Modi begins battle to extend reach in South - GulfToday

Modi begins battle to extend reach in South

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


Narendra Modi

Nearly a decade after Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party to power at the Centre, it has grown steadily, replacing the Indian National Congress, which had spearheaded the freedom movement, as the nation’s largest party. Yet it is still to become a truly pan-Indian party.

The Constitution provides for elected governments in 31 States and Union Territories. One of them, Jammu and Kashmir, has been without an elected legislature or government since June 2018. Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that elections would be held in J and K but there are no specific plans to implement the solemn promise.

Of the 30 other States and Territories where the democratic process has gone on uninterrupted, the BJP is part of the government in as many as 17. They include nine coalition governments, some of them led by smaller regional parties. The Congress, the second largest national party, is way behind the BJP. There are eight states where both the BJP and the Congress are small players. In these states various regional parties are in the driver’s seat.

It was a sweeping victory in the populous Hindi-speaking northern states in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 that put the BJP in power at the Centre. Since then the party has extended its reach in the west and the east to some extent, mainly by forging alliances with regional parties.

In the south, the BJP was able to make a breakthrough in the state of Karnataka by gaining the support of the Lingayat community. For long, politics in this state has been a power game in which the influential Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities are the key players. With a leader from a right community to project, the BJP secured power in Karnataka. The state goes to the polls again this year. The BJP has a way of dropping an unpopular Chief Minister ahead of an election so that he does not drag the party down with him. It is believed that the party’s central leadership replaced BS Yeddyurappa, its long-time face in the state, with Basavaraj Bommai as the Chief Minister some time ago as it had doubts about his ability to lead the party to victory once again.

In Karnataka, the BJP’s task is to dig in and secure the foothold it has already established. In the four other southern states it faces the daunting challenge of finding a toehold.

The Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh’s first political instrument, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, entered electoral politics in the southern region in the very first general election held in 1952. But neither the BJS nor its successor, the BJP, has been able to emerge as a significant player in these states. It has not been able to repeat in this region the alliance strategy which yielded good results in the eastern and western regions mainly because few parties are willing to join hands with it.

The BJP has no members at all in the 175-member Andhra Pradesh Assembly and the 140-member Kerala Assembly. In the 234-member Tamil Nadu Assembly it has four members, which is a southern record for the BJP. In the 119-member Telangana Assembly the party has just two members.

Although a common antipathy to hardline politics runs in most southern states, it is not the result of any concerted action by the different parties that dominate politics in these states. It is primarily the result of the different paths they took in the past.

Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during short visits to three southern states, inaugurated or laid foundation stones for a slew of projects in what appeared to be a determined bid to win friends and influence voters in the southern states which have not been hospitable to his party.

Telangana’s Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao showed his displeasure by staying away from Modi’s functions ignoring protocol requirements. Recently he had re-named his Telangana Rashtra Samiti as Bharat Rashtra Samiti, indicating he plans to enter national politics. A Central investigative agency had recently questioned Chandrashekar Rao’s daughter, Kavitha in connection with an alleged liquor deal in Delhi.

Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief Minister M.K. Stalin acted with political correctness, but cries of “Modi go back” rent the air while the Prime Minister was in the state.

In another move calculated to boost BJP’s prospects in the south, the party last week welcomed into its fold Anil Antony, son of AK Antony, a veteran Congress leader of Kerala and long-time confidant of Sonia Gandhi. Running down Congress party’s dynastic politics and picking up available remnants of Congress families is a policy, which the BJP has consciously pursued since long.

Kerala has a significant Christian population. Encouraged by the party’s success in attracting the Christian minority in the eastern states, Modi is reported to have taken a personal interest in getting Anil Antony into the BJP.

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