Is BJP’s Southward march running into roadblocks ?

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
The South India plan of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party, to maximise its returns from what has been a near-virgin area down the Vindhya’s, is apparently going a bit awry, going by the indications from the ground. Though there is plenty of time, over a year and half and more for the next Lok Sabha general elections, the battle has already begun for the 130 seats on offer in the six south Indian States of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka and Kerala.
For the present, its supremacy in Karnataka – a State that it won in a post-election Government toppling move–is very much under challenge from a rejuvenated Congress that the BJP had thought it ousted from the country. Diminished in size, its leaders leaving in droves and ousted from power in all but two of the States, and its leadership of the Gandhi family sought to be discredited through corruption investigations, the Congress was down surely. But, the grand old party, displayed a resilience that was not expected and sprung back with action–Bharat Jodo Yatra commencing in areas where the BJP has been traditionally weak.
One does not know whether the over 3000 km Kanyakumari to Kashmir walkathon will fetch its former president Rahu Gandhi and the party any electoral dividends, the progress of the yatra and peoples response has already shown what the party is capable of. The tremendous response to the yatra in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and even Karnataka–the battle ground State that goes to elections next year, has already begun helping Rahul Gandhi repair his image of a ‘pappu’ that some disgruntled elements in the Congress and the BJP worked hard to propagate, and successfully at that.
Already the Congress has wrecked the broad contours of the BJP’s South India plan that hinges on its good performance in Karnataka and building upon its promise showed in Telangana in the last general elections and beyond. The BJP has stepped up its activity in Telangana by roping in leaders from other political parties and is even toying with the idea of luring film stars and celebrities to shore up its crowd and vote gathering abilities.
But throwing the spanner in the BJP works in Telangana is its Chief Minister and chief of the regional party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) who smelled an alleged BJP plan to poach his party MLAs and destabilize his Government. The hottest topic of political discussion in Telangana today is the alleged attempt of ‘purchasing’ of four TRS MLAs through cut outs, purportedly by the BJP.
Ominously for the BJP, its alleged ‘operation Kamala’ in Telangana has come unstuck with the arrest of three persons for allegedly trying to ‘purchase’ Telangana Rashtra Samiti MLAs. One of the arrested is a priest of the Tirupati temple of Lord Balaji. A huge amount of cash was also recovered from a farm house in Hyderabad, belonging to a TRS MLA, where these three arrested persons were holding discussions to lure TRS MLAs into the BJP by offering huge sums of money, and promises of important posts and positions. What the TRS claims is that an alert Chief Minister K Chandrashekhara Rao got wind of the BJP plan and thwarted it.
Now, even if this alleged poaching plot is false and a clever distraction planned by KCR himself as the BJP asserts the problem is that the recent track record of the BJP in toppling elected Government after Government in different States only gives credence to his claims in the eyes of the people. The BJP on its part demands a CBI probe or a probe by a sitting Supreme Court Judge, investigation by anyone but Telangana police, which Union Minister G Kishan Reddy charges with playing politics and siding with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
Cyberabad Police Commissioner Stephen Ravindra informed media that three persons, Ramachandra Bharati, alias Satish Sharma, a godman associated with a temple in Faridabad, Haryana, and living in Delhi, D Simhayaji, a priest from Tirupati and Nandkumar, a businessman from Saroornagar, were arrested and were being questioned. But the police action was questioned by the Court that refused to grant custody of the accused saying that there was no evidence to their involvement in a plot as was being alleged.
The BJP also hit back legally–with its leader moving the High Court for a probe into the whole incident, and also complained to the Election Commission over the farce played by the TRS on the eve of Munugode Assembly by poll – to be held on November 3 and results on November 6. Already, TRS leaders have issued a gag order for its members not to utter a word on the alleged poaching plan.
In this case, the BJP appears to be in the clear, as it does not seem logical that a Government ought to be disturbed on the eve of the general elections, so to speak. Telangana is also due to go for Assembly elections shortly. The BJP quickly distanced itself from the alleged operation and said that it was an “in-house operation of the TRS, as it was scared of losing the Munugode Assembly by-election and wanted to distract the people and discredit the BJP.”
Union Minister G Kishan Reddy made counter charges and alleged that in fact it was TRS that ‘bought MLAs from all parties’ and said it was playing out a drama to falsely accuse the BJP of poaching. Now, scared of losing the Munugode Assembly by poll, the TRS has scripted out this drama and false narrative, which is nothing more than a filmy story scripted and directed by the Chief Minister, Reddy alleged predicting “This film will be an utter flop.”
What however works for the TRS is in the perception war, that the BJP was out to harm the elected TRS Government and enable KCR to play the victim card. Here in Telangana and other South Indian States, the BJP does not have the advantage it has in other parts of the country of a seemingly dedicated media on its side. In Telangana, KCR has the media on his side, at least the few that are owned by people close to him, and can play the media game that the BJP is able to in other places.
For KCR, and other regional leaders, it does not matter what the ‘National’ media says as the English and Hindi channels do not hold that much sway over the people. So, in South India this puts an additional challenge for the BJP, in say Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu where people close to the Chief Ministers own newspapers and television channels.
Now, in the latest instance of alleged poaching plot, or the non-plot, even though the BJP appears to be not involved, the TRS can keep spreading this, reminding the people of all the Governments that the BJP felled in other States to make its allegations credible in the eyes of the people.
The BJP’s actions in Tamil Nadu and Kerala are also being watched carefully by the masses, which have in the recent past have not favoured the BJP in previous elections. The Kerala Governor’s actions in withdrawing his pleasure for continuance of State Finance Minister is also being seen in a negative light by people of Kerala, the topmost literate State in the country.
Sure, the BJP is throwing all it has in South India, that sends 130 MPs. In the last general elections the BJP swept Karnataka, winning 25 out of the total 28, but could not penetrate the other south Indian States, barring Telangana where it won four seats. Now, it is here in Telangana that the BJP is hoping to break further ground and expand. Other than Karnataka, the BJP has gained a foothold in Tamil Nadu, so to speak, by winning Puducherry Assembly and has its own Government there. But, as far as Lok Sabha elections are concerned, Puducherry has just one Lok Sabha seat.

The writer 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