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» » » » Analysis: BJP feels it has shed ‘north party’ tag

The Karnataka election results has come as a relief to the BJP which has managed to combat the identity politics straitjacket of ‘North Vs South’.

As the seats stacked up for the BJP in Karnataka on counting day on Tuesday, the party's general secretary, Ram Madhav, took to Twitter to put some perspective to the party’s performance. “In Karnataka, TDP [Telugu Desam Party] and Chandrababu Naidu [Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister] used all tactics to dissuade Telugu voters from supporting the BJP. But in Hyderabad Karnataka where most Telugus live, BJP has increased its tally from 6 to 20 [actual position not final]. People have rejected CBN’s [Chandrababu Naidu’s] politics, our Southward March has begun,” he said.
The reference to the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister after results for an election to the Karnataka Assembly was a nod to its impact on the 'North vs South' narrative around the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission and an attempt by the TDP to make its sense of grievance against the BJP, a part of this narrative. It was also a reflection of the BJP’s attempts to overcome a campaign built on regional pride and a backward-minority coalition by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. Mr. Naidu had in fact appealed to Karnataka voters to defeat the BJP.
The results on Tuesday, whichever way the government-formation goes, has come as a relief to the BJP which has managed to combat the identity politics straitjacket of North Vs South. In an interview to The Hindu in the midst of the campaign, BJP national president Amit Shah had clearly stated that the party was looking at Karnataka as a gateway to the south. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are two States where the BJP needs to improve its performance.
BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar terms the 'North Vs South' narrative, with the BJP characterised as a north Indian party, a creation of the Congress and other Opposition parties, but which could not be carried off electorally. “It was about an election about the five-year rule of Siddaramaiah; they [Congress] made it about everything but that. The Congress campaign had a single-point strategy of provocative statements and negativity-driven narrative. The only difference between the old and new Congress is that all of it is on Twitter now. Three months ago they brought up the flag issue, two months before polls they recommended minority status for Lingayats, and in the midst of the campaign raised questions on the 15th Finance Commission. It was the Congress that raised the pitch and the stakes, we fought the polls on the Siddaramaiah government’s record,” he said.
The southern States hold 130 seats in the Lok Sabha and are important in the context of the 2019 general elections. To defeat a campaign built on regional pride and a formidable caste coalition is also a big step up for the BJP as the way forward to take on powerful regional satraps in other States. This was underscored by a letter of congratulations dispatched by Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister and AIADMK leader O. Panneerselvam to BJP chief Amit Shah: “On this cheerful occasion, I wish to express my warm greetings and felicitations for the significant victory in Karnataka Assembly Elections, bellwethering a grand entry to South India.”
For the party often accused of toeing a “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” line, the numbers in Karnataka have brought some much needed southern comfort.

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