Wayanad Apart, What Are BJP’s Chances in 3 Key Southern States? 

BJP is not as confident as it was in 2014. Thus, it is looking at southern states to augment its tally. 

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

On 29 March, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were speaking in different parts of the state, but on different notes. KCR, at a public meeting, was dismissive of Modi asserting that the UPA-1 government (in which he was a cabinet minister), had conducted ‘surgical strike’s 11 times’.

“Modi is not the only one who has done it, but he is trying to mislead the public. We maintained secrecy but Modi is trying to divert public attention away from real issues that he has failed to address in five years,” KCR said, surprising the audience who had been under the impression that he was in league with Modi.

A few hundred kilometers away, Modi was sniggering at KCR for depending on ‘astrological’ advice for everything, including advancing the state assembly polls by a few months.

Modi alleged that after the state of Telangana was created a few years ago, the KCR family had become affluent while the people were left to their own devices.

An Unpredictable KCR

Senior state-level BJP leaders said that “KCR could not be trusted” as he was playing a game to attract “the Muslim votes by criticising Modi”. They added, “we do not trust KCR though it would be good if he helps us to form the next government in New Delhi”.

The BJP, which had swept north India in the 2014 elections, is not that confident this time around. Thus, it is looking at southern states to augment its tally. However, their main leader in south India in the past, Venkaiah Naidu, is now the Vice President of India. Hence, the party has to look for new leaders in states that are quite different in social structure from the north Indian or west Indian states, which BJP is more familiar with.

KCR, for whom the Congress is the main opponent in Telangana, had thus, sought to shake hands with the BJP. The wily Chandrashekar Rao – whose electorate view him as a feudal lord like the Nizam of Hyderabad – had conveyed to Modi that if he was allowed to lord over his own state, he would accept the ‘suzerainty ’of the latter. With little hope for his own party in Telangana, Modi had agreed.

At the same time, an unpredictable KCR is also heard talking of a non-BJP, non-Congress federal front (comprising regional leaders) that can be cobbled up very quickly post-elections, to bid for power in New Delhi. Analysts say that this will leave only 3 Lok Sabha seats (at the most) out of 17, where the BJP could have a serious chance of winning.

BJP’s Potential in Andhra Pradesh

The BJP’s chances are even more dismal in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh which has 25 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP, under the influence of the Telugu Desam party (TDP) supremo and Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, for long never seriously built up its party depending on him for everything. But the latter, distrustful of Modi since the 2002 riots, quit the National Democratic Alliance a few months ago, frustrated that the Centre was not helping the state with resources.

Sources say that Naidu was told that he could be the prime minister if the UPA came to power and Rahul Gandhi (like his mother Sonia had done earlier) could settle for the chairmanship of the alliance. True or not, Naidu is certainly in the UPA camp now, and the decision has been helped by the fact that the Congress is now virtually extinct in Andhra Pradesh, and thus, cannot be a rival of the TDP.

Modi is livid after being abandoned by Naidu, and has no option but to depend on the principal Opposition party, YSR Congress, led by Jaganmohan Reddy. Though Jagan’s main support base comprises SCs/STs/ Muslims and Christians (besides Reddys) he is vulnerable, as numerous criminal cases are pending against him, and are being investigated by the CBI.

Cautious Chandrababu Naidu Steps Up His Game

There is no open alliance between YSR Congress and BJP, but Modi is expecting support from Jagan’s MPs in the Lok Sabha. Two election surveys released in the last fortnight, show that the YSR Congress will trump TDP at the hustings, but the Naidu camp says that these are motivated polls with the idea of cofounding voters.

Not leaving anything to chance, Naidu has stepped up his activities in the state including offering sops to voters. Analysts say that this would certainly boost Naidu’s chances. Karnataka with 28 Lok Sabha seats is the only south Indian state that BJP has a significant presence. 

But with a JD(S)-Congress alliance ruling the state, things are not exactly rosy for the saffron party. Last week, in an unusual development, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy along with his ministers and other Congress leaders, stood in dharna outside the Income Tax office in Bengaluru.

They were protesting against a series of tax raids a few days earlier (including on a minister and other businesses linked to the relatives of ruling party members) which they said were motivated. Kumaraswamy later accused PM Modi of misusing the tax department to threaten Opposition political leaders and indulge in ‘revenge politics.’ Analysts suggested that at best, the BJP could get 50 percent of the seats.

Thus, in a state notorious for Lingayat-Vokkaliga caste politics, the BJP is using the Modi card to enhance its chances. But the strikes in Balakot and the latest anti -satellite missile can only influence voters in Bengaluru and big cities, aver analysts.

Thus, in these three south Indian states, BJP’s tally would be poor in spite of their best efforts. This is no good news for PM Narendra Modi.

(The writer is the former Resident Editor of the Ahmedabad and later Hyderabad editions of the Times of India. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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