Why the Modi wave may be weaker south of Vindhyas

Despite a mild Modi breeze, the south will remain tough territory for the BJP. It may not gain much in terms of seats, but it will gain votes that may not translate to seats

R Jagannathan April 21, 2014 19:02:34 IST
Why the Modi wave may be weaker south of Vindhyas

The BJP has historically been a party of India’s north and west. Will it be any different this time?

Most political reports in newspapers do not give the party much hope in terms of seats, except, maybe in Karnataka, where the return of BS Yeddyurappa and B Sriramulu is expected to strengthen the party in the Lingayat and Bellary mining belts.

But even with this benefit, the BJP is expected to slip badly from 2009, when it won 19 of Karnataka’s 28 seats. This time, it could win at best 12 seats, says an NDTV poll. Even Yeddyurappa is not claiming he can win like last time, and says the party will win 15 seats.

Why the Modi wave may be weaker south of Vindhyas

Narendra Modi AFP.

So, if Karnataka is not going to deliver a big punch, and if Andhra will depend on what N Chandrababu Naidu can deliver (the BJP is fighting very few seats in Seemandhra, and in Telangana it is not expected to do much as both Congress and Telangana Rashtra Samiti are vying for the top slots).

The real story of the BJP south of the Vindhyas may thus not be about seats, but seeds. What the buzz around Narendra Modi is doing is sending interest in the party soaring, which, if it continues to build an organisation in these states, can help reap dividends and seats in future.

Three stories today (21 April) suggest that even if Modi can’t deliver the seats, he is delivering the buzz.

The Indian Express reports today that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has become a talking point in Tamil Nadu. Some voters even see him as a hope for the future, but they are unsure they will vote for him even though he has built a six-party coalition. The Third Front is for real in Tamil Nadu due to the Modi factor, but the outcome is not clear.

However, that Modi is a factor in Tamil Nadu is clear from the fact that every party – from AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa to the DMK and the Congress – has chosen to attack him. Says the Express report: “An attack on Modi and BJP’s ‘communal politics’ has become a staple in the campaign speeches of AIADMK, DMK and Congress candidates. On the roads of Coimbatore to Salem and Madurai to Kanyakumari, everyone, from taxi drivers to tea stall vendors, has heard about Modi and his ‘good work’ in Gujarat. Asked if they would vote for the BJP and its allies, the answer is invariably ‘teriyelle’ (don’t know).”

A Hindustan Times report on the south is more upbeat on BJP’s expected performance, and says the party hopes to harvest around 25-30 seats, including one or two in Kerala, but the official claim is twice as high. The newspaper quotes former BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu as saying that the party will “get about 50 seats in southern India alone.” Party President Rajnath Singh is quoted as saying “we will surprise electoral pundits this time with our performance in Tamil Nadu.”

The chances are the vote share may be better, but not seat share.

The Lokniti-CSDS-CNN-IBN survey last month gave the rag-tag BJP-led NDA alliance 22 percent of the vote, tantalisingly close to the DMK’s 23 percent and 10 percent behind the AIADMK. An Economic Times story today, however, suggests that while the AIADMK is losing steam, both DMK and NDA are gaining ground.

The report says: “A rising tide of anger is lifting the DMK and to a lesser extent the NDA alliance in the state. Savage power cuts…water woes and unemployment is driving voters to consider alternatives that they may not have contemplated a few months ago. In some districts and seats, this anger is getting fuelling an attraction to the DMK. In others, especially in places alongside the main national highway, the NDA is emerging stronger thanks to its six-party coalition.”

If the protest vote against AIADMK strengthens, the DMK could benefit more than the NDA/BJP.

In Kerala, where the fight is always between the UDF and the LDF, the NDTV poll gave the LDF an edge, with 11 seats to the Congress’ nine. This means the BJP will be squeezed out despite an improving vote share. The BJP has an outside chance only in Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod, but this can happen only if the LDF-UDF votes divide equally and the BJP vote miraculously solidifies with Modi providing the icing on the cake. Few people are betting this will happen.

It is only in Andhra Pradesh – both Telangana and Seemandhra – that the BJP will do better than 2009, thanks largely to the TDP alliance, which seems to be on the upswing. But a lot depends on how TDP and BJP cadres work for each other – but the alliance is having a rocky time, with one near-break averted at the last minute.

So the best the BJP can hope for is a rise in vote share across the south, but not any major increment in seats. The last time it got 19 seats in Karnataka, and nil in the other states. This time it could reach this total – or marginally improve on it – by increasing its take from Andhra and Tamil Nadu.

What the Modi breeze would have sowed is the seeds for a future resurgence – after the elections.

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