It was only last week I had featured the formidable BJP election machinery, but am compelled to make a reference to the same again in quick succession. For, the BJP unveiled its look South with a new vigour campaign with a no holds barred high voltage campaign for a city-level municipal body election of Hyderabad.
All the BJP big guns from the Central party and Ministry landed in Hyderabad and whipped up a powerful campaign, in the process turning a tiny municipal election in South Indian State of Telangana into a National one, in terms of hype and importance given to it from the National television and print media.
Now, out with full force attitude of the BJP is yet another proof that the ruling party at the Centre does take elections seriously, and especially at this time when it has been presented with a chance to replace the Congress wherever it can to emerge as a truly pan India party–that stature that it still is fighting for despite being in power at the Centre for over six years now.
South and East are two regions where the BJP finds itself still weak, in terms of electoral victory, where strong regional forces are in power. In these States, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal, the Congress has abdicated its position of political eminence, at least as the Opposition party. In both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the party was finished soon after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and creation of Telangana.
Today, the BJP achieved significant success in establishing itself as the principal Opposition party in Hyderabad municipal elections – Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, which in fact comprise an area and voter strength of one-third of the Telangana State. Most easily, this can be described as a mini general election to the State Assembly. With a strong showing in the elections, by increasing its strength in the 150-member corporation by several times, the BJP has announced its arrival in yet another South Indian State and its intentions to go for power in the next Assembly elections due in 2023.
In South India, so far, the BJP was confined only to Karnataka and was finding it difficult to penetrate Tamil Nadu and Kerala, though it has some presence in Telangana where it has been winning a couple of Assembly seats for the past few elections. Why, it also has two MPs in Lok Sabha this time and one of them has been made the junior Union Home Minister as well.
The BJP, through its bench strength of leaders and star speakers and campaigners, pushes its phase-wise South India push plan that focuses on first increasing its strength politically and electorally, and then aim for power. What it achieved today in Telangana is that it has replaced the Congress as the principal Opposition party, and indicated that it was going to launch a full-fledged bid for power in the State.
Now what this outcome of Hyderabad polls has done is to present the Congress and TDP leaders another alternative to look for -- for till now the political movement of leaders was to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti. And now with their parties out of contention, what is left of the Congress and TDP can join hands with the BJP.
The BJP strategy in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which has particularly been a somewhat hostile, no-go area for the BJP so far is more interesting. For the first time it has managed to rope in a Dravidian major, the AIADMK, as its alliance partner. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress had ceased to be a political factor since the late 60s when it was ejected from power by the Dravida Kazhagam and since then has been depending on one or the other Dravidian party to piggy ride for popularity and seats.
And for good measure, the BJP has also managed to “encourage” superstar Rajinikanth to take the political plunge.
It is widely believed in Tamil Nadu that the superstar may not be able to win on his own, as he only has five months available to form his party and turn it into a winning election fighting machine. But what Rajinikanth can do is to damage the prospects of the established political parties -- the AIADMK and the DMK. However, political analysts are sure that Rajinikanth will be soft on ruling AIADMK as it is in alliance with the BJP, whose top leaders he is very friendly with.
Incidentally, it is a BJP leader who joined as a key leader of Rajinikanth’s political formation, after resigning from the BJP.
So, it is the DMK that should be worried over the entry of Rajinikanth, at the proverbial eleventh hour, so to speak. This is something they will now have to factor in, as the superstar could walk away with a section of the anti-establishment vote as also the floating and undecided vote, thus helping the AIADMK-BJP coalition in tightly fought Assembly elections. Something like Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of the AIMIM party of Hyderabad, did to Congress and RJD candidates in Bihar. He weaned away a section of minority votes and helped the BJP in narrowly contested seats. Besides, Owaisi also won five seats that otherwise would have gone to the Opposition kitty in his absence.
The Hyderabad result that will come as a shot in the arm for the BJP will give it an electoral momentum at just the right time. In the Kerala municipal election due soon, the BJP has entered in a big way, fielding many minority candidates. And its campaign will be as powerful as the one it carried out in Hyderabad.
And then, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and West Bengal go for Assembly elections in April-May next year, and the BJP has given sufficient notice that it is serious.
Already, the BJP had replaced the Congress as the main Opposition party in West Bengal and will be the challenger to the throne. West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress party head, Mamata Bannerjee will be fighting with her back to the wall at a time when few senior leaders of the party are ditching her on the eve of elections, so to speak.
Already, the BJP has worked out its blueprint for the campaign strategy and plans for booth level election management.
For West Bengal, the BJP is aiming high, at 200 out of 294 seats. And it does not appear very unrealistic given that the party had managed to win 18 out of the total 42 seats in Lok Sabha in 2019 general elections.
If the BJP campaign for the Hyderabad elections is any indication, the party will be fielding its entire top team–including Prime Minister Narendra Modi--for its Mission West Bengal.
Economy could revive by the time elections are held in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and more importantly, there could be some good news on the vaccine for COVID-19 as well. Voters might give some of the credit for these to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. And naturally, these could give a boost to the BJP’s chances as well.
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected]
and Twitter handle @kvlakshman