Three weeks ago, Andhra Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister KE Krishnamurthy waded into the world of Karnataka politics, one in which his party, the Telugu Desam has no stake whatsoever. In a video message, he asked Telugus settled in Karnataka to shun Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP because it had not granted special category status to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. What stood out in the message was that Krishnamurthy's ire was directed more at Modi than at the BJP.
“Modi has done injustice to Andhra people. So do not support Modi. Support anyone but Modi,” said Krishnamurthy.
A few days later, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao flew into Bengaluru to meet former Prime Minister and JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda. Though the agenda was essentially to discuss national politics, keeping 2019 in mind, KCR spent time trying to assess how the JD(S) will perform in the May 12 Assembly Elections. The Telangana CM pledged support to Gowda's party - not surprising considering his stated anathema to both the Congress and the BJP.
Over the past few days, KCR's ally and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi too has been camping in Karnataka, addressing public meetings in Muslim-dominated constituencies. Initially, the MIM intended to contest the elections in alliance with Gowda but the JD(S) expressed its reservations over the impact Owaisi's communally polarising image could have on its Hindu voters. Owaisi, therefore, decided not to contest and instead is campaigning for the JD(S).
The JD(S) candidates in constituencies bordering Andhra Pradesh and Telangana - from Bidar to Kolar - also planned to get actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan to campaign for them.
“We want to get Pawan Kalyan around May 9 to Ballari and other districts as his appeal among the Telugu youth is tremendous,” says Mohammed Iqbal, JD(S) candidate in Ballari city. Iqbal is taking on Gali Somasekhara Reddy of the BJP, the elder brother of tainted mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy. He hopes Pawan who has been training his guns at the BJP over special category status to Andhra, would find reason to target the saffron party in Ballari. However, reports of a secret deal between the BJP and the JD(S) have put a question mark over Pawan's plans.
With one crore Telugu-speaking people living in Karnataka, their presence was always a known factor but never before have so many top line Telugu politicians been so interested in elections next door.
2018 is different because if the BJP comes to power in Karnataka, it may be tempted to have a go at estranged partner – Andhra CM and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu. A Congress victory will reinvigorate the party in Telangana and as a result, KCR would much rather have Siddaramaiah bite the dust. This explains the sharp anti-Siddaramaiah rhetoric by Owaisi.
Having realised the attempt to thwart its electoral victory, the BJP in Karnataka has been chalking out its own counter strategy. Among them is to have Telugu-speaking BJP politicians appear on Telugu news channels to explain the party's vision for Karnataka. The idea is to tell Telugu speakers in Karnataka that she/he should look at the elections from the point of view of how it will affect her/him individually and not worry about issues in the land of her/his birth.
That's not all. The Reddy brothers who along with their associates have been given seven tickets, are more than comfortable speaking Telugu. Though the Reddy clan cannot be used for campaigning beyond their constituencies for strategic reasons, the BJP will want to send the message through their presence that the Karnataka unit cares for Telugu interests.
But a look at the discussions over social media groups of the Bengaluru Telugus Association should worry the BJP. The six-year-old association has 3600 members, 70% of them hail from Andhra and the remaining have their roots in Telangana. Most of the online discussion trashes the BJP, with those Telugus who support the party finding themselves outnumbered.
“Those from Andhra feel betrayed by the BJP so will not vote for the party. But those from Telangana may not really bother much. So the support for the BJP among Telugus in Bengaluru too will be reflected accordingly,'' says Madhusudan Chadalawada, Vice President of the Association. Chadalawada, however, points out that the anger against the BJP does not automatically translate into support for the Congress as Telugus are aware that the problems of Andhra are the result of the UPA's decision to bifurcate in 2014.
Siddaramaiah is doing his bit to make good use of the anger that is at the moment primarily directed at the BJP. On 27 April, he tweeted, “BJP neither understands #KannadaSwabhimana nor #TeluguSwabhimanam. Otherwise BJP would not have broken the promise made to the Telugu people.”
Soon after, the Andhra Pradesh Congress released a letter purportedly written by Siddaramaiah (denied by his office) in which he “humbly appealed” to the Telugu-speaking voters in his state to “teach a fitting lesson to the saffron party for not granting special category status to Andhra.”
The irony is that if Andhra is indeed granted special status, it will harm Karnataka's interests because with better tax incentives that Naidu can then offer to corporates, there could be a flight of capital out of Karnataka.
But Siddaramaiah will cross that bridge later. There is an election to win first.