With the third phase of general elections on Tuesday, south India, which has never been a stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), concluded polling. The process, however, was anything but smooth as issues ranging from complaints of faulty electronic voter machines (EVMs) to deaths—11 in Kerala due to natural causes—were reported.
While Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana voted in a single phase on 11 April, Tamil Nadu voted on 18 April, and Kerala (single phase) and Karnataka went to polls on 18 and 23 April.
Between them, Tamil Nadu will send the highest number of members of Parliament (MPs) with 39 Lok Sabha seats, followed by Karnataka (28), AP (25), Kerala (20) and Telangana (17). The BJP, which has a strong footprint only in Karnataka, is also looking to expand its base in other states this time, especially in TN where it is in an alliance with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
The AIADMK-BJP alliance is pitted against an alliance between the Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The TN assembly bypolls will also be interesting to watch, especially after the demise of AIADMK leader and former TN chief minister Jayalalithaa, following which her party split into two factions.
South India is likely to be a tough nut to crack for the BJP given its strong regional leaders, who are opposed to the BJP. In 2014, other than the 17 seats the BJP won in Karnataka, it could win just one in Telangana, two in AP (then in an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party), one in TN and none in Kerala.
AP chief minister and TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, who broke with the BJP last year, has joined hands with the Congress and other regional leaders. Naidu surprised everyone by sharing the stage with Congress president Rahul Gandhi as his party was formed an anti-Congress sentiment.
“Naidu is doing his best to bring as many regional leaders together as he can. DMK chief M. K. Stalin is fully with us. While his plans were uncertain last year after exiting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Naidu’s role as one of the key anti-BJP leaders is now complete," said a TDP functionary who did not want to be named.
This time, a separate block might perhaps emerge from south India in the form of Telangana chief minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) supremo K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s non-Congress and non-BJP front. Analysts believe Rao, who has found support from YSR Congress party (YSRCP) chief Y. S. Jagan Mohann Reddy, will support the BJP if the latter falls short of numbers.
In Kerala, the tussle is once again between the ruling Left Democratic Front and the United Democratic Front on a whole range of issues, including Sabarimala, secularism and anti-incumbency. However, analysts say that the BJP might win one Lok Sabha seat in Kerala this time.
“BJP’s biggest hope is that the Sabarimala issue will yield results, in the sense that they have found an Ayodhya here. But the more interesting thing is the elections getting vertically divided between the north and south. Only after the second phase we started seeing a more communal tone this time. And you might see a more aggressive Pragya Singh Thakur or Yogi Adityanath and the Election Commission will be tested more than ever before," said Hyderabad-based political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
Get latest election news and live updates on Elections 2019 here