Friday, June 2, 2023

South, the last frontier for BJP


By Dr Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao

By winning the north-eastern state elections BJP has extended its foot print to new and unchartered area. In the number of LokSabha seats the north-east is certainly not significant but demography wise it is a huge gain for BJP. The party not only captured the Christian dominant states, thus gaining the confidence of Christians of different denominations elsewhere, but also established as the only pan-India party pushing the Congress out of north-east. Earlier it established its electoral supremacy in the north and west states. However,the proclaimed Congress ‘mukthbharat’ dream is still few elections away for BJP as the party is not yet to show its presence in southern states of India. Barring Karnataka, its declared gateway to South, the other four states, till now, are beyond its electoral reach of BJP. The electoral winning formula of states north of Vindhya is not working in the south till now and this time around BJP is reportedly evolving a state specific strategy to win the south.

In 2019 elections BJP drew a blank from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu while it got 4 seat from Telangana and 26 from Karnataka. Sothern states command 130 LokSabha seats and here the regional parties are the dominant forces. So to get a foothold in South, the BJP has to devise new way to achieve its mission south success. The party reportedly started focusing on 160 LokSabha seats which BJP lost in 2019 and most of them are in the south. Its reported targeting of 60 seats from the south, as things stand today, is certainly a herculean task. However BJP has the record of setting a goal, however tough it may be, motivate the cadre by involving all sister organizations and finally achieving that goal as it has done in states like Tripura. Till 2018 elections BJP has no presence in Tripura and it got a majority in that election to form the government and successfully retained that state. It is such track record which is giving the BJP cadre the confidence of capturing the southern states in 2024. To erase its north focused party, the BJP held its national executive in Hyderabad where the winning the south strategy was formulated. BJPhas accommodated the southern party leaders B.S. Yeddiyurappa (Karnataka) and K. Lakshman (Telangana)in to the national executive of the party. Further,NarendraModigovernment nominated three hugely popular personalities from the southern states to RajyaSabha.  Tamil music maestroIlayaRaju and acclaimed story teller of Bahubali, RRR fame Vijayendra Prasad from Telugu states and sprint queen P.T. Usha are the presidential nominees.  P.T. Usha is now elected as the President of Indian Olympic Committee.

With the preparation to attract south blueprinted in Delhi, each southern state unit is tasked to devise to reach out specific socialgroups through a sustained campaign basing on what Modi government is doing by implementing its various welfare schemes. The outreach program is aimed at informing the beneficiaries of the central schemes as the southern state government, ruled by regional parties, are sticking their own labels to the central schemes and projecting the CMs are the benefactors.  With special focus on the developmental activities such a national high way laying, rail projects and airport developments the BJP leaders are asked to reach out to the unreached middle class voters.

Each state is, reportedly, given the task of winning a specified number of LokSabha seats in their respective states with a view to compensate the likely loss of seats in the northern states. That BJP has reached saturation point in terms of winnable seats in the north and is unlikely to cross beyond that, hence its focus on the 160 seats the party has lost in 2019 election and most of them are obviously in the south. All state units are put on an active mode for 2024 election.

The Tamil Nadu, where the anti-BJP sentiment was strong because of the anti-Hindi, anti-Hindu campaign ran by Dravidian parties for over five decades. But the sustained ground level work done by the dormant working intellectual groups the message of BJP has reached to different districts and the party could get acceptability in entrenched Dravidian state. Appointment of Annamalai, a former IPS officer of clean record, as the state party chief has got the fillip for the party besides its political understanding with AIAIDMK, founded by MGR and lead by Jayalalithaa. In 2019 election BJP won one LokSabha seat and in 2021 state elections it won 4 seats.

There is a perceptible change in the political dynamics of Tamil Nadu. The myth of social justice under Dravidian parties stands fully exposed. The boasting of Dravidian movement as the one of social change not supported by the facts. The atrocities on Dalit are highest in Tamil Nadu and as the long time sufferers they are looking for an alternative along with some middle castes which may form the back bone of BJP votes. That the party has decided to contest 15 seats in that state and identified those constituencies to focus shows its early preparation to face DMK.

In Telangana, BJP has moved ahead very fast from a single assembly seat in 2018 election, to 4 LokSabha seats in 2019, stunning performance in 2020 Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation election coupled with two victories out of 4 by-polls and now the main challenger to KCR, pushing Congress to third place. The 2023 Telangana assembly elections are going to be the game changer for BJP in south. With KCR’s family centric governance and money making through scams including the Delhi liquor scam where Kavitha, daughter of KCR is a suspect, the BRS party is in jittery about the threat from BJP. Outwardly KCR and his courtier may talk about their strength of ‘Telangana sentiment’ but they also know the blunted anti-Andhra campaign, they successfully used earlier, after nine years of Telangana formation. It is now corruption in KCR regime and his failed promises that matter for the voter. The infighting in Congress is helping the BJP to catch the image of fighter against the family of KCR and that may tilt the result in its favour in coming elections.

Kerala is the tough for the BJP till now as the voters in that state are aligned with smaller caste, religion based parties. They were experimenting by changing the ruling coalition every five years and were till now disappointed by both LDF and UDF. To those voters BJP wish to present as the alternative, but how far Kerala voters catch that third force bait is doubtful. Despite Hindutva as an ideology growing in Kerala, the BJP is not gaining proportionally. The challenge BJP thrown to CPM to defeat its candidate Suresh Gopi from Trissur shows its confidence level. BJP attracting a section of Christians is also on the cards as girls of that community are also victims of ‘love jihad’. With special attention being paid by the home minister Amit Shah to push BJP ahead in Kerala the LokSabha elections may not bipolar any more in that state.

Andhra Pradesh is the state where there are two regional parties in strong position and a third regional party lead by film actor PawanKalyan emerging, BJP is finding little space to have apolitical footing. Since both the regional parties are going to support BJP in the post elections the central leadership has not formed any strategy for Andhra Pradesh. For BJP retaining the power in Karnataka is more important. With both NarendraModi and Amit Shah involved in the strategy and campaign retention of Karnataka may not be difficult despite negative reports emanating in certain sections of media.

Goal set is “capture sixty” seats in the south. 25 assured seats from Karnataka, doubling the seats in Telangana from its present 4, capturing 15 in Tamil Nadu along with its allies and remaining seats from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh is the modest target. As and when that is achieved the BJP will become one and only pan-India party.

(The views expressed are personal)

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