka – the home turf of the Gowda family. True to the nature of the land, shedding a tear or two in public has become common for the Gowda family during an election season.

The latest was on Wednesday, 13 March. During a rally in Hassan district, Deve Gowda broke into tears during his speech, stating that his family has been a political target. One of the reasons for the tears is said to be a widow of an actor and former Congress MP, who is campaigning against the family and gaining support among the voters of Mandya.

Kannada actor and former Congress MP MH Ambareesh’s wife Sumalatha has become a roadblock for the Gowda family, which is preparing to launch its youngest member, Nikhil Gowda. But riding on the support enjoyed by her late husband, Sumalatha has resolved not to back down from her decision to contest the polls.

To add to the family’s woes, a misplaced, below-the-belt verbal attack against Sumalatha by the Gowda family members has resulted in Sumalatha gaining more support in Mandya and the family facing a backlash.

Ahead of the polls, how the JD(S) solves this widow conundrum has become the biggest question in Karnataka politics.

A Rebel Candidate from A Rebel Star’s Home

Ambareesh with wife Sumalatha in a file picture.
Ambareesh with wife Sumalatha in a file picture.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint)

In the Kannada film industry, getting a prefix to one’s name is the way to announce the birth of a star. Power star, real star, crazy star, golden star... the list of titles given to actors run long in this southern industry.

One of the first actors to get such a title in the Kannada movies was Ambareesh, who for his portrayal of rebellious man was titled the rebel star. Ironically, his wife is now a potential rebel candidate from her husband’s constituency.

Since his entry to politics, Ambareesh was elected to the Lok Sabha from Mandya three times and he was reckoned as a stalwart of Mandya, across party lines. In November 2018, his funeral saw close to 1 million people gathering, many of them demanding Sumalatha must take on her husband’s mantle.

 Actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth consoles Sumalatha, widow of veteran Kannada actor MH Ambareesh, who died at a private hospital in Bengaluru on 25 November 2018. 
Actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth consoles Sumalatha, widow of veteran Kannada actor MH Ambareesh, who died at a private hospital in Bengaluru on 25 November 2018. 
(Photo: IANS)
Although she kept silence on the matter initially, Sumalatha made her decision to enter politics clear when she met Congress legislative party leader Siddaramaiah in the last week of February. She further reinforced her resolve to enter public life when she met the family of a Pulwama martyr from Mandya and offered land for his last rites.

Enter the Gowda Family

HD Kumaraswamy and Nikhil Gowda
HD Kumaraswamy and Nikhil Gowda
(Photo: Twitter/JD(S))

In the first week of March, Kumaraswamy announced son Nikhil Gowda’s entry into politics. He also made it clear that the party will not let go of the Mandya seat, which was held by the JD(S) after Ambareesh retired from politics.

“There is no question of the JD(S) forsaking the seat… the candidate will be from the JD(S). There is also no question of the JD(S) fleeing the constituency. If Nikhil Kumaraswamy wants to contest these elections, he will not move to Mysore.” 
HD Kumaraswamy, during a rally on 4 March

He added that his family has been through enough hardships and they won’t be scared by anyone. “We will not let anybody scare us away. We have never indulged in cowardly politics, like making Nikhil forsake the constituency,” he said.

As the JD(S) made its stance clear, even their coalition partner came out in support. A day before the first seat sharing meeting between the coalition partners, the Congress announced it would support the JD(S) in Mandya.

Sumalatha Stands Her Ground Amid JD(S) Attack

Even though the Congress announced its support to the JD(S), and Siddaramaiah distanced himself from the issue, Sumalatha stood her ground saying she will contest from Mandya.

On 12 March, in a press statement, she announced, “I have made up my mind to contest the Lok Sabha election from Mandya. The only decision left is whether to face the poll battle as an Independent or as a political party nominee. I will announce my decision on 18 March.”

Her indication to contest as an Independent is said to be the result of the support she received after the JD(S) went on a verbal assault against her. It started with CM Kumaraswamy questioning her contribution to Mandya. But his brother, Revanna, took the attack to a new low.

“It’s not even been a month since her husband died and instead of grieving, she is already displaying political ambitions and is saying she wants to contest elections. See what level they have stooped to,” Revanna had said.

This agitated several Ambareesh fans in Mandya.

Congress Support Crucial

Facing backlash in Mandya, the JD(S) is said to be rethinking its strategy in Mandya. According to sources, the JD(S) leadership is even considering fielding Deve Gowda as a candidate from Mandya and shifting Nikhil to Mysuru to put an end to the controversy, as contesting the senior Gowda would be a tough task for Sumalatha.

But even if Nikhil continues to be candidate and Sumalataha contests as an independent candidate, her fan base won’t be enough for her to win an election because she lacks the political knowledge and cadre support.

While the chances of the BJP supporting her are limited, all eyes are on the Congress. Even though the party has announced support to the JD(S), party leaders feel supporting her would help the party in Mandya.

“The Congress supporting Sumalatha would help the party consolidate its cadre in the state. Yes, we are now part of an alliance, but what after that? Ambareesh’s supporters are a traditional vote bank for the Congress and helping Sumalatha, even indirectly, will only support the party. Also, the BJP doesn’t have base in Mandya, so there is no question of the alliance losing,” 
A Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity

On 18 March, Sumalataha will announce her decision, and the JD(S) is expected to announce their candidates by next week. The question remains whether the Congress will give in to the pressure of the alliance or back Sumalatha to retain their vote bank.

Also, the JD(S) will be contemplating whether Nikhil Gowda’s chances in Mandya have been affected because of the controversy.

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