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Kichcha Sudeep & BJP: Can Sandalwood Actors Influence Karnataka Election?

Why does the BJP want Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep to campaign for the party in Karnataka election 2023?

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Wooed by both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, Kannada film actor Kichcha Sudeep opted, on 5 April, to go with Karnataka’s ruling party. While he categorically stated that he will not contest elections, he pledged to support the campaign of Karnataka Chief Minister and BJP leader Basavaraj Bommai.

With some opinion polls predicting rout for BJP in 2023 Assembly election scheduled for 10 May, some sitting legislators resigning from the party, agitation simmering over the new reservation matrix, and disquiet gathering over the yet to be released candidates list, Bommai has been on the back foot.

The state government's decision on internal reservation for the Scheduled Castes has triggered protests by the Banjaras who have been given 4.5 percent reservation within the SC list. A Banjara pontiff even attempted to end his life over reservation in Bommai’s constituency Shiggaon.
Why does the BJP want Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep to campaign for the party in Karnataka election 2023?

Kiccha Sudeep.

(Photo: Twitter) 

By roping in Sudeep, Bommai’s objective seems to be to garner the Valmiki or Nayaka votes. This category falls under the Scheduled Tribes list and constitutes nearly 6.6 percent of the state's total population of 6.76 crore. Karnataka has 36 Assembly seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes and 15 for the Scheduled Tribes, out of a total of 224 constituencies. Sudeep represents the Valmiki caste and the plan seems to be to make him campaign in the Valmiki dominated constituencies in Chitradurga, Ballari, and Raichur.

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‘If Mama Bommai Needs Help…’

Addressing a news conference along with the CM, the 51 year-old actor, who also hosts Kannada reality show 'Bigg Boss,' stated that he would campaign where his Mama (maternal uncle) Bommai would ask him to.

“If he (Bommai) requires any help, I will assist him. I am saying that it is purely a support to an individual. Bommai is among those who were with me when I was struggling. It is a duty and gratitude I have for this person…” Sudeep said.
Why does the BJP want Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep to campaign for the party in Karnataka election 2023?

Kichcha Sudeep (second right) with CM Basavaraj Bommai and Minister K Sudhakar.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

The actor had campaigned for Minister N Munirathna, when he contested the by-poll from Rajarajeshwari Nnagar constituency in Bengaluru, after resigning  from the Congress, in 2020. Mid-2000, Sudeep's uncle Sarovar Srinivas was a two time Janata Dal (Secular) MLC.

Sudeep's announcement to support Bommai evoked mixed response from his film associates. Actor and activist Prakash Raj tweeted: “I strongly believe this is fake news spread by the desperate, loosing BJP in Karnataka @KicchaSudeep is a far more sensible citizen to fall prey.”

AICC general secretary Karnataka in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted: “A Film Star is free to choose whom to support, sometimes by IT-ED or otherwise. Bankruptcy of BJP in #Karnataka is clear. As no one turns up to listen to CM Bommai & BJP leaders, they now rely upon film stars to draw crowd. People, not film stars, will decide the fate of Karnataka.”

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Can Sandalwood Influence Elections?

Do silver screen veterans bring in votes for political parties? Unlike the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, where stalwarts like MG Ramachandran, J Jayalalithaa, M Karunanidhi, and NT Rama Rao, are credited with launching regional parties and having helmed governments, actors of the Kannada film industry or Sandalwood can be bracketed into two categories.

One, actors who take the plunge into electoral politics and secondly, those who make their appearance only during elections to address public rallies for the parties they identify with. On other occasions, the Kannada film fraternity has come out only to protest troubles within the industry.
Why does the BJP want Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep to campaign for the party in Karnataka election 2023?

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai speaking at a press conference in which Kichcha Sudeep pledged his support.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

“Kannada film actors come out during elections. Politicians use them as star campaigners, later they vanish as not many like late MH Ambareesh, Umashree (who does by first name), Tara (who does by first name), or Mukhyamantri Chandru want to invest fulltime in politics,” says Milind Dharmasena, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC), General Secretary, who has scored music for three Kannada movies.

According to a political observer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, there has been no instance when rallies by stars from Sandalwood have resulted in votes swinging in favour of candidates. “People come to see and listen to actors but the ultimate decision on whom to vote for depends on the stature of the candidate, party, caste, and development  works done by the candidate’s party,'' the political watcher said.

