BJP focuses on Telangana and Tamil Nadu, what for?
by R Rajagopalan on 11 Sep 2022 3 Comments

Why are South Indian regional parties’ leaders suddenly zeroing in on North India, a novel twist in Indian Politics? What is the real reason for this development? From whichever side one views it, from whatever angle, there is a complete north-south divide in existence.


Exactly, 15 months ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, many leaders are preparing strategies and carving out spheres of influence, and beginning to hop between the North and the South. The reason is the block of 130 Lok Sabha seats.


Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, though an MP from Wayanad, Kerala, has launched a Bharat Jodo Yatra. Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has met Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. And Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal air dashed to Tamil Nadu, to sell his Education Model to chief minister MK Stalin, also the DMK chief.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the Indian naval ship, Vikrant, to the nation. in Kochi, Kerala. Home Minister Amit Shah chose Kerala to hold a Southern States council meet. And suddenly, the Bharatiya Janata Party decided to accommodate the Karnataka veteran, B.S. Yeddyurappa, in its Central Parliamentary Board. It also elevated Tamil Nadu’s Vanathi Srinivasan as chief of the party’s Mahila Morcha, though she does not known Hindi. 


Rahul Gandhi dramatically brought the warring Congress leaders D.K. Shiv Kumar and Siddharamaiah together in Karnataka. He had previously brought Navjot Singh Sidhu and Charanjit Singh Channi together for the Punjab polls, though Congress was routed in Punjab. 


The actions of the BJP and Congress clearly show that both national parties are eyeing the 130- strong chunk of Lok Sabha seats in the six southern six states. In the late 1980s, towering political personalities like NTR, MGR, Jayalalithaa dominated the scene. But in the recent past, many leaders have been involved in the 2G spectrum scam or coal scam. The Union finance minister P. Chidambaram (Congress) has been charged with corruption.


Caste-ridden polity


The southern states have never before experienced such a deluge of attention from north Indian parties. About six to eight castes dominate in the south. The most powerful are the Lingayat, Vokkaliga, Ezhava, Gownder, Thevar, Khamma and Reddy.


These community leaders had well-known freedom fighters. But various acts of suppression led to irritation with the Centre and the rise of regional parties.


Currently, BJP is zeroing in on all six southern states, Telangana Rashtriya Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao visited Patna to discuss the 2024 Lok Sabha strategy with Nitish Kumar and Tejaswi Yadav. And Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal is going to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Nitish Kumar plans to visit Chennai to meet DMK leader M.K. Stalin in October. Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress) tried her luck in Goa, but after a flop show, decided not to venture south.


Modi popular in South


Prime Minister Modi’s popularity has increased in South India. One reason is eight years of clean administration at the Centre and smooth Centre-State ties, in contrast to UPA2 where Dr Manmohan Singh presided over a system riddled with scams, bomb blasts, and communal tensions. However, there have been no screaming headlines after 2014. Perhaps this is why former Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu wants to return to the NDA.


Interestingly, in recent months there have been four meetings between Jagan Reddy and Narendra Modi, and an equal number with Chandrababu Naidu. It would seem that with the Congress decimated in Andhra and Telangana, the BJP has no rival in Andhra Pradesh in the 2024 Lok Sabha; KCR’s performance in Telangana remains to be seen.


Space for a national party


The BJP is certainly growing in the south, especially in Karnataka and Puducherry. However, the Congress Party too has a base in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Yet it is undeniable that the Prime Minister’s popularity is rising, especially after the second term, where the “double engine Sarkar” of Yogi plus Modi in Uttar Pradesh, has impressed other states as well.


The BJP’s decision to go for an aggressive “Look South” policy is yielding fruits. The slogan, “First Telangana, Next Tamil Nadu” has seen calibrated visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief J.P. Nadda, in all six states. There has been a special focus on Telangana, which is why chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao is politically jittery. He wants to eat into the BJP base in north India.


There are variations in northern and southern Indian approaches to politics. South Indian voters have built cults around cine stars as chief ministers. But post-Coronavirus, the Corona vaccinations, and growth of the digital world with digital payments facilitated by the information technology-oriented southern states, vastly enhanced Modi’s profile. Thousands of students from the southern states were safely brought home from Ukraine after the war broke out. Earlier, thousands were airlifted from China after the pandemic was declared.


There are about 18 months left before the 2024 elections. But BJP’s early outreach to the south via its social media network could spring some surprises. The new digital platform of 5G artificial intelligence and optical fibre network has reached remote villages. Thus, the 2024 Lok Sabha campaign will be unique in the southern states.


The meticulous manner in which the Modi government distributed Padma Awards and Rajya Sabha seats in South India will pay dividends. In his monthly Man ki Baat talk, Modi often introduces poor persons (cobbler, tailor, hair dresser) and speaks of their aspirations and achievements. This has impacted the middle class in the southern states, and Congress leaders or for that matter, DMK, TRS, or YSR Congress have failed to match Modi.


Notwithstanding the south’s cine world and glamour, BJP and Narendra Modi have attracted the youth in South India. 2024 is not far away.


The author is a senior journalist

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