Will TDP-BJP Break-up Have An Effect On Telugu Voters In Karnataka?
Telugu voters account for nearly 15 per cent of Karnataka’s electorate and can therefore play a decisive part in the upcoming assembly election.
The big question – will the special status issue for Andhra Pradesh have any impact on Karnataka’s Telugu voters?
As Karnataka prepares to vote, caste mathematicians find themselves in overdrive. Thus far the run-up to the election has largely focused on the votes of Lingayats, Dalits, minorities, and Vokkaligas, among others. In this context, there is a segment in Karnataka which accounts for nearly 15 per cent of the electorate – the Telugu voters.
This year, the focus is a little more on the Telugu voters in the aftermath of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) walking out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) recently. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has, in several rallies, asked the Telugu voter not to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as they (TDP) were cheated with respect to the special status issue.
Almost all pre-poll surveys are predicting a hung house. With the numbers running too close, a difference could be made by the Telugu voters, at least in 40 constituencies in Karnataka. Incidentally, Telugu is the third-most spoken language in Karnataka after Kannada and Urdu. Telugus are also the third-largest ethnic group in the state. Bengaluru, which has 28 constituencies and is crucial to the fortunes of any party, alone has a Telugu population of 25 lakh.
This time around, parties are using the BJP-TDP break-up as a card to take the voter away from the BJP. The TDP, which is not a player in Karnataka, has been leading the anti-BJP campaign and telling the Telugu voters not to vote for the BJP. Recently, Andhra Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister K E Krishnamurthy urged Telugu voters in Karnataka not to vote for the BJP, through a video message.
While the Telugu votes were always important, this time around there is a beeline of leaders from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Telangana visiting Karnataka or sending out messages from across the border.
The Congress, too, has picked up on this subject and is trying to divert the Telugu voters away from the BJP. Siddaramaiah had recently tweeted that the BJP neither understands “Kannada swabhimana (Kannada pride)” nor does it understand “Telugu swabhimana (Telugu pride)”. Otherwise the BJP would not have broken the promise made to the Telugu people, he had said on 27 April.
The BJP has, however, been countering this narrative by telling the Telugu voter that they should look at this election from the perspective of Karnataka since they live here. The special status issue has not stoked much emotion among the local Telugus. Political analysts say that it may make a slight difference to those who have their roots in Andhra. However for those from Telangana, it is a non-issue. The Telugu people who are looking at this election from a purely Karnataka perspective feel that if at all special status is granted, then it could hurt Karnataka. With better incentives, Andhra could lure more corporates and this could see many people leaving Karnataka.
Telugu people significant in 40 constituencies
The fact of the matter is that none of the parties can ignore the Telugu voters. They are dominant or at least significant in nearly 40 constituencies in the state. They also matter in the 12 districts that have a good number of Telugu-speaking people. These people had left either Andhra or Telangana several years ago and settled in Karnataka. While in the urban pockets, many Telugu-speaking people have a major stake in real estate, in the rural pockets they are reliant on agriculture.
The influx of Telugu-speaking people began in the 1970s. It was, in fact, the construction boom that brought them to Karnataka. Bengaluru Urban and Bengaluru Rural have a large number of Telugu-speaking people. They are also in large numbers at Tumakuru, Ballari, Chitradurga, Raichur, Koppal, Kalaburgi, Kolar, Yadgir, Raichur, and Bidar. There is also Hyderabad-Karnataka, which has a dominant Muslim population, with a historical connection with neighbouring Telangana.
In Bengaluru, the Telugu voter is a dominant force. There are businesspersons, hotel owners, software industry professionals, and real estate agents. Going by the elections in the past, the Telugu people in Bengaluru have voted on the basis of the candidate. Take, for instance, candidates such as Ramalinga Reddy, Sathish Reddy, and Nandish Reddy. The voters have backed the candidate over the party that they represent.
In Bagepalli constituency, the official campaign language is Telugu. Here the elections are decided, again, on the basis of the candidate that a party fields. The Balajiga and Reddys, both Telugu-speaking, are the ones who decide the votes. In other constituencies such as Gowribidanur, Chinthamani, and Shidlagata, votes have traditionally been directed to the candidate rather than the party.
In Ballari, the land of the Reddy brothers, the voters have traditionally voted again on the basis of the candidate. In the constituencies here, the campaigns are extensively undertaken in Telugu. Here, the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu make the difference for the BJP. Sriramulu is a popular leader here who campaigns in Telugu, which takes care of the Telugu-speaking votes. The other dominant community, the Nayakas, too are with him as he belongs to the community.
On the issue of special status, it is unlikely to have a major impact on the election in Karnataka. Analysts point out that the issue has been pushed heavily by Naidu, and could make an impact in those constituencies where the Naidus are higher in number. The likes of K Chandrashekar Rao have not tried influencing the Telugu voter. He was recently in Karnataka to meet with Deve Gowda, but that was not in connection with the Karnataka poll, but for his bigger 2019 plan.
Naidus have a sizeable population in Padmanabhanagar in Bengaluru. In this constituency, the Naidus from Chittoor have settled in large numbers and are into the construction business. It would be interesting to see if the special status issue would have any bearing on them. The constituency is currently represented by R Ashok of the BJP. He won this seat in 1997 (by-election), 1999 and 2004, and 2008 and 2013. This constituency was carved out of Uttarahalli after the delimitation exercise in 2008.
If one were to take a look at the overall picture, the votes of the Telugu people are crucial to the prospects of any party in Karnataka. Will the special status issue for Andhra Pradesh have a bearing on the Karnataka Assembly election? For now, it appears as though it has not had much of an impact.
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