In the 1990s actor Anant Nag and his brother Shanka Nag campaigned for the Janata Party. Later, Anant Nag contested and became a minister in the Janata Dal government. He has now offered his support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Why does the BJP want Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep to campaign for the party in Karnataka election 2023?

A film still of Anant Nag.

(Image: Facebook)

Sunayana Suresh, film journalist and vice president, Karnataka Film Journalists' Association (KFJA) said:

“The relationship between politics and cinema is quite symbiotic, because in both, it is about mass appeal and leadership. For those who have the dream, I think, politics is the space that can act as an extension of what they are on screen.”

Another film journalist GS Kumar said, “Ambareesh had the charisma to draw crowds and was a star campaigner. But elections and canvassing are two different things and one is not sure campaigns can translate into votes.''

A lone exception to actors seeking political limelight was Kannada movie icon Dr Rajkumar (screen name). Rajkumar stayed clear of politics and was never swayed even when political leaders hounded him for backing. During the 1978 by-poll to Chikkamagaluru Lok Sabha seat, the Janata Party wanted to field Rajkumar against former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Rajkumar went into hiding and stayed in a farm house near Ranipet in Tamil Nadu, 100 km from Chennai, while the Janata Party leaders searched the houses of all his film industry associates.

Why does the BJP want Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep to campaign for the party in Karnataka election 2023?

Dr Rajkumar 

(Photo: Twitter)

The only time the Rajkumar family saw active participation in politics was when his daughter-in-law (wife of Shivraj Kumar), Gita Rajkumar contested against former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa for the Shivamogga Lok Sabha seat in 2014. But Gita’s decision to join politics was seen more as an influence of her father and and former Chief Minister of Karnataka S Bangarappa than that of Rajkumar.

Except for Dr Rajkumar, Sandalwood has had its say in Karnataka elections.

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Political Star Wars

Many leading actors of the Kannada film industry had entered electoral politics, benefitting the political parties they represented. Arguably, ‘Rebel Star’ MH Ambareesh has been the most successful on the political front. He started his political innings with Janata Dal (Secular), joined the Congress later and went on to become an MP from Mandya Lok Sabha constituency, Union Minister in UPA (1) government, and Minister in Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's cabinet. Popularly known as Mandya-da Gandu (Macho Man of Mandya), Ambareesh became a magnet for dominant Vokkaliga caste votes in Mandya, and helped the Congress win Assembly seats in the district in 2013.

Why does the BJP want Kannada actor Kichcha Sudeep to campaign for the party in Karnataka election 2023?

MH Ambareesh and Sumalatha.

(Photo: Twitter)

After his death in 2018, his wife and actor Sumalatha Ambareesh contested as an Independent candidate from the Mandya Lok Sabha seat in 2019 and won defeating former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy's actor-son Nikhil Kumaraswamy. The high voltage campaign during the 2019 poll had two leading actors – ‘Rocking Star’ Yash and Darshan Thogudeepa campaigning for her and the BJP not fielding any candidate. There is speculation that Thogudeepa might extend support to the BJP this election. Recently, Sumalatha had announced her support to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Interestingly, the high profile Mandya Lok Sabha seat did attract other Kannada actors too. After Ambareesh, the constituency was represented by Ramya (screen name), who won on a Congress ticket in 2013. During her short tenure of eight months, Ramya was actively involved in the constituency's development. She has, however, remained tight lipped about her electoral ambition this year.

The impending Assembly elections will see Nikhil Kumaraswamy contesting from Ramanagara as Janata Dal (Secular) candidate. Umashree, another popular supporting actor who has played a popular role in the Kannada television serial ‘Puttakanna Makkalu’ will contest from Terdal in Bagalkote district.

Kichcha Sudeep is the latest addition to this long list.

Who is Kichcha Sudeep? Sudeep got the prefix ‘Kichcha’ from the 2001 film ‘Huchcha,’, in which his screen name is Kichcha. Two years later, a movie called ‘Kichcha,’ in which Sudeep plays the role  of a graduate, released. His film ‘Eega’ was dubbed into Hindi under the title ‘Makkhi,’ and was a hit.  His last movie in the lead role was ‘Vikrant Rona’ released in 2022. He did an extended cameo role in ‘Kabzaa,’ released in February 2023.

Will Kichcha Sudeep make a mark for the BJP in Karnataka? The saffron party does think so, with Basavaraj Bommai stating, “It will help the party get more seats. I congratulate him for supporting us.”

(Naheed Ataulla is a senior political journalist based in Bengaluru)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Kichcha Sudeep   Kiccha Sudeep   Sandalwood 

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