Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Elections 2019: How Modi wave bypassed southern states

  • The results continue a long tradition of south Indian voters defying national trends
  • The first part of the series focuses on the South, the one region that remained mostly untouched by the Narendra Modi-inspired BJP

Following the 2019 elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as India’s most powerful political force since the Congress in the 1980s. Drawing on Narendra Modi’s popularity and broad-based support cutting across caste and class, BJP cemented its strongholds in the Hindi heartland, while breaking new ground in West Bengal and Odisha.

BJP’s ascendancy has mirrored the Congress’ fall—the Grand Old Party failed to make any serious electoral gains following its 2014 nadir. All this will have important political and economic implications for India’s immediate and long-term future.

In a five-part series focusing on the five regions of India (north, south, east, west and central), Mint will analyse the election results to understand why these regions voted the way they did and what it could mean for the country’s political economy.

The first part of the series focuses on the South, the one region that remained mostly untouched by the Narendra Modi-inspired BJP wave and the only one with a meaningful Congress performance.

The results continue a long tradition of south Indian voters defying national trends. For instance, in 1967 and 1984, as most of the country voted for the Congress, significant pockets of the South cast their votes elsewhere. This defiance stems partly from powerful regional parties, especially in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Consequently, in both these states, BJP has only been able to rely on alliances. One southern state, though, has emerged as a BJP stronghold.

In Karnataka, BJP has been able to secure support from important caste groups and capitalize on resentment against the state government. It’s a similar story for the Congress in Kerala, where Muslim support and resentment against the Left-led state government drove a surge in Congress popularity.

Given the Congress’ poor performance elsewhere, in these elections, the party, in effect, has become a largely southern party.

All this will have important implications for the nation’s polity and economy. For a start, the north-south political divide could escalate existing tensions over how national resources are shared with southern state governments.

Adding to the tension is the unresolved issue of demographic change: the South’s slowing population growth could mean a much smaller role in national politics by 2031.

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