For BJP, saffronising the South still a pipe dream

A member of the DMK shouts slogans and shows portraits of party president M.K. Stalin as she celebrates the election results in Chennai on May 23, 2019. Credit: Arun Sankar/AFP

While the rest of the country was painted Saffron on May 23, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could not break through the Southern front entirely. Except for sweeping Karnataka and making inroads into Telangana, the BJP was unable win any seats in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

While BJP’s tally in Karnataka itself was significant – it looked set to touch a staggering 25 out of 28 at the time of writing with the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) both reduced to one seat each and – took the lead in four seats in Telangana, it was almost as though a completely different set of issues and concerns moved the people in much of the South.

In contrast, the Congress, which was almost kicked out of North India, found its only solace South of the Vindhyas. Its tally in Kerala, TN and Telangana contributed close to half the seats that the national party won in the 2019 election. It made a comeback in Tamil Nadu by winning eight out of the nine seats it contested and wresting the lone seat in neighbouring Puducherry from its splinter group NR Congress. It also trumped the TRS by winning three seats in India’s youngest state.

In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front swept the polls leaving just one seat to the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) riding high on its chief Rahul Gandhi choosing to contest from Wayanad. The impressive performance in Tamil Nadu can be attributed to the alliance with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the visible anti-Modi wave that swept through the southern state.

Andhra Pradesh rejected both the national parties with BJP and Congress failing to win even a single seat.

That said, the surprising part of BJP’s performance was scripted in Telangana where it won four seats, including the prestigious Karimnagar once represented by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, and Secunderabad, which was party’s bastion for long as it was held by veteran leader Bandaru Dattatreya.

In the outgoing Lok Sabha, the BJP had only one seat from Telangana and the party’s performance is nothing short of stupendous as it won just one seat in the Assembly elections held in December 2018. However, the party failed to win any seats in Tamil Nadu despite stitching a “formidable alliance” with the ruling AIADMK and was routed in Kerala as well – raking up of the sensitive Sabarimala issue did not yield any positive results as the BJP candidate stood third in Pathanamthitta, the district under which the famous Lord Ayyappa temple falls.

The BJP was not able to make inroads in Tamil Nadu and Kerala with its numerous strategies not just falling flat but also backfiring big time. An initial look at the numbers in Tamil Nadu point to the fact that there was an anti-Modi wave which helped the DMK-Congress alliance trumping all arithmetic calculations.

It is a fact that Modi faced maximum protests in Tamil Nadu and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-BJP alliance could not swim against the tide – the saffron party bit the dust by losing all five constituencies it contested. All other alliance partners too drew a blank – the lone seat for the alliance was won by OP Ravindranath, son of deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam.

Though the scale of victory that Congress scored in South India cannot be brushed aside, it does not help India’s oldest political party in anyway given its decimation elsewhere in the country.

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