Delhi/Chennai/Hyderabad: The BJP’s failure to return to power in Karnataka could have major implications for the party’s South Pole ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The setback is particularly significant because Karnataka is the only state in South India where the BJP has been in power or held a dominant position.
It is not even the main opposition elsewhere in the region and its influence in Tamil Nadu is M.K. Stalin, Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) and Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Less in comparison to regional satraps like Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University, Dr. S.Y. Surendra Kumar told ThePrint that the BJP may now face an even tougher uphill battle in south India, including Telangana, where elections are due later this year.
“It will now be more challenging for the BJP to attract defectors from other parties in Telangana, where the party is hoping to defeat KCR,” he added.
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He said, “The defeat of the BJP in Karnataka will also give momentum to the regional leaders. The BJP’s Hindutva agenda has limited appeal in the southern states in any case.”
Surendra Kumar said that on the other hand, after the victory in Karnataka, the Congress could possibly build up steam in Telangana.
The importance of Karnataka to the BJP cannot be underestimated. The state is essential not only for the BJP to showcase its status as a pan-India party, but also Bengaluru’s status as an IT industry and startup hub and a foreign direct investment (FDI) magnet, as well as home to several large corporations. The base is also important.
In fact, Bangalore’s influence goes beyond the Indian economy, as it has a significant impact on employment and the country’s diaspora. On the political front, it also acts as a ‘gateway’ to other southern states.
All these factors together explain why the BJP’s top leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, mounted a sustained campaign months before Karnataka goes to polls on May 10.
A party general secretary told ThePrint, “Winning in southern India is important not only for the BJP’s geographical expansion, but also for establishing the party’s story as an all-India entity.”
Therefore, the result has come as a big blow to the BJP, with some immediate impact being felt in other southern states.
A Karnataka defeat could have a negative impact on the BJP’s ability to attract leaders in Telangana. In Tamil Nadu, defeated state party president K.K. Annamalai—who was election co-incharge for the party in Karnataka—and could add to gains made by the BJP’s alliance partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Here’s a look at how the Karnataka results could affect the BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign in the south, as well as the potential impact on politics in various states in the region, where it has been trying to gain a foothold with limited success.
Also read: Karnataka Election Results: Congress worker arrived at the head quarter as Hanuman, distributing Motichur laddus
‘Breaking the Southern Citadel’
South India accounts for about one-fifth of the Lok Sabha constituencies, or 130 out of a total of 543 seats. This count includes 28 seats in Karnataka, 25 in Andhra Pradesh, 17 in Telangana, 39 in Tamil Nadu, 20 in Kerala and one seat in the Union Territory of Puducherry.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 21 seats out of this pool of 130. Its number increased to 29 in the 2019 elections.
The vast majority of these victories for the BJP have come from Karnataka – 18 in 2004, 19 in 2009, 17 in 2014 and 25 in 2019.
What the party’s defeat in the Karnataka assembly elections could mean for the Lok Sabha in the region is debatable.
While the results in Karnataka will dampen the morale of BJP workers and also impress regional leaders who aim to stop the BJP’s aggressive expansion plans in their states, it is worth noting that assembly and Lok Sabha elections are often held separately. Revolve around the issues.
For the latter, voters sometimes cast their ballots based on national considerations, such as their support for the prime minister rather than the ruling party in the state.
Moreover, the political scenario in Karnataka is quite different from other southern states.
In Karnataka, the BJP has four-time chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, but has also used the state, especially the coastal districts in the south, as his so-called “Hindutva laboratory”.
In Karnataka, the BJP has fielded four-time chief minister B.S. Not only leaders like Yediyurappa, but also the state, especially the coastal districts in the south, have been used as their so-called “Hindutva labs”.
In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP, aided by former chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde, was able to secure a majority of seats. In that election, BJP got 13 seats and Hegde’s party Lok Shakti got three seats.
Since then, the BJP has steadily strengthened its position in Karnataka on the twin planks of Hindutva and development, often referred to as “Moditva”—however, this year’s election puts this idea to rest.
Meanwhile, other southern states lack tall leaders like Yeddyurappa and the influence of the Hindutva ideology is limited.
A senior central BJP leader told ThePrint that the party relied on five key elements to win the south for the Lok Sabha polls—“Narendra Modi’s popularity, beneficiary constituencies (beneficiaries of welfare schemes), regional leaders who align with the PM’s vision We support Hindutva and our election winning organizational machinery.”
What could hurt its prospects, he said, was the absence of strong regional party leaders, which he attributed partly to the BJP’s defeat in Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi.
“In other southern states, from Kerala to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, we lack prominent mass leaders as regional parties claim more prominent faces. Their beneficiary model is more effective with leaders like KCR, Stalin and Jagan.”
He accepted that Hindutva was yet to become a major force in the South.
He said, “Our Hindutva ideology is struggling to find acceptance in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh despite our continuous efforts. Hindutva has gained limited traction in Telangana as well. That’s why our path is challenging.
Nevertheless, the leader claimed that some ambitious targets had been set for the Lok Sabha polls.
“We should prepare a new strategy with renewed vigor to secure at least five seats from Tamil Nadu, 10 seats from Telangana, more than 20 seats from Karnataka and a few seats from Andhra Pradesh and Kerala,” he said.
There are 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won four, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) nine, the Congress three and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) the remaining one seat.
Another general secretary of the BJP told ThePrint that a victory in the “southern bastion” can be expected as the party has defeated regional forces in the past.
He said, “In 2014, we successfully broke through the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party strongholds in Uttar Pradesh, when Amit Shah’s strategic approach became a game-changer. In addition, our victories in Tripura, Assam and Mamata Banerjee’s acquisition of 18 seats in West Bengal demonstrated the BJP’s continued success in the Northeast and Eastern regions. Breaking the southern bastion is our third mission, which we are targeting in 2024.
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