After the death of an MLA and the resignation of four other representatives, Karnataka is gearing up for bypolls to three Lok Sabha and two assembly seats on November 3. Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, who had won two seats, held on to Channapatna and resigned from Ramanagara. Keeping it all in the family, his wife -- Anitha Kumaraswamy -- has been declared as the Janata Dal (Secular) candidate from Ramanagara.
Ramanagara is silk country, where rearing of silkworms is the occupation of many. It is better known across the country as the place where a little film called Sholay was shot. A JD(S) stronghold, it lies in a Vokkaliga-dominated belt in southern Karnataka.
Like her husband, Anitha produces films as well as television shows and has been an MLA from Madhugiri. However, she lost in her next bid from Channapatna, which is next to Ramanagara. Campaigning with Anitha is Congress MP DK Suresh, who describes her as the chief minister's home minister. The JD(S) will be supported by its coalition partner in this election.
Anitha does not see anything wrong with keeping things in the family. "I am also a party worker. I have worked for the people of this district, which is why people opted for me. This happens not only in the JDS but in every party. Even the Congress and BJP. This is why people have accepted it," she told NDTV while on the campaign trail.
She is confident of victory, and the fact that winning the seat is a prestige issue doesn't seem to bother her. "I don't feel any pressure. I will win with a margin of 50,000 votes. There is a bond between the people of this constituency and our family. They are very happy with us, and they are happy with the development work my husband has done here," Anitha said.
Taking on her is L Chandrashekar of the BJP. The son of a Congress MLC, he was himself in the Congress until just before his nomination. When asked about the challenges in trying to make a dent in the JD(S) stronghold, he said: "It used to be a JD(S) belt, but now it is a problem belt. She (Anitha) doesn't know the seat at all. Even the chief minister doesn't know the place."
Mr Chandrashekar said that though he joined the BJP recently, he has been in touch with the people of Ramanagara for 22 years now. "People here are hurt that Kumaraswamy resigned after they elected him. Here, we need to support the silk industry and the mango cultivators," he said.
But achieving a breakthrough will be a challenge for the BJP. One of the villagers NDTV spoke to said: "The Dala will win."
Another agreed with him. "Kumaraswamy will win here."
But the third, an elderly man, backed away from making a political comment. "I work in the fields. I don't know much about all this," he said.
Although the Ramanagara outcome will not affect the coalition government much in terms of numbers, it has turned into a prestige contest. In Indian politics -- where family ties are all-important -- rejecting the chief minister's wife would seem like rejecting the chief minister and the ruling coalition itself. And the BJP is hoping for victory in this JD(S) belt ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
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