Upcoming polls in 5 states will decide fate of regional parties

Kalyani Shankar

The upcoming Assembly elections to five states, three of which are in the South, will go a long way in shaping most regional and national parties’ political future.

The polls are crucial for three national parties: the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the left. The five states in the South send 129 members to Parliament.

By citing the Puducherry example, the Congress’s opponents want to show ahead of the polls that the grand old party would not hold its MLAs even if they are voted for. The Congress has lost its only state in the South -Puducherry – last week. 

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The southern states have gone into the hands of the regional parties because people have lost faith in the Congress, which controlled almost all the states in the south at one point in time. On the other hand, an alliance with JD(S) in Karnataka, TDP in Andhra, AIADMK in Tamil Nadu had helped BJP ride piggyback and extend its influence in the South.

The Congress has found allies in DMK, J.D. (S), the UDF coalition partners in Kerala like the Muslim League. Regional parties have strong leaders who can attract voters with their personalities. There is J.D. (S) (Karnataka), TDP and YSRCP (Andhra), TRS (Telangana), AIADMK, and the DMK (Tamil Nadu), which are shining examples.

Except for the AIADMK, all these parties are essentially family fiefdoms of Gowdas, Naidu’s, and Rao’s. Some parties like the DMK, J.D. (S), TRS, and TDP have already transferred power to the second generation. Neither the BJP nor the Congress has developed leaders to match these regional satraps’ aura.

 As for the left, its ideology has no relevance for the present generation. The BJP’s core agenda has no attraction for the South, and the Congress is vague about its ideology. 

The BJP is trying to spread its wings to the Southern states in the upcoming elections. The latest toppling game in the tiny union territory Puducherry shows that the defectors from the Congress and DMK have joined the BJP, including two ministers.

The BJP could capture only Karnataka in the South.  This is because of many reasons, including an absence of strong local leaders. The BJP is also perceived as a North Indian party. The party lacks strong religious polarisation on a Hindu-Muslim axis.

There is also the relatively limited appeal of Mr. Modi, which means his charm cannot necessarily overwhelm that of the regional satraps. The BJP considers each election, even a panchayat poll, as crucial as the Lok Sabha polls’ adoption of several steps. They include expanding the BJP’s base, projecting Modi as a doer, and importing leaders from other parties.  

The Dravidian parties have held sway since 1967 when the DMK captured the state from the Congress in 1967 in Tamil Nadu. Since then, Congress has aligned with one or the other Dravidian party. The BJP has been accused of ruling the state by proxy after AIADMK chief J. Jayalalitha’s demise in 2016. Tamil Nadu alternates between the DMK and the AIADMK, and now it is the turn of the DMK. 

Kerala is the only state under the control of the left parties. Kerala, too, alternates between the CPI-M-led LDF and the Congress-led UDF, and this time it is the turn of the UDF. The RSS has done a lot of work in Kerala, and though the BJP has doubled its vote share since 1998, it has a long way to go. 

After getting its first-ever MLA elected on a BJP ticket in Kerala in 2016, the party braces to become a reasonable force by cobbling together a smaller party coalition. But it’s still some distance away from breaking the see-saw control of the two other national parties. The BJP failed to open an account in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.  

 In Puducherry, after the Congress chief minister V. Narayanaswamy’s government’s destabilization last week, the Congress played the victim role, but the party fell apart. The BJP can hope to improve with the help of the NDA ally N.R. Congress, but it is trying to feel its feet with the party’s defectors, including two ministers. 

To conquer the South, the three national parties will face the might of 15 regional parties or join them. For parties like the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, AGP in Assam, the AIADMK, and the DMK in Tamil Nadu and N.R. Congress in Puducherry, these polls will be a ‘do or die battle’.

A win in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu will restore the Congress party’s respectability. CPI-M has to protect its turf in Kerala. The BJP will shine with ant improvement in all the five states. 

Views expressed are personal.

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