MP Sumalatha Ambareesh holds out as BJP looks at her in search for Vokkaliga vote in Karnataka

AS THE BJP seeks to expand its base in the old Mysuru region where it does not have many prominent leaders, one of the people it is hoping to bring in is Independent MP Sumalatha Ambareesh. On Thursday, Sumalatha said that while the BJP had invited her, the talk of her joining the party was, as of now, just a rumour.

The wife of the late actor Ambareesh, who was hugely popular, Sumalatha had won from Mandya with BJP support in the 2019 general elections. She recently met senior BJP leaders, including Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, further triggering talk that her joining the party ahead of the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections was a done deal.

The old Mysuru region in South Karnataka consists of areas that were a part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore – Mysuru, Mandya, Chamarajanagar, Tumkur, Hassan, Chikmagalur, Kolar, and Bengaluru – barring the coastal areas and Kodagu. It is considered a Vokkaliga bastion, and the BJP has been trying to gain a footprint among the community – the most powerful in Karnataka along with the Lingayats – for many years now.

In a statement on Thursday, Sumalatha said: “There is no need for me to join other parties and my joining the BJP is a rumour since a few of my supporters joined it recently. I never said I would join the BJP. This talk started after I met BJP leaders recently to discuss development issues of my constituency.”

On the offer from the BJP, she said: “Karnataka minister C N Ashwath Narayan and other BJP functionaries invited me to join the party. But, as of now, there is no necessity for me to join, I will continue as an Independent MP. I will take the opinion of my supporters and voters before joining the BJP, I am yet to take a call on it.”

In 2019, Sumalatha had won from Mandya against former prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s grandson Nikhil Kumaraswamy. Deve Gowda has traditionally commanded the support of the Vokkaligas and has a stronghold in the old Mysuru area. Congress strongman D K Shivakumar has also been trying to carve out a space among the community.

Sumalatha’s late husband Ambareesh, also a Vokkaliga, had successfully transitioned from acting to politics. Having joined politics in 1994, he was a three-time MP from Mandya, first from the Janata Dal and then twice from the Congress. During his third term, he had served as Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Sumalatha said Ambareesh had “friends in all parties” having spent over 25 years in politics. “There are unofficial requests from all parties to join them,” she said.

To a question on her son Abhishek contesting the 2023 Assembly elections from Maddur segment, the MP said, “He is free to make his own decisions in the matter of contesting elections. I will not talk about it.”

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