The 2019 Lok Sabha election results in the south present an interesting contrast to the rest of the country. Apart from Karnataka, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decimated the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance, the south has withstood the efforts of the BJP to increase its national footprint. Yet, developments indicate that the BJP has gained ground elsewhere in the south too. It is now in close competition with the Congress as the key competitor to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana. In Kerala, the BJP was unable to make a dent in the bipolar contest between the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF). In Tamil Nadu, the winner-takes-all trend was repeated by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance. Andhra Pradesh is a direct fight between two State-based parties; the two national parties are out of the competition.
The BJP has been a key player in the politics of Karnataka, the outlier in the south this time, since the 1990s. This time, the Congress and the JD(S), which together formed the government in the State last year, came together to challenge the BJP. Over the last three decades, the Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka have witnessed dramatic swings, but never a total rout of any party or alliance. In this election, the Congress and the JD(S) have just one representative each in the Lok Sabha from Karnataka. The BJP did not merely consolidate its position in northern and coastal Karnataka, but also made significant inroads into old Mysore, the bastion of the Congress and the JD(S). Three factors seem to have been at play in the State. First, the support for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister propelled the BJP nominees to victory. Second, the failure of the Congress and the JD(S) to unite at the ground level cost them dearly. Third, the intense infighting and factionalism within both the Congress and the JD(S) also contributed to the defeat of their candidates.
In Telangana, it was expected that the TRS would repeat its impressive performance in the 2018 Assembly polls, but the voters gave the party a less celebratory victory. The BJP emerged with four seats and the Congress won three. Thus, the tussle in the State is now for the second position. Over time, as the BJP attempts to enlarge its footprint in south India, it will look towards Telangana.
Andhra Pradesh witnessed simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and State Assembly. The trend in the Assembly poll has been replicated in the Lok Sabha verdict. The victory of Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party is both a triumph of his 18-month tour of the State and a vote against the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government. The two national parties have been sidelined for different reasons. The Congress has virtually been replaced by the YSR Congress, its own splinter group. The BJP’s break with the TDP cost it dearly and has pushed it to the sidelines.
Kerala has traditionally seen a face-off between the Congress-led UDF and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF. Vote share differences between the alliances are just a few percentage points. This time, the UDF got more seats. The LDF faced anger for its stand on the Supreme Court judgment on Sabarimala. The Congress had skilfully appropriated the BJP’s stand on the issue. The BJP was thus not able to benefit from the unhappiness with the way the LDF State government handled the issue. Kerala is likely to see this bipolar alliance competition for some more time.
A crucial election
Tamil Nadu witnessed its first election after the two stalwarts of its main parties, M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, passed away. The victory achieved by the M.K. Stalin-led DMK alliance showed that DMK supporters recognise him as the true inheritor of his father’s legacy. It is unclear who is seen as the political heir of Jayalalithaa as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is divided and its government in the State is unpopular. The AIADMK alliance and government seem to have the BJP in the driver’s seat. The drubbing the alliance received in this election is indicative of the public mood in the State.
The most critical question for the near future will be whether the rest of the southern States will follow the Karnataka pattern or States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala will continue to throw up political competition that is rooted in State-specific socio-cultural and historical factors. The five articles on the south by the State coordinators of Lokniti provide detailed empirical proof of the electoral trends in these States and explain the people’s verdict. The BJP has been halted by a different political vehicle in each of the four southern States where the party has found much less acceptance compared to other parts of the country.
(Sandeep Shastri is the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Jain University, Bengaluru and the National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti network.)