BJP’s southern push comes a cropper in Tamil Nadu

The party gains in the two Telugu states and retains its edge in Karnataka

PTI06_05_2024_000007B Southern delight: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin at party headquarters in Chennai | PTI

On his 70th birthday in March 2023, addressing a public meeting with leaders of the DMK coalition, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said, “An alliance without the Congress should be rejected as it would not succeed. An alliance after the election will also be practically impossible. A third front is pointless. I humbly request all political parties opposed to the BJP to understand this simple electoral arithmetic and stand united.”

A year later, the INDIA bloc made a clean sweep, winning all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu and the solitary one in neighbouring Puducherry. The BJP and its rainbow alliance failed miserably to breach the Dravidian fortress.

The BJP has, however, managed to touch double-digit vote share in Tamil Nadu. The party directly contested in 19 seats and four of its allies also contested on the lotus symbol. It finished with a 10.72 per cent vote share, compared with 3.6 per cent in 2019, when the party was in alliance with the AIADMK.

INDIA-VOTE BJP supporters celebrate in Hyderabad | AFP

In the Coimbatore constituency, BJP state president K. Annamalai lost by a margin of 1.18 lakh votes to the DMK’s Ganapathi P. Raj Kumar. Other key BJP leaders like Tamilisai Soundararajan, L. Murugan, Pon Radhakrishnan and Nainar Nagendran, too, failed to impress the electorate.

The BJP has been working hard to make inroads into Tamil Nadu following the party’s victory in four seats in the 2021 assembly polls, which it contested as a junior partner of the AIADMK. Annamalai’s ‘En Mann En Makkal (My Land, My People)’ padyatra and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s frequent visits to the state and his roadshows were part of that mission. Annamalai has always been keen to position the BJP as the main opposition in the state. He took the DMK head on, said Stalin was unfit to rule and even released an allegedly doctored audio clip in which state minister Palanivel Thiagarajan could be heard calling the ruling party corrupt. Annamalai also criticised the AIADMK and called Jayalalithaa corrupt.

Despite the rhetoric, the results turned out to be a major embarrassment for the BJP. “Once Annamalai asked me about my qualifications,” said DMK MP Kanimozhi. “I have been elected by the people of Thoothukudi for the second time in a row. But Annamalai has lost. If he continues as the president of the BJP, it is not good for the party.”

PTI06_04_2024_000348A Giant killer: BJP’s Dr C.N. Manjunath celebrates with supporters after winning the Lok Sabha elections from Bengaluru Rural | PTI

The BJP was unable to crack the strong alliance put together by the DMK and failed to attract the AIADMK votes, despite having senior leaders like O. Panneerselvam and T.T.V. Dhinakaran in its fold. The staunch anti-BJP, anti-Modi campaign by Stalin and the INDIA bloc leaders ultimately proved effective. The ED’s jailing of former minister V. Senthil Balaji, repeated ED raids in the state and the nepotism charges against the DMK also alienated voters.

The BJP, meanwhile, is putting up a brave face. “We haven’t lost. We have scored a very good vote share,” said BJP spokesperson Narayanan Thirupathy. “In most of the constituencies, the votes polled by our candidates were the determining factor. Tamil Nadu is no longer a Dravidian citadel.”

ON JUNE 4, members of a music troupe outside the BJP headquarters in Hyderabad were getting impatient as they were asked not to perform till they got the nod from the office. Inside, party leaders were anxiously monitoring the results. And the office staff were in a dilemma about when and whether to get the sweets. The sombre mood continued for a while, despite the BJP putting up its best show ever in Telangana, winning eight of 17 seats, the same number of seats the ruling Congress got. Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen won the Hyderabad seat.

“Yes, we won a good number of seats in Telangana. But how can we celebrate when we are performing poorly at the national level?” asked a BJP member. The stress was palpable as the NDA tally just about managed to breach the magic figure. Towards evening, however, the atmosphere turned jubilant as workers started celebrating.

A similar scene unfolded outside the Congress headquarters as well, but the reasons were just the opposite. The Congress performed well at the national level, but its state unit did not live up to the expectations.

The BJP made its mark right from the north of the state to all the way down the south. In the north Telangana region, it retained its three seats: Karimnagar, Adilabad and Nizamabad. In central Telangana, the party made a mark by conquering Medak, the bastion of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi.

