BJP’s new pitch for South India

BJP’s new pitch for South India

Just as the Election Commission of India was announcing the polling dates, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was addressing rallies in Karnataka and Telangana, castigating the Opposition for corruption and dynastic politics. For Modi, southern India is the last frontier in his bid to expand the BJP’s electoral footprint. The five states and the Union Territory of Puducherry, which elect 130 Lok Sabha members, have been resisting the BJP’s political and ideological advancement—Karnataka, the only state in southern India to elect the BJP to office, is an exception. The party needs more seats from this region to ensure that it touches the 370 mark Modi has set, and for the “400 paar” (beyond 400 seats) slogan he has given to the NDA to be met. Having nearly saturated the gains from the rest of India, winning in the South is central to the BJP’s Mandate 2024 plan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu in Palnadu on Sunday. (PTI)(HT_PRINT)

Three factors are creating hurdles for the Modi juggernaut in the South: One, organisation; two, ideology; three, language. All three are connected. The southern states were born in the crucible of linguistic subnationalism, which allowed regional parties to flourish while limiting the appeal of the BJP and its unitarian agendas. Modi seems to recognise that Hindutva may not be enough to defeat linguistic subnationalism in the short run even if the government’s muscular nationalism and Ram temple have found traction among a section of the electorate. Hence, he has been focussing on governance issues during his many recent, and frequent, trips to the southern states. He has spoken about welfare guarantees and the benefits of double-engine sarkars. Though regional parties have been pioneers of welfare politics, they have also been tainted by corruption allegations—the Karnataka BJP is no different. The governance pitch with emphasis on corruption, the BJP seems to think, is better suited to win the South, especially since hardline Hindutva failed to deliver in the Karnataka assembly polls last year.

The BJP has also done some smart alliance-building in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In Telangana, where the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) is in a shambles after the assembly poll defeat and now the arrest of K Kavitha, the daughter of party founder K Chandrashekhar Rao, the BJP sees the scope for a bipolar contest, with the party pitted against the Congress. In a national election, this may turn out to be advantageous to the BJP.

In 2019, the BJP won just 29 of 130 LS seats in the South. It held a majority in Parliament even without these, but increasing the tally is essential to further diminish the Opposition.

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