Mandya: Congress candidates in the Old Mysore-Mandya region are chanting the 'Ambareesh Mantra'. Popularly known as 'rebel star' in the Kannada movie industry, MH Ambareesh is the outgoing MLA from Mandya constituency and was the state housing minister until June 2016. While the party was counting on his presence as one of their 'star' campaigners for the 12 May elections, Ambareesh is channelling his rebel attitude and has not sought electoral blessings for them.
Despite being infamous as an absentee MLA from the constituency, Congress feels Ambareesh is a key leader to their victory here. His good relationships with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal (Secular), caste equations in the region and his popularity are the reasons attributed to this.
Ambareesh was dropped from chief minister Siddaramaiah's cabinet in 2016 following his alleged inactiveness and poor performance. This pre-poll season, Ambareesh indulged in a cat-and-mouse game with Congress leaders by refusing to accept the Assembly ticket. While Ambareesh seems upset, there is discontent among his fans and followers as well. However, regardless of him refusing to contest, the party was counting on him for support.
Ambareesh was at the peak of his film career when former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda introduced him to politics. The byelections to the Ramanagaram Assembly segment in 1997 was necessitated after Gowda vacated the seat on being elevated as prime minister.
Although Ambareesh fought on the Janata Dal ticket and lost the electoral battle to CM Lingappa of Congress, political analysts then itself had seen Ambareesh as a future chief ministerial candidate for Karnataka. He joined Congress in 1999 and has fought five elections since. Whilst he won all the three elections to Lok Sabha, he lost the 2008 Assembly poll battle.
In Mandya district, there are seven Assembly segments — Malavalli, Maddur, Melkote, Mandya, Shrirangapattana, Nagamangala and Krishnarajpet. This with KR Nagara of Mysuru district forms the Mandya Lok Sabha constituency. Congress has won 12 elections for the Mandya Lok Sabha seat since 1951. Former external affairs minister SM Krishna is one of the leaders who participated in strengthening the Congress base in Mandya. Divya Spandana aka Ramya, head of the All India Congress Committee Social Media Cell, won the constituency in 2013.
Another reason for Congress to be scared is that Krishna, who led the party for several years in Mandya, joined BJP several months ago. Hence, Ambareesh was a must for Congress to gain power in the district.
The opposition JD(S), too, has established some supremacy in the last 15 years. It won four of the seven Assembly segments during the 2013 polls. But two of their MLAs, N Cheluvaraya Swamy of Nagamangala and AB Ramesh Bandisiddegowda of Shrirangapattana, resigned from the Assembly after cross-voting in favour of Congress candidates in the Rajya Sabha biennial election this year.
They have joined Congress, and their inclusion has definitely intensified the strength of the party, but Mandya district Congress committee president CD Gangadhar said Ambareesh was a trump card for the party.
Though Ambareesh, also a Vokkaliga, has opted out of the poll fray, his meeting with JD(S) state president and Gowda's son HD Kumaraswamy has alerted political workers since JD(S) is already gaining support among a major chunk of the Vokkaliga population in the district.
Ambareesh hasn't formally endorsed JD(S) yet. Kumaraswamy was quoted as saying: "He is disappointed with the way he was treated by the Congress... Ambareesh treats me as his younger brother. I am hopeful he will take a decision in a couple of days." Ambareesh has, however, stated that he is still loyal to the Congress.
L Sandesh, president of D Devaraj URS Backward Classes Forum, said though the district is being branded as Vokkaliga heartland, ironically Vokkaligas command only around 32-35 percent of votes in Mandya. 'Kurubas' and voters belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBC), Scheduled Class, Scheduled Tribes (SC-ST) and minority community will decide the fate of candidates, he said.
The SC-ST voters are approximately 20-22 percent of the electorate, Kurubas are nearly 20-22 percent, Lingayats-Veerashaivas are four-six percent and minorities and other categories are 17-19 percent in Mandya district, according to political observers.
However, Somashekar, a die-hard fan of Ambareesh, reminds that he is popular among other communities too. He has the capacity to pull votes of non-Vokkaliga communities as well, he said.
Hoping to not be affected by a disgruntled Ambareesh, Congress said it is banking on the achievements of the Siddaramaiah-led government in the state to win the elections. Former Congress minister MS Atmananda said Siddaramaiah has done a lot to make Karnataka hunger-free and uplift poor and downtrodden ever since he became the chief minister. Senior party leader Sathyananda also dismissed the issue and said everything is fine and all in the party are committed to strive for the victory of Congress candidates.
The author is a Mandya-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: May 10, 2018 14:06 PM