BJP’s southern strategy

Date:

(Dr Pentapati Pullarao)

In the six southern states of Karnataka, Puducherry, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, there are 131 MPs. The BJP has been able to win in Karnataka since 2002 and become a powerful party. In the other 5 southern states, the BJP has grown very slowly. In the rest of India, the BJP has grown phenomenally since 2014. The BJP is trying various strategies to also become a big presence in the south.

Status today: In Kerala, the BJP has reached 15% votes in recent elections. The BJP faces a situation where the state has 50% Minorities, who are hostile to the BJP. But the BJP has been slowly gaining ground and even winning over sections of the Christian community. The BJP in Kerala focuses on growth by itself, as it has no significant allies. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP won 6 MPs in 1999, in alliance with the DMK. But since then, bad choice of allies and poor Tamilian leadership has suppressed the BJP. There is growth now due to leadership of K. Annamalai, a former Police officer. In last election, BJP got only 4% votes. Now in 2024, parliament election, it is expected that BJP will have much bigger votes and win some MPs. In Telangana, in 1985, the BJP won 2 MPs on its own. There was immense potential for BJP growth. Bit here again, the state BJP leadership did not work for growth, but only sought allays and keeping the BJP small, so as to control it. But in the last 10 years, the BJP has been making efforts and now Telangana BJP has reached 15% steady votes. In Andhra Pradesh, in 1998, the BJP won 2 MPs on its own. Subsequently, the BJP got into alliances with the TDP and its growth stopped.  The BJP in Andhra did not focus on Dalits, tribals and other backward, but only favored 2 forward castes. The entire strategy of Andhra BJP is to find alliances and get some seats for some leaders.

1. The original strategy of BJP in South India was growth through alliances. Therefore, alliances were formed in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh(united), Tamil Nadu. But while the alliances got the BJP some MPs and MLAs, the party never grew. This was because the alliance a[partners refused to allow the BJP to grow.

2. The BJP was at eon time an alliance partner of DMK and then the ADMK. But they were never stabilized long –term alliances. The BJP had a long-term alliance with Punjab Akali Dal for 40 years and Shiv Sena for 30 years steadily.

3. After BJP lost power in 2004 at the Centre, for 10 years, there was no attention to the south as the BJP was struggling even in the north. However, with the victory of Narendra Modi in 2014, the BJP started activates in the South.

4. Karnataka was always a stronghold of the BJP since 1989.  In Karnataka, the BJP has alliances or inducted leaders from other parties.  Though the BJP is not in power now in Karnataka, it is still a very powerful party. 

Choice between alliances and growth: The BJP is in power in Delhi and prime minister Modi is a popular prime Minister. It looks as if the BJP will win again in 2024 and therefore, many parties would like to offer alliances to the BJP in the south. If the BJP were to accept alliances in the South, then it would definitely win some MPs. But the BJP would then lose a chance to grow. If there is no alliance, then the BJP would put up candidates everywhere and it can expand. The minute you have an alliance, the BJP cannot put up candidates in most constituencies and that means, voters won’t get a chance to consider the BJP. The BJP has no ally in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana presently. It is only in Andhra that there is serious consideration for an alliance. Regarding Andhra, there is a debate at the highest levels of BJP. Should the Andhra BJP have an alliance with Telugu Desam and Jana Sena? The BJP knows that if they have an alliance, it will get some MPs. But it will lose the chance of growing. The BJP has to decide whether it wants some MPs, or it wants future growth.  

BJP’s strategies in South: a. BJP fielding celebrity politicians in South India: Recently, there is talk that BJP will field Foreign Minister Dr. Jai Shanker and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman for parliament in the south. The BJP is looking for celebrities, actors and well-known loaders in every state to field for the Lok Sabha. The idea is to add some strength to the party. 

B. Carpet- bombing campaign:  The term “carpet-bombing ‘means to relentlessly campaign without any break. Every day, senior BJP leaders will be touring South India endlessly. Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, J.P. Nadda and Rajnath Singh  are already doing that. . Other ministers are also touring remote parts of southern states. This creates an image fo constant and endless campaign by the BJP..The BJP has to grow in the South. It is the only area where the BJP is lagging. The BJP cannot afford to miss out 104 MPs of the south, minus Karnataka. With regard to Tamilnadu  and Andhra Pradesh, we have  to see whether the BJP will choose “ growth or alliances”. If BJP wants growth, it cannot have alliances.

(Author is a Political and Economic Analyst Based at New Delhi)

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