Sumalatha vs Nikhil Gowda
Sumalatha takesn on Nikhil Gowda at Mandya Lok Sabha constituency.PR Handout

Politics has lesser influence in Sandalwood compared to its southern counterparts like Tamil Nadu and AP. Since the days of Dr Rajkumar, not manystars identified themselves with any ideology or party, helping the industry to stay away from political interferences. Even the ones who campaigned for their friends contesting in elections, made it a point to state that their support was only for the candidate and not the party.

Celebrities have been cautious about putting their weight behind politicians to avoid facing wrath from their rivals. Actors like Sudeep, Yash and Darshan, in the previous assembly elections, did a kind of balancing act by campaigning for the candidates from all the three leading parties in the state. They had refused to campaign at the places where the battle for the constituency was between the two heavy-weights. One such example is Sudeep campaigning for Sriramulu in Molakalmur Assembly but did not canvass for him in Badami against former chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Likewise, Darshan campaigned for Siddaramiah in Mysuru, but not in Badami. However, situations have dramatically changed in a matter of 10 months. Sumalatha, the wife of late Ambareesh, has thrown her hat in the ring for the Mandya Lok Sabha constituency after the Congress refused to give her the ticket due to the seating arrangements with its coalition partner and JD(S).

JD(S), which has a stronghold in this region, did not want to give away this seat to the Congress. Hence, Sumalatha is forced to contest from the constituency as an independent candidate. The regional party, which had the names of a few other contestants in mind, decided to field actor Nikhil Gowda, son of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and grandson of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda after she entered the Mandya politics. Thus making it an interesting battle.

However, what surprised the political pundits and the public is the support that she received from Sandalwood. The stars, who played safe all these years, decided to support Sumalatha's candidature despite knowing that her opponent was none other than Chief Minister's son and also an actor.

Has Sumalatha factor vertically split Kannada film industry?

Darshan and Yash have taken the pledge to ensure that she emerges victorious while claiming that they were doing their bit owing to the love and respect that they have for Ambareesh's family. The likes of leading producer Rockline Venkatesh and Doddanna are rallying behind her citing that artistes are indebted to Ambi for his contribution to the industry.

Rockline, in a recent press meet, went on to claim that Sumalatha has the support of many actors from Sandalwood and particularly mentioned about Puneeth Rajkumar willing to campaign for her.

However, the film industry is visibly divided over the Mandya politics. Actors like Shivaraj Kumar, Sudeep and Upendra, who are very close to Sumalatha and Rockline Venkatesh, have apparently refused to campaign for her and have taken a neutral stand.

What took people by surprise is Puneeth Rajkumar's press release requesting both the parties not to use his name for electoral gains, while he wished success for both Deve Gowda and Sumalatha's families. His comment clearly exposed the division in Sandalwood and the film industry is vertically split over the issue.