BJP’s premature victory map—and south strategy—now lie in tatters

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s hopes of making up inevitable losses of Lok Sabha seats in the north from South India now lie shattered after the loss of their last southern hope Karnataka

Photos by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photos by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Brajendra Nath Singh/IANS

The Bharatiya Janata Party's efforts to expand in southern states suffered a blow on Saturday with its two-day old government collapsing as Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa resigned before a trust vote in the hung Karnataka assembly. The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) alliance, which commanded a majority from the time the results were declared, will now form the government under JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy.

Despite knowing that it was short of the required numbers, the BJP leadership went ahead to stake claim and took the risk of allowing Yeddyurappa to take oath as Chief Minister. This is what Vajpayee—the first BJP Prime Minister—did almost 22 years ago. The party now hopes that Yeddyurappa's move, akin to what then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did in 1996 after failing to garner enough support for his 13-day old government, will help it gain sympathy in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Staring at the very possibility of winning relatively fewer seats in the Hindi belt states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and other north Indian states during the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019, BJP President Amit Shah has been working on a strategy to compensate for this probable loss, with at least a few more seats from the southern part of the country.

Out of total 129 seats of southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala, the BJP could win only 21 in 2014. Of these, the bulk were in Karnataka, where the BJP had won 17 out of the total 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

But after Yeddyurappa's resignation, Shah's strategy has suffered a jolt as it has provided an opportunity to BJP’s opponents in Karnataka to unite. Now, the BJP could end up with a lower tally of seats than it won in 2014.

Karnataka: BJP may not be able to repeat its 2014 Lok Sabha tally

The BJP, which considers Karnataka as its gateway to south, tried its best to win the trust vote after forming the government on Thursday, but spectacularly failed. Despite this, BJP leaders are hopeful Yeddyurappa's emotional speech in the Assembly before resigning and clearing his vision for the cause of farmers and downtrodden, will help the party in the 2019 general elections, now less than a year away.

Yeddyurappa’s emotional speech was a bid to win people's hearts ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. "Yeddyurappa did the same [in Karnataka assembly] as Atal Bihari Vajpayee made his speech in the Lok Sabha in 1996 before resigning as the Prime Minister," a senior BJP functionary told IANS, recalling how the BJP-led NDA returned with a thumping majority in the elections that followed. "The BJP surged all over the country and formed governments (in many states) with coalition as well as of its own in 2014. We are hopeful of emerging in south too, through Yeddyurappa," he said.

"I will travel across the state non stop. We have received tremendous love and support across the state. For 2019, I promise, we will win 28 out of all 28 Lok Sabha seats. I won't relent. I will continue to fight till my last breath," said Yeddyurappa in the Assembly, before meeting Governor Vajubhai Vala to resign.

But the assembly poll results clearly indicate that if the Congress and JD(S) join hands for the 2019 elections—which they have already indicated they will do—it will be a tough task for the BJP to retain even its 2014 tally of 17 seats.

Going tough for BJP in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana

With the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) quitting the NDA, the BJP has already suffered a jolt and its position has weakened considerably in Andhra Pradesh, where Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu is campaigning against the Modi government for not meeting the demand of special status to the state.

To compensate for TDP's departure from the NDA, the BJP has been eying Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. But that does not look like an easy task as YSR Congress itself has been vehemently opposing the Modi government for not meeting the demand of special status. There are whispers, also, that Congress and TDP could tie-up before 2019.

In 2014, the BJP could win only two out of 25 seats in Lok Sabha in Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP is slightly more hopeful of gaining ground in Telangana, where votes remain split between the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Congress. However, this was the case in 2014 too, when it could win only one seat out of the total 17 in the state.

BJP likely to score a duck in Tamil Nadu and Kerala

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is also facing the ire of the people as the Union government has failed as yet to constitute a Cauvery Management Board. Tamil Nadu, like Karnataka, has also witnessed anger and protests at perceived attempts by the Centre to stealthily impose Hindi language on the South Indian states.

With AIADMK in power and DMK as the main opposition in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has very little space for its emergence in the state. In the 2016 state Assembly elections, the BJP even found it hard to identify candidates for the 234 constituencies in the Dravidian state. The Congress, on the other hand, remains a partner of the DMK.

The BJP is now trying to make inroads in Kerala but it will again not be an easy cup of tea for the party. The main opponents in Kerala are the Left parties and the Congress. Although the BJP improved its vote share by around 9% in the 2016 state assembly elections and opened an account in the state assembly—a first in the history of Kerala—it was not able to save its deposits in many seats. Of all southern states, BJP is weakest in Kerala.

BJP will have to redraw its south strategy from scratch, if it is to even retain its 2014 haul of 21 seats, leave alone add to this in 2019.

With inputs by Lesley Esteves, National Herald

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