Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
After conquering North East, and few other regions where the BJP made significant gains, the ruling party at the Centre has now turned its focus on south of the Vindhyas where its performance has traditionally been weak. As its evolution took place in the Hindi belt and has over the past decade or so expanded into more regions to be the stable pole of Indian politics. And in reaching this position has also replaced the Congress as the party that gains from the split in the Opposition votes, just like what the Congress enjoyed since Independence.
But even after achieving stupendous success in rest of the country, the BJP found penetrating the south its biggest mountain to climb. Yes, Karnataka did give the BJP its entry into the south, where it formed its own Government as well, over a decade ago. But beyond that it has been a no-go area for the BJP, though it is making a tremendous effort to breach the southern wall of India.
Clearly, this time around, even for 2024, the BJP has declared its assault on the 130 seats that the six States of south India offer. Of these, the BJP roughly get around 20, largely from Karnataka but draws a blank in five other States. However, this time around the game plan of the BJP is very clear – even as it consolidates its position in rest of the country, Messers Modi and Shah have announced intentions to capture the south as well. It is not without reason that in Tamil Nadu, they have posted an aggressive former IPS officer and articulate K Annamalai, who is running rings around a very experienced MK Stalin of the Dravidian major, the DMK.
Even though the BJP is just a fringe player in Tamil Nadu, with due apologies to its big leaders who come from the State as well, the political situation in the State kind of compliments its efforts – with the principal Opposition party in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK is imploding with a severe infighting going on that will weaken it for sure. For the BJP this could work in two ways–Opposition space for sure would be up for grabs, and the BJP can lure some of the leaders from both the factions of the AIADMK that are at loggerheads right now.
The two years running in period available for the new State unit chief gives the BJP enough time to play its kind of aggressive politics, like the one seen in Maharashtra. Even if the BJP does nothing of that kind, its very presence and growth in the State is enough to make the DMK a tad nervous, which is said already to be manifesting during party meetings. Yes, for sure, the DMK leadership has become a bit more alert after television stations beamed the Operation Maharashtra live across the country.
Tamil Nadu, the toughest nut to crack in south India from the BJP perspective, is the one that the party appears to be concentrating–other than neighbouring Telangana where the BJP moves have already made the current incumbent nervous, and even angry at the National party. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhara Rao has unleashed a personal and aggressive campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he fact checks to reinforce his allegation that the Prime Minister relies on untruths in his campaign.
If one speaks to BJP leaders from South India today, they are buoyant, and hopeful of Ache din for themselves. Why, even the Rajya Sabha nominations this time has had big names from South India–film musician Illayaraja and sports icon PT Usha, KV Vijayendra and Prasad Veerendra Heggade from four south Indian States.
This is a clear cut indication of how much importance south India today holds for the BJP strategists who want to expand and install the party in every nook and corner of the country. Besides, as a chunk, South India offers 130 seats in all, where so far, regional parties have ruled the roost barring Karnataka that continues to favour either of the two National parties and Kerala as well that remains a two horse race between the Congress and the Left formations.
Of all the south Indian States, the renewed focus appeared to be on Telangana that recently hosted the BJP’s National executive meet where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president JP Nadda and the entire top brass spent two days in deliberations on how best to push its southward march.
The look South policy it appears has a slogan–Telangana first and Tamil Nadu next. And its appears logical as well, given the recent growth of the BJP in these two States. For the first time, the BJP has four MLAs elected to Tamil Nadu Assembly, though in alliance with the AIADMK, and in Telangana it not only has MLAs but a couple of MPs of Lok Sabha.
With a Union Minister from Telangana, who rose from the ranks from BJYM, Kishan Reddy, rustling up local support and the party also showing significant growth in terms of vote percentage and inflow of local political talent, and the big push and support coming from the Central unit, the State unit is also aiming big. And could be a serious player, if the others do not get their act together.
In Tamil Nadu, it is a journey it has just begun and even the BJP knows its task in TN is much tougher than elsewhere in the south. But, one thing one can be sure of–that an aggressive BJP coming out with all its guns blazing.
South India promises to be a political theatre that would be playing interesting episodes of drama and action–with even the BJP ruled Karnataka appearing to show signs of heightened political battles. In Karnataka, the BJP upstaged the Congress and the regional party in the State Janata Dal (Secular) of Deve Gowda by felling their Government in a bloodless coup, by engineering defections and resignations from MLAs. At that time, the BJP strongman BS Yeddyruppa was the man of the match. But after his ouster from the CM chair and near banishing to the outskirts of the party, it is a hurt Yeddyurappa who may try to spoil the game for the BJP.
All in all, even Karnataka and Telangana, both of which go to Assembly polls next year promise to be the political theatre of the country, till the heat and dust of 2024 Lok Sabha general elections begins to pick up.
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