'Barring Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the BJP will may make inroads in Karnataka, Andhra and Telangana in 2024.'
The way the Bharatiya Janata Party outplayed the Congress in the Hindi heartland of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the 2023 state assembly elections, stunned many political pundits.
The only consolation for the Congress was the southern state of Telangana.
How did the Congress prevent incumbent chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao from scoring a hat trick?
What worked for the Congress?
"The BRS, formerly the TRS, had made a lot of promises both during the movement for the new state and also when it came to power. However, there was clearly a wide gap between what was promised and what was fulfilled. The Congress latched onto the disillusionment of the people," Professor K K Kailash, head of the department of political science, University of Hyderabad, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
Opinion polls and exit polls predicted a Congress victory in Telangana. Did the result come as a surprise?
I would say the result was on expected lines because in the last couple of months, the Congress had made some smart moves, stayed together and fought as a united force.
Is this an anti-BRS vote, or a pro-Congress verdict?
I would say, the result is anti-BRS for a few reasons.
The BRS, formerly the TRS, had made a lot of promises both during the movement for the new state and also when it came to power.
However, there was clearly a wide gap between what was promised and what was fulfilled.
When the demand for a separate state of Telangana was going on, they had promised more equitable regional development. This has not necessarily happened.
Instead, Hyderabad and its surrounding areas have not only consolidated their locational and financial advantage but have also grown much faster than the other regions.
This uneven development obviously does not sit well with the promise of equitable development.
Then there was also a promise of increased employment opportunities. The students formed the backbone of the Telangana movement. The minimum they would have expected is decent employment opportunities, either in the private sector or in the government. However, this too has not happened.
I also think a lot of students continued to stay on in the universities thinking that some recruitment would take place.
In the process, they continued to accumulate degrees, but do not find employment opportunities commensurate with their qualifications.
So, there is sense of disillusionment and angst among the youth.
The third reason could be unhappiness in the agricultural sector. Studies by civil society organisations note that there are substantial numbers of tenant farmers in the state.
They have been left out of the flagship Rythu Bandhu scheme in which the landowners have benefitted.
The government support goes to the landowners even when it comes to procurement. Tenant farmers who do not get covered under the government welfare programmes feel left out.
This policy has also only contributed to the growing inequality
The other reason I can think of is the poor implementation of the welfare programmes like the Dalit Bandhu, 2BHK housing scheme, the Gruhalaxmi scheme and so on.
There have been press reports of the ruling party MLAs having a great say in the delivery of these programmes as well as issues of corruption.
This has also created disenchantment among the people who have been left out, and felt that the benefits of all schemes were going only to a select few.
There could be other reasons like voter fatigue with the party, and an attempt to give another party a chance.
You mean it was not a pro-Congress vote?
You can say, the Congress latched onto the disillusionment of the people.
As in Karnataka, the Congress too came out with a list of six guarantees, including free electricity, gas cylinders, free travel on public transport, land distribution to selected groups and so on.
The Congress also made claims of achieving real social justice and development.
Did the Bharat Jodo Yatra by Rahul Gandhi help the Congress in any way?
Of course, it did. The yatra went on for a lot more time in Telangana than it was originally planned.
It definitely enthused party workers. The Karnataka victory also helped the Telangana campaign.
The cadres were like if we can do it there, we can do it here also.
Yes, the Bharat Jodo Yatra did play an important role.
But it didn't seem to help in the Hindi belt...
The difference I think is, there is a greater sync between the central leadership of the Congress party and the local leadership in the South as compared to the North.
I could be wrong, but they seem to be pulling the same direction in the South unlike elsewhere.
While the BJP did extremely well in the Hindi belt, they were not able to do the same in the south of the Vindhyas.
Do you feel the BJP is still a Hindi belt party as it has now no presence in the south?
I don't think so. The BJP has substantially expanded since 2014. While it may not be translating into seats, it has been fairly successful in capturing the mind space of different sections of the population in various states.
This also has to do with the popularity of the prime minister. However, we do not know clearly know if this popularity of the party is because of the prime minister or people have generally moved towards the party.
Barring Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the prime minister's popularity is high across different states.
Then, the BJP too has successfully been able to portray itself as providing effective governance.
The BJP will continue to push for s space in the South. How much it will succeed, we will have to wait and watch.
You mean, Modi transcends the party and even Hindutva?
Maybe. I think a shift to a more majoritarian society has been happening for long. The BJP has been the major beneficiary of this shift.
Modi and the BJP have just used it to their advantage. It has been the party strategy to use Modi to give him the space while it pushes its agenda forward.
Do you think the main reason behind the BJP victory in the Hindi belt was the Hindutva plank? The party was talking a lot about the Ayodhya temple also...
I don't think they pushed Hindutva as such so much.
Given the majoritarian turn that the country has taken, it is no longer necessary to do it in a blatant manner. It is now the new normal in many ways.
Look what happened when the new Parliament was inaugurated or the laying of the foundation stone of the Ram temple.
While such acts by those holding office would have been frowned upon in the past, today it is seen as a proud moment.
This is the new majoritarian India.
Do you think 'Modi ki guarantee' worked?
Yes. The BJP also is aware of the importance of Modi. It has become centralised where the regional/local leaders have no say. This will weaken its organisation in the long run.
What happens to the BJP after Modi? The party will have to think of this at some point in time.
Do you think the Modi magic that worked in northern India will work in the south in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it will be difficult.
Barring Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the BJP will may make inroads in Karnataka, Andhra and Telangana in 2024.
Would you say it is advantage BJP in 2024?
It is definitely advantage BJP right now.
One thing is sure, these results have been a big blow for the INDIA bloc.
The smaller parties in the INDIA bloc will be very happy now that the Congress has not done well.
The Congress should have been more considerate towards the other parties. Now, they have more bargaining power.
Definitely, the INDIA bloc has been weakened by the results. I don't know whether they will rethink their way of doing things and the Congress will have to be more generous.
When the BJP made the headway between 1996 and 2004, it agreed to play the smaller partner in many states.
The Congress probably needs to go back to the drawing board when it comes to its revival strategy.
Do you see any politician in India who can take on Narendra Modi in 2024?
I don't see any pan-Indian leader who can take on Modi.
Where does Rahul Gandhi stand?
He is a genuine and understanding person, but nothing seems to be working as intended. Maybe, the people expect something else.
Unless the others come out with a fresh and innovative narrative or plan on how they want to take India forward, it is advantage BJP.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com