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India Elections: Ruling Party Looks South In Hunt For Record Win

19.04.2024 17:57

Prime Minister Modi’s ruling BJP has been pushing to expand its influence in southern Indian states 129 of 543 parliament seats are from five southern states Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Telangana In 2019, BJP won just 30 seats in southern India, failing to get any in...

As India kicked off its national election on Friday, voters were out in 21 states to elect 102 lawmakers, among them the southernmost state of Tamil Nadu.

That is a region where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has spent considerable time and resources during this electoral campaign, including visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

This is part of the BJP and Modi's larger push for power in the south, which has historically remained out of its reach, despite the massive numbers the party has managed in the rest of India.

Tamil Nadu and four southern states – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Telangana – along with the Puducherry and Lakshadweep union territories are home to almost 20% of India's massive population of around 1.3 billion.

The five states account for 129 of the total 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India's Parliament, with Tamil Nadu alone contributing 39 lawmakers.

While the BJP is the clear overall frontrunner according to all polls, Modi has set himself a more ambitious target as he chases a record-leveling third term as prime minister.

He wants the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to win more than 400 seats, which would be a big jump from the 2019 tally of 303.

To achieve it, though, would require an equally major shift in the south.

Last time, most of the BJP's seats came from traditional strongholds in the north. Only 30 were from southern India, including 25 solely from Karnataka, while it failed to get any in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Kerala.

'Party of north India'

For the BJP, success in the south is essential this time around if it wants to shake off the tag of being a "party of north India," according to Niranjan Sahoo, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in the capital New Delhi.

"That is why Modi is making this reinvigorated push for the BJP in the south," he told Anadolu.

He said the BJP is expected to do well in Andhra Pradesh, particularly because of the alliance it has formed with "the regional behemoth Telugu Desam Party."

On the whole, except for Modi's personal appeal, the party still struggles to connect with large segments of southern voters, he added.

Political analyst Rasheed Kidwai also believes the BJP is keen to grow beyond just north India, but pointed out that the stronger interest in the south is also part of a contingency plan "in case there is a shortfall in seats from the north."

As for the target to cross the 400-mark, he said the ruling party knows how important that figure could be in its future plan to push through legislation like the Uniform Civil Code, which is viewed as particularly controversial as it aims to standardize laws for personal issues regardless of faiths and religious beliefs.

"So, if they get more seats, they will have a clear path to implementing their plans," he said.

North-south divide

Historically, India's south has always been a more diverse region with much higher literacy rates than the rest of the country, both key factors in people's voting choices.

Another major bone of contention between the north and south is the federal government's distribution of tax revenues and finances, according to Sahoo.

"Southern states complain that despite making a major contribution to the state exchequer, they receive a meager share compared to northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar," he explained.

These southern states also "feel politically marginalized" because of the BJP's predominant position as a northern party, and they feel it "does not invest much on them," he added.

Nirupama Subramanian, an independent journalist based in Tamil Nadu's capital Chennai, said the southern states have been particularly wary of the BJP's "centralization impulse."

They have been warning of a greater divide with the north if the BJP continues in power, she told Anadolu.

The BJP, she added, feels voters in the south have a sense of fatigue with Dravidian politics, an ideology that has dominated Tamil Nadu since the 1960s.

Another challenge for the ruling party is reassuring voters that it does want to kill the Tamil language by imposing Hindi as the official one, said Subramanian.

"That's why Modi drops a line every now and then in Tamil, usually a famous "e," she said.

Many believe the BJP's concerted efforts will not bear much fruit in southern India.

Niranjan Vengallur, a Kerala resident, pointed out that "local parties have a strong support in these regions."

"In Kerala, regional parties have performed well, be it in governance, education, health care or infrastructure. Also, they have refrained from dragging religion into politics so you will find less animosity between faiths here," he told Anadolu.

"As a voter, I am satisfied with what they have been doing, so there really is no need for me to look toward at a national party." -

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