By Vipin Pubby
After knocking down the Opposition Left, Right and Centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) juggernaut is now eying South and its chief Amit Shah, who recently set in motion Mission-350, has asked his partymen to target the South to enable to achieve the target of 350 seats in the 2019 general elections.
Although Amit Shah has by now proved himself a master elections strategist, conquering the South would not be an easy task. He and his party leaders are, therefore, looking at various combinations and permutations to extend its influence. Indeed, the BJP has to extend its footprint in the South if it has to become a truly pan-India party.
It was 3 years that a single party had crossed the halfway mark when the BJP won 282 seats in the 2014 elections. It bagged 10 more than the required number for a majority in the 543-member House. “Today, we have a majority government at the Centre with 330 MPs, and also have 1,387 MLAs in different states”, a BJP release quoted Shah as saying at a meeting with party workers recently.
The BJP has identified 120 Lok Sabha constituencies, mainly in the South, from where it has never won in the past. The BJP chief has appointed ‘mentors’ for these Lok Sabha seats and has set an aim to win at least half of these to meet the 350 seats target. Also on the priority list are those seats where the party had emerged second in the 2014 elections.
While rolling out a blueprint for 350-plus seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP chief reportedly told core members of his team that the target will also have special focus on “new catchment areas”. These are spread over states like West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
Even as it can hope to do well in Assam where the party registered its first victory and captured power in the state last year, it shall find it difficult to find its feet in West Bengal where Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee is currently in an unassailable position. In the recent civic bodies elections her party won in 140 of 148 seats in the fray leaving BJP way behind with just six seats.
It is, therefore, important for the party to head South. Its first major test is coming up before the 2019 general elections in Karnataka. The state is Congress’s only major bastion, besides Punjab, and faces Assembly elections next year. BJP has begun concentrating on the state and as a first step succeeded in roping in former chief minister and former external affairs minister SM Krishna. He quit the Congress after an association of 42 years on the plea that he was being “side-lined”.
Krishna, who belongs to the influential Vokaligga community, could prove a major asset for the BJP. Besides it has ‘acquired’ Dalit leader Srinivasa Prasad and former minister Kumar Bangarappa from Isiah community from Congress.
However, the party would find it very difficult to enter star-struck high personalised politics of Tamil Nadu and is hoping to piggy ride the AIADMK which is transforming itself after the death of its iconic leader J Jayalalithaa. It is learnt that prime minister Narendra Modi is himself leading efforts to woo the party, which is likely to get reunited after merger of rival factions, and may tie up for the next general elections. BJP is also eying superstar Rajnikant who recently announced that he would join active politics.
In another southern state, Democratic Front ruled Kerala, Congress suffers from serious infighting among top leadership. BJP has won its first ever seat in the state in the Assembly elections last year and has considerably increased its voting share. BJP is not focussing on Andhra Pradesh as its electoral ally, Telugu Desam Party led by Chandrababu Naidu is doing fairly well and the BJP won’t like to disturb the alliance. In the neighbouring Telengana, also scheduled to go for Assembly elections along with the general elections in 2019, the chief minister Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telengana Rashtriya Samithi had been extending issue based support to the NDA. The BJP is keen to replace the Congress which is the second largest party in the state.
Thus while the BJP shall have to stretch itself to gain political hold in the South, it has the potential to do so even as the Congress continues to lose ground. If it loses Karnataka next year, it would take a major step further towards “Congress-mukt Bharat” as it would be left holding only Punjab and a couple of small states. Is it already too late for Congress to recover ?