The Modi juggernaut is all set to paint the five south Indian states in saffron colours, writes R Rajagopalan.
After conquering most parts of the country, the Bharatiya Janata Party's chief election strategist Amit Shah has set his eyes on winning over southern India.
To make inroads in the five south Indian states, which together send 130 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the BJP has set up an internal think-tank to study the dynamics of the 15 regional parties that matter in these states.
The party is hoping to bag at least 50 to 60 seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Tamil Nadu (39 seats), Andhra Pradesh (25), Telangana (17), Kerala (20) and Karnataka (28).
Shah has also deputed heavyweights like Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and others to focus on these states.
As part of their political KRA, many of the senior leaders have been deputed to visit one capital city and two towns in these states every month.
However, much before Prime Minister Narendra Mdoi gave a call for ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ (Congress-free India) during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, all the southern states except Karnataka had already thrown out the Congress party, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu where it has not been able to come back into the reckoning all these years.
Shah is also keen to cash in on Modi, who is not only popular among the young voters but also the young political heirs in these regional parties.
For instance, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao's son Rama Rao, who is the state’s information and technology minister, is a close follower of Modi.
Similarly, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh, who recently joined his father’s cabinet, is a staunch follower of the PM.
Here is a look at the state-wise analysis of the BJP’s chances in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
There are four major political parties in Tamil Nadu -- the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the DMK, the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam.
Needless to say, neither the BJP nor the Congress is in a position to dictate terms to any of these regional parties.
For 2019, Modi may once again try out his 2014 Lok Sabha formula of keeping the Dravidian parties at bay and drawing the attention of young voters.
The BJP can get a small chunk of votes on the basis of Modi’s popularity and his development plank, but will it be enough to make a difference?
Unlike Tamil Nadu, the BJP has a sizeable vote share in Karnataka, and has also been in power in the state, the only one below the Vindhyas to have a full-fledged BJP government.
Assembly elections in the state are due in 2018 and Amit Shah’s style of social engineering is bound to pay rich dividends for the BJP.
In the current Lok Sabha, the BJP has 17 MPs from the state which the state leadership is keen to take to 20 in 2019.
To tackle the Congress’s Muslim vote card, Shah is keen to get more disgruntled Congress leaders into the BJP, like CK Jaffer Sharief, MV Chandrasekhar Murthy etc.
Shah will also try to garner the attention of the Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities which have a strong influence in the state.
In the 2016 assembly election, the BJP for the first time opened its account in God’s own country, and also came second in seven assembly constituencies.
Riding on its decent performance in the assembly performance in a state whose doors seemed shut on it forever, the BJP chief is hopeful to win at least five Lok Sabha seats in 2019.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
Between them the two Telugu-speaking states send 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, and the BJP hopes to win at least 10 LS seats from here.
In Andhra, if the present relationship between the ruling Telugu Desam Party and the BJP continues, it will be a smooth ride for both the allies.
The Congress maybe weak in Andhra, but the YSR Congress could pose a serious threat to the BJP.
In Telangana, the BJP is trying to woo the Telangana Rashtra Samithi which, however, may not go with the BJP, because of its minority votes.
But a post-poll alliance between them can’t be ruled out.
Also, Amit Shah’s strategy of social engineering play out big here, looking at the dominant Reddy and Khamma communities in the state.
But the rise of Kapus will play a negative role for the party, it is felt.
Given this background, the BJP is likely to concentrate more on Andhra Pradesh than on Telangana.
But first, well before the next Lok Sabha elections roll by, Amit Shah will be put to test in these southern states during the presidential elections in July this year.
Given that it is not in power in any state, how successful he will be in garnering votes for the BJP's candidate from other political parties in these states, will be an indication of how the dice will roll in 2019.
It will be interesting to see how the Modi-Shah combine plays out their strategy, as conquering south India won’t be that easy.
R Rajagopalan is a senior journalist in New Delhi who has been reporting on Tamil Nadu affairs for decades.