Bengaluru: With the I-T sleuths and other officers from the Central revenue enforcement agencies camping in Mandya and Hassan, the battle for two hotly contested Gowda-dominated JD(S) bastions is proving to be a tough call for the ruling coalition partner in the State, where, as campaigning ends for the first phase of 14 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, the Congress-JD (S) coalition is hoping not only to upset the BJP’s projection of getting more than 20 seats, but safeguard its own coalition government.

It is in these seats that go to polls in Karnataka on Thursday, leaders of the Congress-JD(S), coalition in the government, are pulling out all the stops as in all 14 constituencies, they have fielded common candidates and much depends on how they fare in this first phase of polling in the state.

Considering how high the stakes are, JD(S) supremo, H.D. Deve Gowda and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, set aside their differences to jointly campaign in these constituencies after a gap of 15 years, but whether they have succeeded in persuading the workers of their parties, that have been traditional rivals, to work together for the success of their consensus candidates is far from clear.

Mandya is a matter of prestige for the JD(S) in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, where Nikhil Gowda – the son of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy is making his electoral debut and faces a formidable rival in Sumalatha Ambareesh, the widow of Congress MP and matinee icon M.H. Ambareesh, who has retaliated with her own brand of political putdowns, every time that the CM unleashed a verbal fusillade. Losing Mandya would be deeply embarrassing for the chief minister, as would the two prizes the JD(S) has an eye on – Hassan and Tumakuru, where the chief minister’s nephew Prajwal Revanna and father, former premier H.D Deve Gowda are standing from.

“It is a very tough fight between Nikhil and Sumalatha. With the Income Tax Department cracking its whip on the alleged use of illicit money in poll expenditure it will be very difficult for party workers to induce voters at booth level on the day of polling. It is always the last day, which counts. Meanwhile, the sympathy factor for Sumalatha is also steadily gaining ground. She will give the JD(S) a run for their money,” said a well placed source.

The insider added that Mandya has been turned into a fortress and the Central revenue enforcement agencies are keeping a very close vigil on the alleged illicit use of cash running into crores of rupees on poll expenditure by the JD(S). “All government contracts favouring some select contractors that have been cleared in a hurry in the last 10-11 months since the Congress-JD(S) coalition government came to power following immediate huge cash withdrawals are under scrutiny by the Income Tax Department,” said a well placed source. He added that enforcement will peak on April 18, the day of polling in Mandya to ensure free and fair elections.

JD(S) has placed its best bet on Mandya, where it won all the seven Assembly segments in 2018 elections. “All key functionaries from the Gram and Zilla Panchayat to the MLAs in the district belong to the JD(S). Mandya is proving to be a battle of nerves and it is difficult to say who would walk away with the kill,” he added. Should the coalition fail to perform as well as it hopes in these 14 seats in south Karnataka, it could help the BJP reach its dream figure of over 20 seats from the state and spell trouble for the government, even bringing its survival into question.

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