Can BJP win the South?

Magazine National

Hardcore nationalism won’t let the saffron party come to power in the southern states, writes Mahitha Owk

The BJP, which power at the Centre, has a motto of one nation, one rule. But it is still far from ruling the whole nation. It is in power in only seven states on its own, and in power with alliances in 10 states. 

The BJP mainly depends on regional politics and hardcore nationalism to win elections. These don’t work in the South. Most of the South’s politics are based on caste. For example, in Tamil Nadu, the anti-Brahmin sentiment plays a prominent role. Vanniyars, Thevars and Gounders strongly influence the politics of the state. In Karnataka, Vokkaligas and Lingayats, and in Andhra Pradesh, Reddys and Kammas, influence politics. The chief minister of Telangana is an upper-caste Velama. But the Reddys hold top positions in most political parties.

To understand state politics in India, we need to understand the power centres. These consist of the BJP, Congress and regional parties. A strong regional party is most likely to rule a state, leaving very little scope for the BJP. 

The people of the state feel more connected with their regional parties and leaders than with national parties like the Congress or BJP. One of the plus points of regional parties is that they understand the state and its issues better than the national parties.

 Damodar Prasad Patakamuru, a political analyst, said: “People don’t choose voters based on the candidates in the elections but based on the symbol and the face of the party. Name at least five BJP politicians apart from Modi and Shah. Most people cannot because both of them are the face of BJP and people vote for them.”

In Karnataka, the BJP already is in power. It is yet to find a successor to the 78-year-old B.S. Yediyurappa. 

Even though Telangana state was created during UPA rule, voters of the state preferred the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, led by K Chandrashekar Rao. There is little scope for the BJP, which may win at the Centre but is not fully aware of regional politics.

Andhra Pradesh is another state where the BJP is slowly crawling to the forefront. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was an ally of BJP until early 2018. Later, the TDP, led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, criticized the BJP severely. After its defeat in the 2019 assembly elections, the TDP has softened its stance against BJP. 

Many major leaders have left TDP and joined BJP. Now there is speculations that Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, the ruling party, may side with the BJP. If that happens, the BJP will surely benefit.

 “The Congress is not anymore a powerful national party. They can no longer contest elections only by telling that they fought in the freedom movement; it needs strong leaders and a proper agenda to come back,” said Damodar Prasad.

This is the first time that Tamil Nadu is going to polls without Amma and Kalaignar. So it’s not clear who will win the elections. The DMK and AIADMK are strong players, leaving little space for the BJP.

With the entry of ‘Metroman’ E. Sreedharan, the BJP is looking forward to making a mark in Kerala. The state with India’s highest literacy has often titled towards the Left in state assembly elections.

“The people of Kerala do not give a chance to just one party; they keep rotating. For a right-wing party like BJP, coming to power in a communist-dominated state is not possible anytime soon,” said Damodar Prasad.

Recently, the Puducherry government fell after several MLAs of the Congress resigned. The BJP is looking to set its footprint in the Union territory.

“The BJP didn’t have a single elected MLA in Puducherry, and that’s the reason they are luring MLAs of other parties to resign, or using central agencies like ED and CBI to raid the houses of opposition MLAs,” said Damodar Prasad.

If at all the BJP wants to come to power in the South, it should tune into the voters’ mood. It should focus more on regional issues rather than religion and nationalism to attract more voters and make its mark. It  should also have strong regional leaders.


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