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The shifting balance in national politics

The shifting balance in national politics

While containing the majority spin of the BJP, South India showed that it can act differently, and that it can be a determining force in national politics.

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Last Updated : 24 June 2024, 23:38 IST
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Results of the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections proved beyond any presumption that there are specific narratives about South India that stopped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s majority spin. Thanks to L K Advani’s Rath Yatra, North India, particularly the Hindi belt, saw phenomenal growth of the BJP in the last three decades, which subsequently changed the political narrative from the Congress versus others to the BJP vs others.

In the meantime, as minority support was steadily shifting from the Congress to other regional parties and Dalit politics was waning, the BJP’s strategy to dispel the myth that it is a party of Banias and the upper caste paid off when it reached out to the OBCs, the STs, and the other backward castes, and formed rainbow coalition of social groups.

With five states and one Union Territory (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Pondicherry), South India has a distinct political landscape from North India due to its historical background. South India had witnessed social engineering through diverse, progressive social movements long before its emulation in North India.

Even during the recent Lok Sabha elections, the continuum of social engineering cannot be ruled out, with each state revolving around the same social coalition once formulated. AHINDA and Dravidian politics are two examples whose history is traced to the anti-Brahmin movement of the 1920s. Similar is the case of Narayana Guru and the Mujahidin movement in Kerala. All these movements not only consolidated the OBCs, including the minorities, against the dominant and upper caste politics, but also gave them a sense of identity in the larger politics of the state.

On the contrary, South India is known for dominant caste politics, albeit even the minor castes also played a significant political role. In the ensuing elections, the Lingayats of North Karnataka and the Vokkaligas of Old Mysore, after a long gap in contemporary history, formed the imagined social coalition LiVo (Lingayats and Vokkaligas) through the BJP-Janata Dal Secular alliance, and checkmated the Congress from cornering MAHINDA (‘M’ for Mahile) votes, a new social coalition emerged out of the guarantee scheme of the Congress government.

The Reddys, the Karmas, and the Kapus are numerically significant in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and are often aligned with a political party. This time, the Kapus in Andhra Pradesh sided with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to defeat the Reddys, led by Jagan Mohan Reddy, and drifted toward the Jana Sena Party. The Reddys have backed the Congress in Telangana, while the Kammas have long been TDP supporters in both states.

Telangana and Kerala witnessed communist movements, although the Telangana movement was much more radicalised than the one in Kerala. The communist movement in Telangana has become a spent force, given its suppression in the early 1950s; however, in Kerala they are a formidable political force.

Kerala is a unique state where two political formations, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and United Democratic Front (UDF), dominate the political landscape. Whichever political formation wins it benefits the I.N.D.I.A. bloc at the national level. The Congress was pitted against CPI/CPM in 15 constituencies, which benefited the BJP, at least winning one seat, and coming second in another.

Almost all the southern states have moved away from a two-party system to a three-cornered fight, where the BJP is slowly trying to occupy the political spaces once occupied by regional parties (as in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). Despite its best efforts, the BJP has not been successful in Tamil Nadu, and that’s a different story.

Two issues distinguish South India from North India: First, the south has been the hotbed of affirmative action since the colonial period, and it is often known for throwing up regional parties and satraps that played a crucial role in national politics. H D Deve Gowda and now N Chandrababu Nadu are the two leaders who have changed the language of national politics. They proved candidly that the maximum number of seats is not high enough; a few seats are enough to determine national politics. Second, Uttar Pradesh is no longer the epicentre of Indian politics; South India is equally influential in determining Indian politics.

The first issue that rolled the election narrative was when South Indian states accused the Union government, while simultaneously opposing governors of their respective states, of discriminating on the distribution of taxes collected under the Goods and Services Tax; some state governments even moved the Supreme Court. This issue snowballed into a significant crisis between the states and the Centre on the one hand and co-operative federalism on the other.

This was marked by a fear of imposing Hindi-Hindu identity markers, given that the cultural implosion and diversity of identity markers in South India checkmated its spread. Islamophobia, despite its best attempts, did not work, except in a few pockets in Telangana. Interestingly, a couple of states banked on the regional narratives such as the case of the guarantee scheme, special status to the states concerned, reservation, caste census, etc. Some of them overlapped with the national narrative, such as the narratives on crony capitalism, constitution change, and the electoral bond scam. While containing the majority spin of the BJP, South India showed that it can act differently, and that it can be a determining force in national politics.

However, the question remains whether South India will retain its importance as a determining force in Indian politics, mainly when delimitation is in the offing, and whether North India will celebrate its hegemony with more constituencies due to its demography and economic backwardness. The balance might tilt, unless South India argues for the adoption of a new methodology for delimitation.


(The writer is former dean, University of Mysore)

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