Bengaluru: Going by recent developments, the BJP appears to be aggressively reaching out to the southern states of the country.
Of the five states — Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala, the BJP is a major player in Karnataka, emerging as a serious player in Telangana, a marginal player in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and almost non-existent in Kerala.
For long seen as a largely north and western Indian political party, the BJP successfully extended its footprint to the eastern parts of the country.
Today, except for Karnataka, the south remains largely untouched by the BJP wave. The recent developments indicate that the party is moving to tap this region in time for the next general elections in 2024.
For starters, in June the BJP held its national executive meeting at Hyderabad, where the Prime Minister addressed a massive public meeting.
Coming after 18 years, the event led to a lot of traction in Telangana where the party is positioning itself as the principal opposition to the ruling TRS led by KCR and his family. The BJP top brass also discussed the Southern strategy in great detail at the Hyderabad meet.
More recently, just last week, the central government’s list of Rajya Sabha nominees included one personality each from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and the Telugu states. Something unheard of till now, the development created a lot of buzz in public and political circles.
The Prime Minister also made visits to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh during recent months. Add to this, the frequent visits of senior rung leaders to the region, and the pattern can be discerned easily.
Political observers point out that with the BJP establishing itself in its traditional strongholds of North and West India, it has to look for new regions to acquire votes to offset potential anti-incumbencies in those areas. The south, with 131 Lok Sabha seats (including Puducherry and Lakshadweep) on offer is the only place where the BJP can look for new seats.
“The BJP will be looking to come to power on their own in the next elections also. They are also aware that certain states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan may not vote on expected lines.
“To offset possible losses in such areas, the BJP has to develop the south which is still untouched so far as they’re concerned,” explains RK Upadhya, former journalist and seasoned political commentator.
When the BJP swept to power in 2014, it bagged just 22 seats from the region. In 2019, the BJP tally marginally increased to 30 seats from the south, of which 25 Lok Sabha victories were from Karnataka alone. In 2024, the party will have to increase the tally substantially, a BJP leader said.
With the Congress which is its main opponent having almost lost relevance in majority of the southern states, the BJP is jumping in for the kill in states like Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Of the five states here, Karnataka, and Telangana offer the most promise for the BJP.
With 28 and 17 Lok Sabha seats respectively, the BJP has been a beneficiary of rising communal differences in the two states which have substantial minority populations.
In Tamil Nadu with 39 Lok Sabha seats, the prevailing Dravidian sentiments have so far prevented the BJP from making its presence felt. However, with growing proselytisation activities of Christian groups and the rising Muslim fundamentalist activities, the BJP is garnering support in some parts of the state.
By appointing former IPS officer Annamalai as its state unit president, the BJP is deliberately moving away from its hitherto demure image, to a more aggressive position in Tamil Nadu politics.
“Surprisingly, Annamalai is drawing large crowds although it is not converting into votes. But he is going aggressively against the ruling DMK and the BJP is apparently happy with him,” Upadhya says.
It will however wait for things to stabilise in its ally, the AIADMK which is currently passing through an uncertain phase due to intra-party power struggles.
Although the state of Andhra Pradesh has 25 Lok Sabha seats at stake, the BJP has never been able to make noticeable inroads here. Here too, prosylitisation has been the main target of the BJP with the party often targeting chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is a Christian, over incidents of temple vandalism.
Realising that the party does not stand much of a chance in the state, the BJP has so far been content to playing second fiddle to dominant regional player TDP which had parted ways ahead of the 2019 polls.
In 2014, the BJP had won two seats in alliance with the TDP and Jana Sena Party. It drew a blank in 2019 fighting on its own. Currently, the BJP has tied up with actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party. It would not be surprising if the three parties get together ahead of 2024 polls.
Unlike the other regions of the country where the basic political discourse centres around communal faultlines, in the South, the BJP is faced with a chequered political arena. If it is Muslim communal card at play in Karnataka and Telangana, in Andhra Pradesh the party raises the Christian card.
In Tamil Nadu it is a combination of Muslim and Christian politics. Conversely, in Kerala, the BJP is building bridges with the Christian community to take on the Left and Congress combines.
“The ‘love jihad’ issue in Kerala has particularly affected Christians in Kerala and the BJP is telling them that Hindus are their natural allies. However, it will take time for the BJP to really achieve concrete results here,” Upadhya notes.
Of the 130-odd Lok Sabha seats at stake in the south , the BJP tally has never crossed 30 seats. Aiming for a third shot at power, winning big here can make a lot of difference for the BJP in 2024. And it is leaving no stone unturned to achieve this.
By Narendra Puppala