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Narendra Modi Has Himself to Blame For Flak He’s Facing in South

Here are some of Modi’s questionable political choices regarding the south, and why they’ve dented his popularity.

Updated
Politics
6 min read
Modi has made a string of decisions that have not resonated with voters in the southern states.
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As #GoBackModi trended all over social media last weekend, it revealed a strong sentiment against Prime Minister Narendra Modi among the southern states, with Tamil Nadu leading the online charge this time around. A look at recent flashpoints from the south reveals that Modi has made a string of decisions that have not resonated with voters in the region, one in which the BJP anyway enjoyed only a limited popularity.

Here are some of the Prime Minister’s questionable political choices regarding the south, and why they’ve dented his popularity.

No Visit to Tamil Nadu After Cyclone Gaja: Poor Optics?

A view of a damaged car after cyclone Gaja hits Kodaikanal. 
A view of a damaged car after cyclone Gaja hits Kodaikanal. 
(Photo: PTI)

The decision to not visit a cyclone-hit Tamil Nadu after cyclone Gaja struck twelve districts in the state, and left more than 3 lakh people homeless, was a surprising one by PM Modi.

Though his naysayers may attribute it to the little relevance that Tamil Nadu holds for BJP’s own electoral prospects, given the party’s marginal presence in the state, the decision to not visit after the cyclone definitely did not gain Modi any new fans there. More than anything else, it was poor optics for the prime minister.

The Prime Minister should have, at least in his capacity as the Chairperson of the National Disaster Management Authority, visited the affected areas to take stock of the situation. Till now, Mr. Modi has not visited the affected areas.
DMK leader MK Stalin
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Conspicuous Silence on Shooting of Anti-Sterlite Protesters in Thootukudi

Anti-Sterlite protests and the Sterlite Copper plant.
Anti-Sterlite protests and the Sterlite Copper plant.
(Photo: The Quint)

Modi's conspicuous silence on the shooting in Thootukudi, in which 13 anti-Sterlite protesters were shot dead by the police, was not received well by people in the state. That Modi chose to tweet about the ‘Fitness Challenge’ at the time, made matters worse, with people tweeting and making “What about Thootukudi?” trend in response.

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Pro-Karnataka Bias in Cauvery Dispute?

Tamil Nadu has repeatedly accused the BJP-led Centre of a pro-Karnataka bias on the Cauvery issue, especially regarding the Mekedatu reservoir project across the river, which farmers in Tamil Nadu claim will deny them their share of Cauvery waters.

Tamil Nadu CM K Palaniswami urged PM Modi to withdraw the permission accorded to Karnataka for a detailed project report (DPR) on its proposed dam across the Cauvery river at Mekedatu. Leading a demonstration against the Centre’s decision, DMK leader Stalin accused Modi of betraying the interests of Tamil Nadu.

The plain and simple accusation - Modi was favouring Karnataka over Tamil Nadu in the run-up to the 2019 general election because the BJP has a larger presence in the former.

Though favouring Karnataka on this aspect of the Cauvery dispute may indeed be the expedient political gamble by the Modi administration, it has only provided more fodder to his critics in Tamil Nadu, the state which led the recent #GoBackModi outrage online.

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Doublespeak on NEET in Tamil Nadu?

The implementation of NEET in Tamil Nadu for medical admission has remained a sore thumb for the Centre. Though it was the Supreme Court that finally abolished TN's Class 12 marks-based system for selection, the Centre was widely blamed for not backing TN's demand and the issue caused a lot of resentment in the state. Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman had promised the Centre's support for an Ordinance or executive order to exempt TN from NEET for an additional year, but in the Supreme Court, the Attorney General said the Centre could not back such a move.

Students wanted Tamil Nadu to be exempted from NEET as a tribute to Anitha, the medical aspirant who took her own life over the controversy.
Students wanted Tamil Nadu to be exempted from NEET as a tribute to Anitha, the medical aspirant who took her own life over the controversy.
(Photo: The Quint)
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Kerala Flood Relief: Did the Centre Do Enough?

