The BJP has set its gaze, resolute and focussed, on the five southern states before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections although its prospects to make gains still remain doubtful, given the lack of leadership in some, the state of the party organisation and the demography. However, true to its character in the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah regime, the BJP is undeterred by the drawbacks.
The nominations to the Rajya Sabha, announced on July 6, bear out the BJP’s agenda to the south of the Vindhyas.
The four names announced today represent the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and include music composer Ilayaraja, legendary athlete PT Usha, KV Vijayendra Prasad, screenwriter and director of Telugu blockbusters and Veerendra Heggade, philanthropist and hereditary administrator of the Manjunatheshwara temple in Dharamsthala (Dakshin Karnataka).
Since 2014, the BJP has peaked in the North (bar Punjab) and the West. In the East, it sallied forth into the north-east and succeeded in winning Assam on its own strength, also has its chief ministers in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura and is a governing constituent in Nagaland, Sikkim and Meghalaya. However, it was stopped in its tracks in the major eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal although it tried its best in the latter. After a spectacular showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP gave an impression that it was a serious challenger to the Trinamool Congress Party in the 2020 assembly polls but fell far short of the expectations. Since then, the BJP’s strength has declined on the ground.
The southern map offers less hope than the East. The BJP governs just one state, Karnataka, a traditional RSS stronghold, particularly in the coastal areas and parts of the north, and shares a government in Puducherry with the All India NR Congress. The five states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala and the three union territories of Puducherry, Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar account for 132 of the 545 Lok Sabha seats, that’s 24.22 percent.
The BJP believes that Telangana, governed by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), is ripe for the picking for various reasons, the important being that the ruling family of K Chandrasekhar Rao, the chief minister, strengthens its propaganda points of “dynasty” and “minority appeasement”.
The BJP hosted its national executive at Hyderabad, Telangana’s capital, on July 1 and 2. Although such meetings have been held in poll-bound states in the past, for the first time, the BJP’s engrossment with provincial politics centred round the TRS clouded its preoccupation with the big national picture. A political resolution, highlighting the Centre’s “achievements” in the north-east, was passed. But at the end of the day, the event was about the BJP’s impending combat with the TRS. The Telangana state polls are scheduled to be held in December 2023.
The belligerence between the BJP and TRS was mirrored in a poster war launched a day before the session began. Posters inspired by the Netflix series, “Money Heist”, surfaced in Hyderabad. Captioned “Mr N Modi, we only rob banks, you rob the whole nation”, the TRS did not claim ownership of the posters although a senior party man shared the image on Twitter and remarked, “What creativity!”The TRS’s own banners said, “Enough Modi, spare us Modi” and “Bye, bye Modi” to which the BJP’s sally was, “Enough landlord (a clear allusion to Chandrasekhar Rao), goodbye landlord.”
The TRS had reportedly booked all the major hoarding and advertisement panels on the Hyderabad metro to publicise the achievements of the TRS government and run down the Centre on the farm laws (now repealed), GST and the Agnipath recruitment scheme for the armed forces.
In return, the BJP put up an electronic clock that exhibited the countdown to the TRS government down to the day and hour.
A statement, adopted as a resolution, set the tone and tenor of the BJP’s Telangana politics. Moved by DK Aruna, a national vice-president, it expressed regret over the social and economic “deterioration” of Telangana under Chandrasekar Rao and alleged that all decisions were taken on the “dinner table” by the “father-son duo”. Chandrasekhar Rao’s son, T Rama Rao is the IT minister and his daughter, Kavitha, is a member of the legislative council. The BJP also charged Asaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM president, of being “hand in glove” with the TRS in “looting Telangana”. In effect, the statement contained the basic components of the BJP’s line of attack: dynasty and Muslim appeasement.
The communal element in the BJP’s politics was reflected in its state unit’s demand to rename Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, a name shrouded in myth. Prime Minister Modi in his address to the BJP’s karyakartas referred to the state capital as Bhagyanagar. Although mythology has it that the name was derived from Bhagwati, a courtesan who married Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutab Shah (1562-1612 CE), the fifth Sultan of the Golconda Sultanate, the romantic legend was dismissed by respected historians. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, while briefing on the PM’s speech, put the Bhagyanagar issue in another context. Prasad said Bhagyanagar was “significant for all of us. Sardar Patel kept the foundation of a unified India and now BJP is responsible to carry it further.”
Soon after Independence in 1947, three states—Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad—refused to merge with India. Hyderabad, ruled by Nizam Usman Ali Khan, was the largest and the Nizam and his adviser, Qasim Rizvi, had raised their own militia called the Razakars. They wanted an independent state with a Sharia law or merger with Pakistan which was more than 2000 kms away from Hyderabad. Eventually, Patel launched military action against the Razakars, vanquished them and integrated Hyderabad with India. It’s a narrative which the BJP uses incessantly, alleging that Nehru was against direct action and Patel single-handedly ensured the annihilation of the militia. The BJP believes that the rechristening of Hyderabad will wipe out the remaining memories of this chapter of Telangana’s history.
On an electoral plane, the BJP’s victory in the 2021 assembly by-polls in Huzurabad and Dubakka and the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation election (it narrowly lost to the TRS) spurred its activities in Telangana. The wins coincided with the appointment of Bandi Sanjay Kumar as the state president. Kumar ticks the boxes to head the state: he is a grass root worker with an ABVP background, from a backward caste, accessible to the BJP’s rank-and-file and a feisty campaigner. The BJP’s added advantage is that the Telugu Desam Party is virtually moribund in Telangana. Its workers and functionaries have joined the BJP.
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