Amit Shah, Narendra Modi have chance to convert BJP's fledgling footprint into solid hold on south India, final bastion for party to breach

  • A second straight majority for a single party with the hunger, ambition, meticulousness and focus of an Amit Shah, with an icon like Narendra Modi to propel the narrative, offers the BJP a historic opportunity in the south.

  • Unless BJP finds a local leader to match the stature of K Chandrasekhara Rao in Telangana or Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, the party would continue to remain irrelevant, especially in state elections.

  • The rise of the BJP in the south has been slow, but Amit Shah is the last man to feel challenged.

Chances are, in contrast to most BJP leaders and activists who would be celebrating their mammoth victory, glancing with pride at the saffron-splashed map of India, when Amit Shah looks at it, his eye would not fall with delight at the hue that has covered states from Kashmir to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, or the big new splashing of it in Bengal, Odisha and North East but rather on the 100-odd seats of south India where the colour is anything but saffron.

 Amit Shah, Narendra Modi have chance to convert BJPs fledgling footprint into solid hold on south India, final bastion for party to breach

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah after the release of BJP manifesto ahead of Lok Sabha Election 2019. PTI

The three states of Tamil Naidu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have been politically represented strongly by regional parties rooted in a combination of linguistic pride and sub-nationalism, sense of an "evolved culture", distinct movies and a uniquely local flavour of social justice and welfare governance. These factors, in conjunction, proved to be the high wall for the BJP to scale -- whose perception as a Hindi party even before its Hindutva is considered for decades. In the past, the perception that it was as an upper caste Brahminical party hindered it from planting roots in a Dravidian culture.

Kerala’s strong sense of Leftist orientation and strongly pronounced secular outlook have proved to be a deterrence. Karnataka had given BJP a chance, but the leadership the party provided and the governance it offered proved a dampener.

When Tamil Nadu reeled under protests against a Supreme Court verdict on jallikattu, the BJP was not at the lead. Whenever Kaveri river water disputes erupt, the party is not too sure of its position. When a separate Telangana was a quest of its people, or when Andhra Pradesh demands special category status, the BJP has not found its footing.

Little wonder, the party was ecstatic when it found a hook in Sabarimala in Kerala, hoping a single issue would propel it to harness its strong foundation of RSS network in the state to gain parliamentary seats, which did not materialise. It was the first real emotive issue for it in the south which it led and found public salience, and it takes a steep curve ahead to harvest MPs.

Leaders are created by movements, but it takes smart local leaders to identify potential issues -- the BJP has largely been bereft of both. A few leaders of the previous generation were committed to the party, but without adequate hunger, or capacity, to grow it.

The BJP has also not found such badly managed states where the economy has floundered, crime has taken over society, and opportunities lacking as is it did in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar or West Bengal in the south.

The various governments here, despite the corruption and caste riddles socio-political contexts, have delivered sound economic growth, jobs opportunities, better infrastructure and welfare that actually reaches and touches people across the south. This has meant that there has never been a strong, ready-to-eat-pie of anti-incumbency or political vacuum for the BJP to grab.

In short, the traditionally ruled BJP ruled states, or its Gujarat model does not come across as a salivating prospect or an ideal for people.

In the south, deceased leaders like MG Ramachandran, M Karunanidhi, J Jayalalithaa, NT Rama Rao and S Rajasekhara Reddy held such sway over political narrative, their party and governance, in touch with the masses and a grip on the media, giving little scope for a party like the BJP to come and disrupt.

Their ability to offer the right support to the governments at the centre during nearly 25 years of coalition governments meant national parties in Delhi wanted their support, not become their rivals.

For example, when the BJP became the first party to support the cause of Telangana, the TRS was not even born, but the alliance with N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP meant it could never push for it locally, not when the Central government of NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee needed the support of the TDP.

A second straight majority for a single party with the hunger, ambition, meticulousness and focus of an Amit Shah, with an icon like Narendra Modi to propel the narrative, offers the BJP a historic opportunity in the south.

In Karnataka, where it has built a strong cadre, leader base and worked on issues, it has surged. If as speculations echo that Karnataka might see a change of power, it will give the BJP a base camp to expand down south.

MK Stalin and YS Jaganmohan Reddy have both tasted their first electoral success in life but are not invulnerable. The concern of lacking leaders remains a concern even with Tamil Nadu, where Stalin has emerged numero uno in a leader-vacant state after the passing away of the two iconic stalwarts. Unless BJP finds a local leader to match the stature of K Chandrasekhara Rao in Telangana or Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, the party would continue to remain irrelevant, especially in state elections.

It would eye Telangana, where it has won four unprecedented and unexpected seats, and in Andhra Pradesh where the TDP’s defeat creates a vacancy for an opposition party. Despite registering a huge surge in Telangana, with four wins and coming second in several others, the BJP is yet to become even the principal opposition to the TRS and has only one MLAs in the 119-seat Assembly.

It now has a clear opening to move ahead in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and strengthen its party in Tamil Nadu, besides trying to build and grow on its existing vote base in Kerala.

The rise of saffron in the south has been slow, but Shah is the last man to feel challenged. He may love the idea of conquering the last bastion. Only, the south has been tough for anyone from up north to understand, much less conquer; setting the tone for a great game of thrones ahead.

Updated Date: May 28, 2019 13:16:21 IST