Chennai: Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is chalking out its south strategy. Party president Amit Shah, who had recently visited Kerala, will address 10,000 booth-level committee members from Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar islands in Chennai on Monday. South India remains a challenge for the BJP. Therefore, it is not only trying to strengthen the party, it is also looking at forging alliances with regional parties.
A top BJP leader from Karnataka said that along with the eastern states, the south would compensate for what the party might lose in the north. “They will be desperate to make inroads in the southern states. But the scope is very limited, especially because of the strong anti-BJP wave that has brought all the five states on a united platform," said D. Ravikumar, Tamil writer and general secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi.
At present, the national party has 21 Lok Sabha seats from the 129 constituencies in the five southern states. Out of the 21, a total of 17 seats are from Karnataka, a state which the BJP considered a gateway to the south. It was also a testing ground for the party’s right wing ideology, in the recently concluded assembly election.
Though BJP fell short of a simple majority, leading to the formation of a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government, the saffron party emerged as the single-largest party.
Coastal Karnataka, where politics is more religion-centric as opposed to the caste-based politics in the other parts of the state, became BJP’S biggest hunting ground, sweeping all three districts, and conceding just two seats to the Congress. The party also got the backing of the Lingayat vote base, despite the Congress’ attempt to split the votes.
Likewise, the party has also been attempting caste-based mobilization in Tamil Nadu, where it has no representation in the state assembly, and just one MP.
The BJP, which already enjoys the support of the Nadar community, organized a state-level meeting of the SC/ST wing in May to attract Dalit votes. Following this, it aims at targeting the Vanniyar community in northern Tamil Nadu. The party has also been building a base in western part of the state since the 1998 bomb blast in Coimbatore. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s three-day national event last year, was seen as an attempt to make inroads in Tamil Nadu.
The party considered Coimbatore as the “hotspot", noted BJP’s national general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao last week. However, in the past two years, it has faced severe backlash and the anti-BJP chorus has become much louder of late, agreed a senior state BJP leader from Tamil Nadu. “As we attempt to build the party from scratch, it is equally important for us to shed our negative image," he added, requesting anonymity.
While the resentment against the saffron party resonates across the border in Left-ruled Kerala, the BJP has been able to establish a base, unlike in Tamil Nadu where it has less than 3% vote share.
The BJP, which is yet to fill the post of state president in Kerala after Kummanam Rajashekaran was removed two months ago, has been finding it difficult to quell the internal factions. It is also working on navigating its way through the complex web of coalition politics in Kerala, where it has no MP.
While the BJP had announced that it would contest alone in Telangana, it is yet to make any inroads. In Andhra Pradesh, however, the party will try to make up for the damage it incurred in March after the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) severed ties with the BJP. “The difference between 2014 and 2019 is that a sense of southern discrimination has now become more obvious. Among southern states, Karnataka can fetch more seats for the BJP, but it will be difficult to retain its seats," said Ravikumar.
Sharan Poovanna and Nidheesh M.K. in Bengaluru, Yunus Y. Lasania in Hyderabad and Gyan Verma in New Delhi contributed to this story.