Southern states appear to have halted the juggernaut of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again, according to the predictions of various exit polls.
Exit polls conducted by various national and regional television channels, along with other agencies, indicate that the BJP may have had limited impact on voters in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana, which are ruled by regional leaders and highly popular local parties. In all these states, the BJP battles the image of being a north Indian party with little connection to southern issues. The only exception is Karnataka, where the BJP has performed consistently well in the parliamentary elections since 2004.
The BJP is likely to get less than a total of 10 seats from the other southern states, according to most exit polls.
“The BJP has no base in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana because of its communal agenda, which is something that will never work in the south. Issues such as the Ram Mandir do not draw votes here," said a senior Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader from Andhra Pradesh. As such, the BJP had to focus on local issues to connect with voters in the south, unlike in several north Indian states where the air strike on Balakot and national security resonated with the populace.
The clear mandate given by multiple exit polls to Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is also likely to help regional leaders such as Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K. Chandrashekar Rao led and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) chief Jagan Mohan Reddy retain their secular tag by not having to pick sides in case of a hung parliament.
The BJP had won only 21 out of the total 130 seats in the five states and Puducherry in 2014.
However, several people feel that the south may not have rebuffed the BJP.
“Going by the exit poll numbers and in comparison to 2014 results, I do not think the BJP has been completely rebuffed by the people of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh," said Palwai Raghavendra Reddy, a Hyderabad-based political analyst. The YSRCP is expected to sweep the polls in Andhra Pradesh, but the perception among voters is that Jagan Reddy might pick the BJP over the Congress, he said.
Other exit polls say that the BJP could end up with a higher vote share, even if it does not convert into seats, giving the party reason to believe that all is not lost with regard to the southern states.
“Though they may not win too many seats, the BJP’s vote share is likely to go up in places such as Kerala," said Sumanth Raman, a Chennai-based political scientist. The party was hoping to leverage the controversy regarding the entry of women of menstrual age into the Sabarimala temple in Left-ruled Kerala.
In Tamil Nadu, the BJP hoped to make inroads by allying with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
Some exit polls predict the newly formed BJP-AIADMK alliance in Tamil Nadu, where the saffron party had won just one seat in 2014, will win a substantial number of seats.
The state unit of the BJP in Karnataka is confident that the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress coalition government will fall on account of the growing differences between the alliance partners. The prediction by some exit polls that Sumalatha Amarnath could have defeated Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil, could end up bringing down the government on its own.