HINDI-HINDU-HINDUSTAN—the Sangh Parivar has often declared, reinforcing the view that the BJP was a party of the Hindi-speaking heartland. Thus, it was believed that there would be a natural clash of civilisations between the region-conscious, urban-based economies south of the Vindhyas and a centralising, Brahmanical party based in 'Aryavarta', comprised largely of the upper-caste peasantry of the Gangetic basin.
While the BJP proclaimed a 'Vedic' and Sanskritic Indian past, movements for cultural assertion such as the Dravida movement in Tamil Nadu emphasised its non-Brahmanical and non-Sanskritic roots. While the BJP was seen as centralising, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and to some extent Karnataka, were citadels of sub-nationalism, where New Delhi's diktat and Article 356 were seen as instruments of northern hegemony. While the economic objectives of the BJP were generally conservative and inward-looking, pro-reform states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were, and still are, dynamic free market economies where industry is going through a phase of expansion.
While the BJP exploited post-Partition scars and played on the communal tensions of UP and 'madhya (central) Bharat', the southern states were heirs to more syncretic traditions of Hinduism and Islam, such as in Tamil Nadu—where, in certain Saivite shrines, Allah is said to have come riding on a tiger and where there are Muslim saints of Shiva like Tulukachi Aiyar—or in Karnataka where some of the best literary writing has been by Muslim writers. But in the 12th general elections, surprising new statistics have emerged: has 'Hindutva' breached even the Vindhyas?
In Andhra Pradesh, BJP gains were high. The BJP won four seats and the BJP candidate from the predominantly urban constituency of Secunderabad won by an impressive margin. Huge gains in Kakinada and Rajahmundry in the Godavari delta showed that farmers and youth in the rural areas have shifted from the Telugu Desam to the BJP. In Tamil Nadu, in the greatest psephological disaster of the polls, the AIADMK-BJP alliance has emerged with 30 out of 39 seats. In Kerala, the BJP has been consistently improving its vote share: from 5.4 per cent in 1996 to 8 per cent this time. In terms of polling percentages, the BJP did better than the Muslim League or the CPI. In Karnataka, the BJP vote share went up to 29 per cent in addition to 8.78 per cent gained by Ramakrishna Hegde's Lok Shakti. A sharp rise from 1996 when the BJP got only 24.85 per cent of the vote. In Orissa, the BJP virtually swept the state in alliance with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) with whom it has won 16 seats. Why?
Analysts point to a combination of several factors. Not just the key regional alliances such as with Jayalalitha's AIADMK, Hegde's Lok Shakti and Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal, but also because, as veteran sociologist M.N. Srinivas puts it, of an upper caste resentment against the reservation policy in the south. "The backward class movement is over 80 years old in Tamil Nadu, over 120 years old in Karnataka. The percentage of reservations in government jobs is extremely high—as high as 73 per cent in Karnataka alone." This has resulted, according to Srinivas, in bitterness among a small influential professional elite which may have turned over to the BJP in protest. The doctrines of social justice that were implemented in the south decades ago has led to the alienation of the forward castes, who, however small in number, are deeply resentful of the Mandal platform. "These alienated forward castes are also disenchanted with the Congress," says Srinivas.
Political scientist Saibal Gupta of the Patna University believes that, with the decline of the Congress, the bourgeoisie in the southern states is increasingly being attracted to the BJP precisely because of its protectionist tendencies. "The southern states will never allow their regional identities to be merged with the BJP's idea of an all-embracing Hindu nation, but the regional bourgeoisie is increasingly looking to the BJP to safeguard its business interests by protecting the national market," says Gupta.
The rise in voter interest in the BJP, according to historian Mahesh Rangarajan, is a political expression of a deeper cultural transformation which has been taking place in parts of the south, evidenced not only in the growth of RSS shakhas in Kerala but also in the activities of 'soft saffron' leaders like Jayalalitha who has financed temple repair funds as well as schools for purohits.
Rangarajan points out that in the National Integration Council meeting in 1991, Jayalalitha supported the BJP's 'right to kar seva' at Ayodhya. Further, the fact that the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch has been active in mobilising fishing communities in Andhra against the activities of foreign trawlers may have led to a rise in Hindu sentiments there. The Manch conducted a yatra from Porbander to Vishakhapatnam, giving tremendous impetus to local economic nationalism, which was then effectively harnessed by the RSS. "It is fruitless to look for a single factor in creating BJP support," says Gupta, "because a vote of this nature is not simply psephological."
IN forging key regional alliances, the BJP has not baulked against being a junior partner to local parties. For almost the first time in the south, the BJP was given an acceptable local face and there was a tacit admission that Hindu nationalism was only a secondary aspect of the more vital local sub-nationalism. In Tamil Nadu, a 'sympathy wave' for Jayalalitha caused by her humiliation at the hands of Karunanidhi as well as anti-incumbency feelings against the DMK-TMC government are seen as being fundamentally responsible for the high BJP profile in Tamil Nadu.