After the 2018 Kerala floods, the Modi government initially contributed a limited amount from the Centre’s coffers, criticised for having been far lesser than what had been requested by the Left government in the state. Secondly, the Centre announced that India would not be accepting aid from foreign governments for flood relief, repeating a controversial policy decision begun by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-I government.

In August, the Centre had sanctioned an advance of Rs 600 crore for relief. It was not until the end of November that a subsequent contribution of Rs 2,500 crores was approved by the Centre.

Kerala minister Thomas Isaac had tweeted, “We asked the union government for financial support of ₹2200 crore; they grant us a precious ₹600 crore. We make no request to any foreign government but UAE voluntarily offers ₹700 crore. No, says union government, it is below our dignity to accept foreign aid. This is a dog in the manger policy.”
Narendra Modi Has Himself to Blame For Flak He’s Facing in South
(Cartoon: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)

Even as a controversy raged about the alleged offer from United Arab Emirates, with the Gulf nation denying that there was ever a formal offer of aid, voters in Kerala were not pleased with the twin decisions by the Centre. The BJP government faced allegations of displaying political vindictiveness at a time when the state was recuperating from one of the worst natural disasters in its history, and Modi was unable to effectively douse the suspicion that that was indeed the case.

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What Not to Say 101: Comparing Kerala to Somalia on Campaign Trail

In May 2016, Modi asserted at an election rally that the "infant mortality rate among the scheduled tribe community in Kerala is worse than Somalia". The prime minister’s caustic jibe resulted in a strong backlash, with thousands of Malayalis responding with the hashtag #PoMoneModi (Go Off, Modi).

#PoMoneModi clocked over 40,000 tweets within a day, according to keyhole.co, a website that tracks hashtags. The hashtag was a play on a popular dialogue in Malayalam cinema — Mohanlal’s “nee po mone Dinesha’’ from ‘Narasimham’. It is the protagonist asking the villain of the movie to retreat or get lost.

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Going Back on Assurances Made to Andhra Over Special Status

In March 2018, Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu played video clips in the state Assembly of Modi promising the state special category status before and after coming to power at the Centre in 2014.

I am giving an assurance to the people of Andhra Pradesh today that if you send me to Delhi, we will not only fulfil the promise of special category status given to the state, but will also extend it.
Narendra Modi, at an election campaign speech in Tirupati in 2014

The discord over the issue caused an ugly breakup between Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party and the BJP, leaving the NDA short of another important ally. In the months that followed, the growing proximity between the TDP and the Congress did not bring cheer to the BJP camp.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu during a public meeting in poll-bound Telangana in December 2018.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu during a public meeting in poll-bound Telangana in December 2018.
(Photo: PTI)
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Surveys Reflect Modi’s Waning Popularity in the South

A ‘National Trust Survey’ conducted by Firstpost-IPSOS shows that Rahul Gandhi outscores Narendra Modi as the preferred choice as Prime Minister in 2019 across Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

10.6% of those polled in Tamil Nadu, 14% of those polled in Andhra and 19.4% of those polled in Kerala preferred a second term in office for Modi. Rahul polled considerably higher in these three southern states, with 69.7% in Tamil Nadu, 68.8% in Andhra and 62.6% in Kerala.

In Telangana though, 68.7% of those polled in Telangana prefer Modi as PM while only 15.2% favoured Rahul Gandhi. In Karnataka, it was a closer contest with Modi polling 44.1% and Rahul at 38.8%.

The latest C-Voter State of The Nation survey, released in January 2019, places the UPA ahead of the NDA in terms of vote share in all five southern states - Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Admittedly though, the BJP has only a marginal presence in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

An India Today-Axis-My-India survey conducted between 25 August and 31 October 2018 also reported that PM Modi’s approval rating had taken a downturn among respondents from south India.

Therefore Modi might end up losing more voters in the south than gaining. From all indicators available, it would suggest that his decisions on the recent flashpoints mentioned above are to blame for the decline in popularity. All in all, it seems that Modi has only himself to blame for the flak he’s facing in south India.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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