The BJP won two new seats around Hyderabad: Chevella and Malkajgiri, which cover parts of Hyderabad’s IT zones and the peripheral areas of the city. Union Minister and state party president G. Kishan Reddy retained his Secunderabad seat. In the Hyderabad seat, the BJP managed to create some hype through its candidate K. Madhavi Latha, who became a social media sensation. The party tried hard to counter the allegation of the Congress that it was hand in glove with the AIMIM. Ultimately, however, Owaisi retained the seat with a huge margin.

The BJP’s impressive performance in seats such as Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Malkajgiri and Chevella shows its growing acceptance in the state. It clearly benefited from the decline of the BRS, which drew a blank. The Ram Temple inauguration also seems to have worked. “We got great response when Akshat (rice grains mixed with turmeric and ghee) and other items from Ayodhya were distributed to the people in January. Telangana also contributed generously for the construction of the temple. There was a silent pro-BJP wave,” said a party leader.

IN NEIGHBOURING Andhra Pradesh, where assembly elections were held simultaneously, the BJP showed a lot of promise by shining in areas where it was least expected to. The party won eight assembly seats, its highest figure ever, with the support of the Telugu Desam Party and the Jana Sena Party. The BJP won three Lok Sabha seats, its highest since the 1999 elections. One of the BJP coordinators who worked on the ground in Andhra Pradesh said, “The TDP-JSP campaign was energised with the entry of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It made a big difference.”

A surprising aspect of the election was that minorities, which the YSR Congress Party considered its traditional vote bank, voted for the NDA in large numbers. The results have shown that the two Telugu states have opened the gates for the BJP to further expand and consolidate in the south.

FOR THE RULING Congress in Karnataka, winning nine of 28 seats in the Lok Sabha polls appears to be a big leap, considering the party had just one MP in 2019. But the party would rue the fact that a sweep in Karnataka and the neighbouring Telangana, also ruled by the Congress, could have brought the INDIA bloc closer to the majority mark nationally.

The BJP, which made the smart move of joining hands with the Janata Dal (Secular), managed to consolidate the dominant Vokkaliga votes in the Old Mysuru region and the Lingayat votes in North Karnataka to win 19 seats, including Mandya and Kolar contested by the JD(S). But it failed to retain eight of its seats.

For the Congress, the biggest shock was the defeat of sitting MP D.K. Suresh, younger brother of Deputy Chief Minister and state party chief D.K. Shivakumar in Bengaluru Rural. He was defeated by the BJP’s cardiologist-turned politician Dr C.N. Manjunath, who is the son-in-law of former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

Shivakumar called it an “individual victory”, rather than a party’s win. “My brother did a good job in the constituency and did not face any anti-incumbency. But people chose to give Dr Manjunath a chance. We had thought we would get 14 seats and that the guarantees would help us win,” said the Vokkaliga strongman, after his party failed to step up its game in the Old Mysuru Vokkaliga heartland.

Another high-profile constituency was Hassan, which saw sitting JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna losing. The defeat of Prajwal, who is in jail over charges of rape and sexual assault against multiple women, perhaps saved the NDA from further embarrassment.

The Congress finds comfort in its vote share going up to 45.43 per cent, from 31.88 per cent in 2019. The BJP saw a drop of 5.34 per cent from the 51.38 per cent it polled five years ago. The JD(S), which contested only three seats, got 5.72 per cent, against 9.67 per cent in 2019.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah pointed out that his party had scaled up both the number of seats and the vote share. He said the overall results showed that there was no Modi wave. “The BJP failed to win a simple majority and Modi resorted to playing the communal card as he had sensed that the party would not get a majority. The party did not win even in Ayodhya,” said Siddaramaiah, attributing the Congress’s gains to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. The chief minister was, however, apprehensive about his government’s guarantee schemes and said that their impact should be analysed.

The Congress experiment of picking six fresh faces―children of cabinet ministers―tasted partial success as only three made the cut. The winners were Priyanka Jarkiholi, 27, daughter of Public Works Department Minister Satish Jarkiholi from Chikkodi, Sagar Khandre, 26, son of Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre from Bidar and Sunil Bose, 42, son of Social Welfare Minister Dr H.C. Mahadevappa from Chamarajanagar.

The BJP had dropped 15 incumbents to fight anti-incumbency. In their place, the party fielded two former chief ministers, Basavaraj Bommai (Haveri) and Jagadish Shettar (Belagavi), and five candidates who lost the last assembly polls, among others. Ten of them were elected.

Former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S), who won the Mandya seat by more than two lakh votes, said the BJP-JD(S) alliance expected to win a few more seats. “I don’t believe the Congress’s guarantees had any impact,” he said. “In fact, Congress spent huge resources to win those seats.”