BJP Picks Nationalism, Hindutva, Modi Over Regional Issues in New Southern Push
Regional and caste equations may no longer be BJP's prime focus as party focuses on Hindutva push in south India.
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At the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national executive meet, which was held in Hyderabad on 2 and 3 July, three states - Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana - figured prominently in discussions. However, unlike in Karnataka where the ruling party keeps grappling with ever changing caste equations, in these other southern states where the BJP wants to make inroads, the party has a different campaign strategy, The Quint has learnt.
Based on discussions at the national meet, the saffron party is expected to stick to its core, basic agenda – nationalist posturing blended with BJP’s Hindutva agenda – in most southern states. When The Quint reached out to a prominent national leader of the BJP he said, “What is the difference between the south and the north? It is one nation and one campaign. What is relevant in Uttar Pradesh is relevant in Kerala or Karnataka too.”
That is, rhetorically opposing regional and national parties in the southern states will not be the priority for the BJP. Along with the nationalist-Hindutva pitch, the effort will also be to showcase Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pan-India “image.”
BJP Aims for ‘One Nation Under Hindutva’ Push in South
The change in tack was evident in all that transpired during the executive meeting, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his public meeting in Hyderabad stuck to speaking only about a “development” agenda in Telangana, while party leaders including Home Minister Amit Shah and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath dwelt on the Hindutva 'push' as they referred to Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar.
Replace the regional Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) with the national BJP was the message, loud and clear. “Give us one chance,” said Amit Shah as he addressed Telangana people.
Union Minister Smriti Irani too gave out a similar message while referring to the alleged killings of BJP workers in Kerala as she conveyed the party’s homage to “murdered” workers in Kerala, West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir, clubbing all the three geographically and politically different states under one banner – hostile.
With reference to Tamil Nadu, the BJP national leadership discussed aggressive campaigning but did not dwell a lot on equations with Dravidian parties including its ally All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), a party source said. The party’s strategy in Andhra Pradesh was not entirely focused upon, the source added.
In Andhra Pradesh, the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) has been friendly with the BJP government in the Centre. The state has been looking for support from the centre in getting special category status.
It also seemed, that keeping an eye on voters in Andhra Pradesh, the BJP in Telangana has also moved away from playing up the Telangana statehood sentiment. At the public meeting held at Secunderabad's Parade Grounds, the usual Jai Telangana slogans, which BJP workers in the state had once adopted, gave way to ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ salutations.
With reference to Kerala, the focus could be on wooing the Christian community into the “national fold,” a BJP leader said. As the Prime Minister too had pushed for an outreach towards religious minorities and historically marginalised sections including Dalits and Adivasis, BJP sources said that Christians in Kerala would be a focus group.
“It is not a deliberate outreach. It is an organic outreach grounded in the party’s principle of bringing development to all,” another BJP leader explained. But they did not answer our query whether the outreach will also include a push along the lines of the Sangh's concept of ‘Ghar Wapsi', or ’reconversion' to Hinduism from other religious denominations.
In Tamil Nadu, the time is ripe for building a “nationalist” narrative, another party leader said. “The state unit has made enormous strides in Tamil Nadu. The party’s growth is not based on Tamil sentiment that the regional parties have been pushing. It is based on a ‘one nation sentiment’,” the leader said.
What of the Friendly and Oppositional Regional Parties?
The national executive meet in Hyderabad did not just bring BJP’s national clout to the south, it also got its increasingly prominent southern leaders to share platforms. For instance, Tamil Nadu State President K Annamalai who was in Telangana’s Nizamabad, held a media conference supported by BJP MLA Arvind Dharmapuri. “KCR will meet the same fate as Uddhav Thackeray,” he ominously said.
Kerala BJP President K Surendran was also photographed interacting with local leaders in Pinapaka constituency in Telangana. Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was on the dais at the PM’s public meeting in Hyderabad.
“We are only in support of AIADMK for elections. We do not get tied down by them or any other ally,” a national leader of the BJP said, while referring to the BJP’s growing presence in Tamil Nadu.
In Telangana the party has pivoted to projecting a larger than life image of PM Narendra Modi which they believe overshadows TRS leaders by far.
“KCR is too small for the Prime Minister to even take cognizance of. Why will the PM respond to KCR? We are only answerable to the people of Telangana,” Telangana BJP President Bandi Sanjay Kumar said at a press conference in Hyderabad. In Kerala, meanwhile, a push to strengthen booth-level activities of the BJP will be more important for the party than projecting itself as the alternative to both, the CPI(M) and the Congress.
“Telangana is definitely the BJP’s next stop in the south. We have high hopes in other states too. It is not true that the south is not ready for BJP,” the senior leader said. In Telangana and Karnataka, assembly elections will be held in 2023. When asked whether the national leadership is satisfied with Basavaraj Bommai’s leadership in Karnataka, a leader of the party said, “There is no problem in Karnataka. The CM is doing well.”
While the BJP is optimistic about its growth in the south, in both Telangana and Tamil Nadu, the party has been facing massive pushback.
Telangana Rashtra Samithi has been resisting the BJP”s onslaught and has been posturing itself as a political alternative to the national party. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu’s DMK, since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, has been treating BJP as an equal to its prime opponent, the AIADMK. In Kerala, the BJP did not make too many inroads going by the party’s performance in the 2021 Assembly elections, where the Left Democratic Front government came back to power for the second consecutive term.
In the south, the BJP however has increased its vote share, between 2014 and 2018 Lok Sabha elections, in three of the five states.
In Kerala, the party's vote share increased by 2.48 percent and in Karnataka the vote share increased by 8.01 percent. In Telangana the party managed an 8.5 percent increase in vote share. In AP there has been a 7.52 percent dip in the party's vote share. In Tamil Nadu too party's vote share dipped by around 2 percent from 5.56 percent in 2014 to 3.66 in 2019.
With the new southern push, will the BJP which has a hunger for expansion, make its mark in 2024 elections and the Assembly elections to be held in 2023?
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Topics: PM Narendra Modi Telangana Tamil Nadu
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