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India

Hindu party penetrates southern India

BJP’s expanding footprints in the south have given renewed hopes to the Lotus party

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: December 08, 2020 11:57 AM GMT
Hindu party penetrates southern India

Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party cheer at an election rally of Narendra Modi in Amethi Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh state (Photo:commons.wikimedia.org)

Has governance taken a back seat for India's ruling party, when it became busier turning itself into an electoral machine? The pro-Hindu party is fixed on power.

In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, Amit Shah, a trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said that if his party returned to power it would be in power for the next 50 years.

Many interpreted it as a reflection of arrogance and overconfidence.  But perhaps the BJP leadership's calculation was more on the electoral arithmetic. Having won last year's parliamentary polls with a landslide margin, the BJP is now eyeing the south where it has been traditionally weak.

A few months before the state elections in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, a host of BJP leaders and poll strategists started working overtime to improve the party's prospects in this southern region.

But recently, BJP put up an encouraging contest in Hyderabad, a key city in the Deccan plateau and the capital of southern Telangana state.

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Observers say the BJP’s expanding footprints in the south have given renewed hopes to the Lotus party, which had been traditionally branded as a North Indian organization with a clear bias towards the Hindu religion and the Hindi language.

Modi himself makes speeches in Hindi and these are translated instantly by a local BJP leader. In most southern states, there has been a latent abhorrence of Hindi. But there is a gradual shift in the scenario apparently. BJP's acceptance among willing candidates in these states even among Christians has increased manifold.

As soon as civic body polls were announced, the pro-Hindu outfit ran a high voltage campaign for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election. Hyderabad has a significant presence of Muslims.

Though it was a typical local election and political parties and people were generally concerned about city-based issues, the BJP fielded its top guns – federal Home Minister Amit Shah, party national president J.P Nadda and Uttar Pradesh state Chief Minister and radical Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath – to lead the election campaign.

Yogi even pledged that if BJP won, the 'Islamic' name of Hyderabad would be changed to 'Bhagyanagar' after a Hindu deity.

Whatever the reason behind BJP taking a corporation election so seriously, its first achievement has been to effectively dethrone its national rival Congress in Hyderabad and Telangana politics.

Thus even if the BJP has not mustered a majority in the Hyderabad corporation, in a long-term perspective, it has definitely emerged as the main challenger to local outfit Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in the 2023 assembly polls.

The BJP’s efforts have paid off since the party could pick up as many 48 seats out of 150 seats in GHMC. Five years back, BJP was a rather microscopic outfit with mere four seats.

India's ruling party has also geared up for a serious contest to sweat it out in the civic polls in Marxist-ruled Kerala this week. With neighboring Tamil Nadu, Kerala also goes to elect its legislature in April-May next year.

Hence a lot of significance is being given to the battle of the ballot of three-phased civic body polling in Kerala.

The BJP has fielded several greenhorns and taken up issues like empowerment of women and various civic amenities. It also fielded many Muslim and Christian candidates.

One BJP candidate and 25-year-old Christian is Corona Thomas, who will be trying her luck from Mathilil in Kollam Corporation.

In fact, springing a surprise, BJP is fielding as many as 500 Christians in this year's civic polls and 110 Muslims.

“People have seen BJP governments in the Christian-dominated state of Nagaland and Goa. Christians are never untouchable to us," BJP state president K. Surendran has said.

Saffron party poll strategists in Delhi say for PM Modi and his close aides, all elections are important especially because nothing can counter the opposition charges of “failure in governance” better than convincing electoral success.

A good show will be a good counter to detractors' claim that the Modi government has led the country into economic doom compounded with farmers' anguish.

The BJP is also eyeing to make an impact in Tamil Nadu state polls next year.

BJP lawmaker Subramanian Swamy says, "Tamil Nadu is ready for Hindutva driven politics and Tamilians are fed up with others who have been corrupt and have failed."

In fact, Modi's lieutenant Amit Shah has already struck a deal for an alliance with the state's ruling outfit AIADMK.

However, the BJP's game plans in Tamil Nadu have been somewhat disturbed as popular movie star Rajinikanth has announced floating a new party in January next year and has called for a shift to “spiritual politics.”

For the last three decades, AIADMK and DMK have been sharing power in the state every five years. Both these parties have been trying to push a politics of anti-religion.

Hence, there is a likelihood of competition between atheism, Tamil identity, nationalism, and some elements of “spiritual politics” laced with the Hindutva ideology of Rajinikanth.

The noted film star might have spoken about “spiritual politics” and might not be anti-Hindutva per se, but the only affinity to the BJP's brand of Hindutva would not be his main political plank.

All these combine to suggest that southern India is heading for the mother of all polls in 2021 and as usual, the BJP is geared up for it.

Given the chaos, the country has been witnessing on various fronts, perhaps governance is not on the priority list for India's ruling dispensation.

Well, it has got busier winning elections. 

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