The BJP has already peaked in the north and has also made an impressive debut in the northeast. So, the south is important for its 2019 Lok Sabha strategy.
The BJP, in its ambition to gain a pan-national presence, is hoping to penetrate the south where despite many decades of attempts it has not been able to find some space. Encouraged by its recent spectacular win in the northeastern region, BJP chief Amit Shah has given a “Mission South” blueprint to his party leaders for expansion in the five southern states: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
It may be a steep climb for the saffron party to achieve its goal.
Apart from local issues, there are others like the nationwide Dalit outrage, Nirav Modi scam, agrarian crisis, price rise, CBSE paper leak, Cauvery water management, which have dented the image of the Modi government.
For the BJP, seen as a north Indian party, the south has always been a problem. Secondly, its Hindutva card or communal polarisation does not work in the southern states, where the people have learnt to live amicably with minorities. Thirdly, regional parties have become dominant in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. LDF and UDF alternate in power in Kerala. Karnataka was the only state where the BJP has grown.
Why is it important for the BJP to conquer south? For the simple reason that it has already peaked in the north and has also made an impressive debut in the northeast. So, the south is important for its 2019 Lok Sabha strategy. Of the 130 seats from the south, the BJP has only 20 Lok Sabha seats now, of which 17 are from Karnataka, two from Andhra Pradesh and one from Tamil Nadu. The Congress, which is gradually losing its hold, has just 19 seats from the south. The BJP has identified at least 50 winnable seats but will have to face the might of about 15 regional parties or join them.
The first test of BJP’s “Mission South” will be in the upcoming Karnataka assembly polls. It is the only state in the south where the BJP has a chance of bouncing back. The party formed its first ever government in Karnataka in 2008 but could not come back. BJP chief Amit Shah declared recently in his rally in Mysuru, “Winning the elections here will open the door for the BJP to the southern part of the country.” The party is not sparing manpower or money power to win the polls. It is depending mainly on the anti-incumbency of the chief minister Siddaramaiah. But the Congress too is fighting for retaining its only state in the south and Siddaramaiah is playing smart politics. The Congress has adopted a soft Hindutva card to counter the BJP’s Hindutva plank.
With both the national parties eyeing the state, the two strong regional parties – YSRC and TDP have an advantage in Andhra Pradesh. The BJP had an alliance with the TDP in 2014 and won four seats. But it snapped ties with the BJP last month demanding special status as promised at the time of bifurcation of the state in 2014. The TDP suprmeo N. Chandrababu Naidu is leading a campaign against the BJP-led Centre. The YSR Congress, with whom the BJP was hoping for a tie-up, has also demanded the special status. Both TDP and YSR Congress have given a no-confidence motion notice separately against the Modi government. The regional parties, with the help of the Congress, will keep the issue of Andhra pride alive till next year’s Lok Sabha and assembly polls, making BJP the villain in the debate.
In Telangana, the ruling TRS is firmly entrenched and chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao is wooing the Muslims by giving them 12 per cent reservation. Moreover, KCR is more saffron than the BJP and uses even the state money to perform yagnas and temple renovation. He is now eyeing a national role trying to build a non-Congress, non-BJP front ahead of the 2019 polls. The BJP is hoping to occupy the opposition space with its five MLAs.
In Kerala, though BJP’s vote percentage has increased marginally, it is still far behind its goal. The BJP opened its account in 2016 and also came second in seven assembly constituencies. In a state where the Christians and Muslims together form 45 per cent, the BJP’s efforts to woo the Ezhava community, which forms 23 per cent, did not succeed in the last elections.
The Dravidian parties — the DMK and the AIADMK, which alternate in power — have dominated Tamil Nadu for decades and the BJP has piggybacked on them. This time, it has burnt its boat by not being sympathetic on the Cauvery issue. The efforts to run the united AIADMK government after the death of J. Jayalalihtaa have also backfired. No Tamil Nadu party is likely to align with the BJP, which is seen as the villain in the Cauvery issue. The BJP’s effort to befriend the DMK has not succeeded so far.
So where will the BJP gain? Who will be its allies? The 2019 elections are a year away and it is too early to predict but any improvement can happen only with the right partners and right issues. Depending on the Modi magic alone will not help to storm into the citadel of the south.