The Karnataka elections are just over a month away, but the buzz around Kannada stars making a political move by either joining the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or campaigning for the party, has been around for the past few months.
Speculations were rife about popular Kannada movie stars, Sudeep (Kiccha Sudeep) and Darshan Tugudeepa joining the BJP. However, the former clarified that he would only campaign for “his friends” and not join them nor contest in the upcoming assembly elections in the state.
State chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said Sudeep's support gives "big strength" to BJP's election campaign. The party would be aiming to improve its prospects in the elections by capitalizing on the 51-year-old actor’s massive fan base in the state.
However, soon after news surfaced about the stars expected to join the party, their supporters on social media took their go at expressing displeasure. Sudeep’s fans launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #WedontwantKichchainpolitics on Twitter, requesting the star to continue doing films and not be used as a “pawn for politics”.
In fact, Kiccha Sudeep's manager Jack Manju received a letter from an unknown person, threatening to release the actor's "private video" on social media. The actor, however, reiterated that the letter was not related to his support for Bommai and was related to a “personal issue”.
The actor also made headlines last year for his statements at an event that “Hindi was no more the national language”.
The war of words then ensued with Bollywood actor Ajay Devgan tweeting, “Hindi was and will remain our national language”. Sudeep replied, “I did understand the text you sent in Hindi. That's only because we all have respected, loved and learnt Hindi. No offense sir, but was wondering what's the situation be if my response was typed in Kannada.!! (sic)”
According to reports, Sudeep had also lent his support to the prolonged request of the Valmiki Nayaka community (part of the Scheduled Tribe) to increase their reservation quota. The prominent Valmiki seer, Prasannananda Puri Swami, spearheaded a 250-day protest advocating for a 7.5 per cent hike in reservation for the community.
The Valmiki Nayaka community is mainly concentrated in central districts of the state, such as Chitradurga, Davangere, Bellary, and Raichur. Since 2008, the BJP has secured the most seats in the region. However, according to reports, Congress would most likely take advantage of the tensions regarding the internal reservation for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities in the region.
Throughout the year, Congress and JD(S) have reportedly made attempts to persuade the actor into joining their party. Earlier last month, photos of DK Shivakumar, the State Congress chief’s visit to the Kannada actor at his home in Bengaluru were shared widely on social media.
In 2014 too, the Congress offered him to contest as a party candidate from either Raichur or Bellary Lok Sabha seats. Prior to the 2018 assembly elections, the JD(S) too tried to bring the actor into their party by offering him an MLC position and a potential ministerial role. Despite the proposition, the actor declined to delve into electoral politics and remained aloof.
Other actors who campaigned for/joined political parties
Ambareesh, a prominent figure in the Kannada film industry, ventured into politics in 1994 as a member of Congress. However, he severed ties with the party within two years after being denied a ticket to contest in the upcoming elections. Subsequently, he joined Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) and triumphed in the Mandya Lok Sabha constituency in 1998.
Eventually, Ambareesh left JDS and returned to Congress, where he served as a minister twice. He quit after his short stint as a union minister in protest against the state government's decision to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, which was in accordance with the Supreme Court order. He passed away in 2018 due to health complications.
On the other hand, Ambareesh's wife, Sumalatha Ambarish, a well-known Kannada actress and Karnataka MP, who contested as an independent candidate in the Mandya Lok Sabha seat, in January this year announced her support for the saffron party.
She emerged victorious in the 2019 Mandya elections with a lead of over one lakh votes. Her rallies included a show of support from actors Darshan and Yash (who starred in the film K.G.F).
However, unlike their counterparts in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, megastars in Kannada cinema have always maintained a safe distance from politics.