As BJP Breaches More Gateways To The South, What Next For Regional Parties?

As BJP makes inroads into South India, regional parties face challenges but still hold sway in their strongholds

Abhishek Chinnappa via Getty
Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate election results on June 04, 2024 in Bengaluru, Photo: Abhishek Chinnappa via Getty

Up until the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the land beyond the Vindhyas was perceived as a region mostly away from the reach of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). South India sends about 130 MPs to the Lok Sabha and BJP won 29 of them in 2019 – these seats were spread across just two states of Karnataka and Telangana. This time too, although the saffron party won the same number of seats (29), these were spread across all South Indian states except Tamil Nadu.

BJP won 17 seats in Karnataka, eight in Telangana, three in Andhra Pradesh and one in Kerala. The party opened its account in AP and Kerala this time. Meanwhile, its allies too helped the BJP surge ahead: JD(S) won two seats in Karnataka and TDP 16 + Jana Sena 2 in Andhra Pradesh. 

While in two states, regional parties aided NDA’s win, in the other, BJP’s gains came at the cost of a regional party. What’s next for these regional parties?

National role for regional leaders 

A year ago, JD(S) was scrambling to pick up its pieces after Congress’s emphatic victory in the assembly elections, especially in the areas that are traditionally considered to be the stronghold of JD(S). Many termed this election as a battle of survival for the JD(S) that has usually played the role of kingmaker in Karnataka’s politics. The party contested three seats in alliance with the BJP – Mandya, Hassan and Kolar – and won in two of them. 

By winning in Mandya, HD Kumaraswamy has managed to strengthen his clout over the region and the Vokkaliga community, for which there has always been a virtual battle of sorts between him and Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar. 

Moreover, BJP has also managed to wrest Bengaluru Rural constituency from incumbent DK Suresh, who is also DK Shivakumar’s brother. This was the only constituency that Congress won in the 2019 election. "BJP's organisational strength and resources, its support in vote transfer, national role for JD(S) leadership on BJP-led NDA government coming to power at the centre might have also added to factors that proved advantageous for JD(S)," a senior JD(S) leader told PTI on Tuesday. 

The 64-year-old Kumaraswamy has made no secret of his desire to become Agriculture Minister, if the Modi government comes back to power at the centre. “We being part of the NDA depends on how our party leaders are treated in the future. We are sincerely working and we want a long-standing relationship with BJP. But ultimately we will take a decision depending on how we are treated and how much respect we get from the BJP," Kumaraswamy had said earlier. 

Similarly, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party and Janasena, which won 16 and two Lok Sabha seats respectively from Andhra Pradesh, will play a crucial role in government formation at the Centre. Apart from seeking special status for AP, Naidu is also seeking several key portfolios in Modi’s Cabinet and has even demanded the Speaker’s post, according to media reports. He is also likely to push for the elevation of his son and TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh to the national stage. Lokesh had taken over the works of TDP when his father was jailed and has been publicly credited for the party’s sweep in the elections this time. 

What next for BRS?

In Telangana, where K Chandrashekhar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) was once dominating the electoral scene, the regional party has now been decimated in the Lok Sabha election, months after their rout in the state assembly elections as well. From winning nine out of 17 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, the party did not manage to win even in one seat this time. Both BJP and Congress, which have improved their seat share, gained at the cost of BRS.

Renaming the party to BRS from TRS and the anti-incumbency factor, among other reasons, cost KCR dearly, who was once a formidable force in the region owing to this role in the statehood movement. However, analysts have cautioned against writing off BRS already. “The party will make a comeback in local body elections…their ground-level cadre is very strong in villages,” says a member from Hyderabad-based People’s Pulse, a group comprising politically engaged individuals working to understand ground-level dynamics. The announcement for local body and panchayat polls is likely to be made soon.