In Orissa, the success of the Biju Janata Dal, possibly as a result of anti-incumbency against the Congress and a revival of the Biju Patnaik legacy, gave the BJP a route to anti-Congress Oriya sentiments. Says Prasanna Mishra, secretary of the Orissa BJP organisational unit: "The strategic alliance with the BJD helped consolidate the anti-Congress vote and swung the arithmetic in favour of the alliance."
In Karnataka, an anti-Deve Gowda, anti-Janata Dal wave, coupled with Hegde's charisma, led to gains for the BJP. Of course, the BJP had already won six seats here in 1996. The BJP in the state, according to Dr B.K. Chandrashekhar, former Janata Dal member, has never been perceived as Brahmanical because most of its leaders are Lingayats. And this time around, this powerful upper caste voted for Hegde en bloc. As Veerappa Moily, former Congress chief minister, says: "There was a strong anti-JD and anti-Deve Gowda feeling among the electorate across the state. While the BJP got the anti-JD votes, Ramakrishna Hegde got the anti-Gowda votes."
The BJP in Kerala is blocked for the moment by the UDF and LDF coalitions, but draws some support from the Nairs and Ezhavas among whom, Srinivas says, there is an increasing sense of persecution, not only because of the commercial power of the Syrian Christian community but also because of the perceived strength of the Islamic fundamentalist groups.
One of the most common misconceptions, says Krishna Menon, who has studied the rise of the RSS in Kerala, is that the Sangh parivar is perceived as a northern phenomenon in the south. In her exchanges with Malayalee RSS members, there was a commonly voiced attraction towards Indian nationalism, in which the north-south question was largely irrelevant. However, Menon maintains that the emerging Hindu identity in Kerala is not as militant as it is in the north but is a conservative, patriarchal and retrogressive identity. "Kerala is communist in ideology but casteist in practice," says Srinivas.
Adds Menon: "The Left has generally not recognised the dangerous rise in Hindu communalism by the major growth of RSS shakhas, the repeated clashes between the RSS and the CPI(M), the rise in fashionable spirituality among the young, and the fact that land reforms have deprived the dominant groups of their economic and social prestige, causing much resentment."
According to Sheshadri Chari, editor of Organiser, as early as five years back the RSS decided to establish a shakha every two kms in the Kerala countryside. In Tamil Nadu, the birth of the Hindu Munnani in 1982 following the conversions to Islam in Meenakshipuram—now seen as a turning point in the relations between the Hindu right wing and the south—encouraged emotions of 'Hinduism under siege'. Here, the RSS decided to establish a shakha at every taluka. "The rise in BJP support is a result of the longstanding work that the RSS and the VHP have been doing in the south," says Chari. In Orissa, the work of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in the tribal areas in setting up schools and hospitals may have been responsible for a swing away from the Congress in the tribal and scheduled caste vote banks. And in Karnataka, claims Chari, women's camps and medical aid organised by the RSS helped consolidate a social service image for the BJP.
CASTE has been a crucial factor in the saffron results. Lingayat assertion in northern and western Karnataka has helped Hegde who is associated with effective local schemes like panchayati raj and also bolstered BJP votes. Additionally, the BJP has been able to energise local cadres in the south to work for it, not just by its alliances, but also because certain castes have been feeling left out or victimised. This applies not only to the Kapus of Andhra. Also in the conflict between Dalits and the landed castes like the Thevars, Kallads and Maravars in southern Tamil Nadu, the younger Dalits have joined the BJP.
Consequently, crucial regional alliances, caste assertion, consolidation of a secondary Hindu nationalism and grassroots-level work by the RSS and the VHP are all responsible for the saffron increase in the south. In addition, says Purushottam Agarwal of JNU, the BJP has managed to project a transformed identity. In 1989, the BJP abandoned Hindi as the 'only language' policy and opted for the three-language formula of Nehru. "The surrender of Hindi," says Agarwal, was a "major ideological retreat." Moreover, due to the peculiar behaviour of the secular parties, and after the attempts to dismiss BJP governments in UP, the BJP has actually been able to project itself as a victim rather than a votary of Article 356.
Yet, the crucial point about the growth of the BJP in the south is that it has occured in specific areas where either local cadres have been motivated to work for the BJP for their own reasons as in Kerala, or where local populations have voted for caste representatives as in Karnataka. In the case of a 'swing' as in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has depended on a regional alliance and a charismatic local figure. There have been doctrinal compromises: Hindi, Ayo-dhya and Aryavarta have given way to local languages, local nationalism and a dilution of extremist rhetoric with the VHP and others being forced into silence. "The dilemma for the BJP therefore," says Christophe Jaffrelot, author of The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India, "is to change itself and grow geographically, or remain true to itself and stagnate in the Hindi-speaking belt".