With deepening political vacuum in one state, a weakened Opposition in another and a widened political space due to coming together of two Opposition parties in yet another, the BJP’s “pragmatic” plan for southern states is set to make the region “the theatre of action” in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, according to senior BJP leaders.
“Pragmatism” would be adopted in forming alliances, said a senior party leader, adding that party president Amit Shah has clarified that the BJP would go for an alliance in Tamil Nadu. In Andhra Pradesh, where its estranged ally TDP is “getting cosy” to Congress, the BJP could join hands with smaller allies ahead of the election while in Karnataka, the party is “confident” that the ruling alliance of Congress and JD(S) would be to its advantage.
The BJP, however, is uncertain about its moves in Telangana, but claims that it would emerge as a formidable alternative to the TRS. Politics over flood may have dampened its prospects in Kerala, but BJP leaders say they “don’t think impact of developments of the past few days would decide” the party’s future there.
The five southern states — Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — and the Union Territory of Puducherry together elect 130 MPs to Lok Sabha. Despite its stunning performance in 2014, the BJP could win a total of 20 seats from these states. “Weakening of Congress in these states has brightened our prospects,” said the BJP leader. “We are ahead of Congress in terms of eligibility for getting more partners. What is that the Congress can keep on the table for allies? The BJP is far superior.”
However, current allies of the BJP, which has already lost the TDP as ally, are miffed with it — be it SAD or Shiv Sena. “Alliances are, practically, for piggy riding and would be mutually complimentary,” said a party general secretary involved in BJP’s affairs in the south.
Of late, warm gestures between the BJP and DMK have left political watchers confused. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi while he was ailing and also attended his funeral in Chennai. The DMK surprised everyone by inviting Shah to a memorial meeting for Karunanidhi. Also, DMK working president M K Stalin and MP K Kanimozhi reached Delhi to pay tributes to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
“Such gestures need not be seen as readiness to forge an alliance with the BJP,” said the senior leader. But he added, “In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK is not ideologically anti-BJP and DMK’s leadership is not anti-BJP.”
According to this leader, what the BJP would be looking for in Tamil Nadu — where it won one out of 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 — is a socio-political composition. BJP leaders said the state faces a situation in which a major regional party has been weakened and the other’s leadership is yet to get endorsed electorally. “It is an important political space, not just because of electoral prospects, but also because of the vast Tamil diaspora in south Asia. Our advantage will be Modi and people there have a connect with him,” he said.
In Kerala, where the BJP has increased its vote share but failed to make any major electoral impact so far, the party will focus on broad basing, said party leaders.
Seats from southern states have become more crucial for BJP’s aim to return to power after the party’s new positioning in Odisha. After its initial onslaught against the BJD, things cooled down during the monsoon session. The BJD’s move to vote with NDA in the election to the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairman indicated a change in approach.
Many in the BJP think the old practice of regional parties focusing on Assembly polls and leaving national parties to fight the Parliamentary polls could return. “Now, there are not many takers for a third front either. K Chandrashekar Rao is getting warmer to the BJP. The same with Naveen Patnaik,” the leader said.