TDP-BJP fallout: New challenges

| | in Oped

With elections to the North-East States over, the spotlight now is on South India. While the BJP wants to expand its footprint, it will be a life and death battle for the Congress. Besides, there are regional players too. It’s all about getting the permutation and combination right

Now that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has pulled out its Ministers from the Narendra Modi Cabinet for not protecting the interests of Andhra Pradesh, what happens to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ambition of conquering the southern States? BJP president Amit Shah said after winning the three North-Eastern States recently, “Till the (BJP) Governments are formed in Odisha, West Bengal and Kerala, till the time we win Karnataka, the golden period is yet to come”.

No doubt, Andhra Pradesh was the only State where the party was ruling as a coalition partner in the south, although it has been making efforts to penetrate other southern States. Karnataka was the first gateway for the BJP in 2008 when it formed its first Government in the south but it frittered away the goodwill. The 2014 gains were largely attributed to the Modi wave.

Instead of expanding base, the BJP seems to have lost both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Only last week, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao announced that he was willing to lead a non-BJP, non-Congress Third Front. The BJP continues to be a marginal player in Andhra Pradesh.  Traditionally, after the formation of the BJP in 1980, it tried to expand its base in the south but when actor-turned politician NT Rama Rao entered the political scene in 1982, the party lost whatever little space it had.

When Chandrababu Naidu became the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh after deposing his father-in-law NT Rama Rao in 1995, the Congress and the TDP alternated power between them.  Naidu supported the  National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government from 1998 to 2004. The BJP also improved and won 20 per cent vote share and four seats, two each from coastal Andhra and Telangana on its own in 1998 election where major communities like Kapus and Rajus were moving towards the BJP.

The BJP again aligned with the TDP in 2014. Now, Naidu has cleverly made the Modi Government a villain and has also frustrated the BJP’s intention of aligning with the YSR Congress. As caste factor plays a major role than religion, the dominant group in Rayalaseema region prefers YSR Congress, while the two dominant groups in coastal Andhra prefer the TDP.

In Telengana, Rao has weakened the Opposition. Though it supported the cause, the BJP lost a golden opportunity during the Telagnana Movement as the Chief Minister appropriated all the credit for the bifurcation. Today, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the Congress are the dominant parties while the Left, the BJP and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) play a minor role. Moreover, there isn’t any leader who can match Rao. The BJP has only five MLAs but has declared its ambitious goal of Mission 60 in 2019 Assembly poll (it has set a target to get 60 BJP MLAs elected in 2019 poll in Telangana).

As for Karnataka, the BJP hopes to snatch the State from the Congress. The BJP, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) are the three major parties. The JD (S), which is mostly confined to Mysore, has the support of the Vokkalingas. In other regions that account for 190 constituencies, there is a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress. The BJP plans to make full use of its social engineering, caste combination and money and muscle power. For the Congress too, it is a life and death battle because if it loses this southern State, it will be zero in the south after losing the North-East.

Kerala with its multi-religious social landscape has always been elusive for the BJP.  It has 53 per cent Hindus, 28 per cent Muslims and 19 per cent Christians. The BJP has gone up to 10 per cent vote share and is very much visible now. So far, the two fronts — the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Left parties and the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress — have been alternating in power. Frequent clashes between the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) and the BJP workers have spoiled the atmosphere. How much the BJP can gain before the 2019 poll is to be seen.

Tamil Nadu is a key State with 39 seats. There is a political vacuum after the death of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in 2016 and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M Karunanidhi taking a back seat due to ill health. Two Dravidian parties — the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the DMK — have dominated the political scene since 1967.  Then there are minor players like the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and smaller caste-based parties. Even the Congress has degenerated over the years. Two film  stars — Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan — have entered politics.

While propping up AIADMK Government, the BJP is also trying to consolidate its support in the State by wooing the OBC community. The AIADMK has traditionally enjoyed the support of Gounders and Thevars while the DMK dominates northern districts with the support of the Vanniyars. Kongunadu Jananayaka Katchi, the Gounders-based party, has merged with its ally BJP. The BJP has a limited presence in two or three districts. It is supporting Rajinikanth, but all parties face a leadership crisis.

The BJP knows that if it wants to expand its footprint in the south, it needs to have more allies and strong State leaders. At present, it is not relevant in any of these four States, except Karnataka.  How will it go about getting more allies and charismatic leaders is to be seen. All options are open to all players before the polls. Ultimately, it is the arithmetic, which matters in elections these days.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)

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