National

Moves Of The South In The 2024 Election

The robust wins of regional parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and of a national party-led regional coalition in Kerala play a crucial rule in shaping the Indian Parliament

Photo: AP
Joining Hands: Large cutouts of DMK and Congress leaders loom over a campaign rally venue at the outskirts of Chennai ahead of the Lok Sabha elections Photo: AP
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Offering a much-needed breather to the Indian polity, the Lok Sabha election results have created valuable scope for course correction in the country’s slide away from democratic politics. The crucial necessity of parties like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Janata Dal United (U) for the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government alongside a numerically stronger opposition in the Parliament, in particular, the near-doubled representation of the Congress and the enhanced presence of regional parties, is likely to halt what seemed an unstoppable Hindu majoritarian politics over the last decade.

How did south India fare vis-à-vis the election outcome that has offered a relief of sorts to democratically minded Indians?

Winning all 40 seats, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its allies didn’t cede a single seat to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or to the latter’s former coalition partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The home state of Dravidian politics showed the limits of outsized symbolic campaigns lacking a grassroots base. Be it installing the sengol, the royal sceptre from Tamil Nadu handed to the PM by Tamil priests, in the new Parliament building or PM Modi avoiding Hindi in his speeches in Tamil Nadu or his listening to the recitation of the Kamban Ramayana, the heavy-duty election campaign of the BJP does not seem to have travelled the distance. With an inflated sense of the local appeal of its social media campaigns, the BJP’s Tamil Nadu state president, Annamalai, wrecked his party’s relations with its coalition partner, AIADMK, last year which then chose to fight the Lok Sabha elections alone. It now appears that the combined votes of the AIADMK and the BJP might have won them seats in over a dozen constituencies. The BJP did get 10% of the vote share in Tamil Nadu, but this detail loses its lustre in relation to the comprehensive electoral win of the Secular Progressive Alliance comprising of the ruling DMK, the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and others. Taking credit for not allowing the BJP to reattain a majority at the Centre, M K Stalin, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, rejoiced that the coalition “saved Indian democracy and the Constitution.”

Kerala, the other southern state that had remained openly cold towards PM Modi and Hindutva politics despite the BJP’s relentless efforts over the years to mark its electoral presence there, ceded a seat to the BJP in Thrissur for the first time and saw this party make electoral advances in a few other constituencies. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) won 18 of the 20 seats in Kerala with the margins staying handsome in over half of those seats. The anti-incumbency against the ruling CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), which won only one seat even this time, appears to have mattered for these outcomes. Despite the LDF’s projection of itself as an ardent guardian of secularism and an ideal electoral choice for the Christian and Muslim communities of Kerala, large sections of these communities appear to have reposed their trust in the UDF instead in this Lok Sabha election.

In Telangana, the ruling Congress party and the BJP doubled their previous Lok Sabha seat tally by winning eight seats each this time with AIMIM winning the Hyderabad seat. Unable to win a single seat, the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) party finished third in most of the state’s 18 Lok Sabha seats. The BRS has ceded political dominance to the two national parties and now faces the tough task of political recovery in the very state that it helped create out of the former state of Andhra Pradesh.

The integrity of India’s democracy is best safeguarded by the presence of strong regional parties, which can help keep alive the federal imagination of India.

The state of Andhra saw a complete surprise. The TDP and its allies, Jana Sena and the BJP, swept both the assembly and the Lok Sabha elections. The strategic last-minute coalition that the BJP formed with the TDP and Jana Sena helped take advantage of the anti-incumbency that was brewing against the ruling YSR Congress despite the latter’s populist welfare measures. The 16 seats won by the TDP—along with the JD(U)’s 12 seats in Bihar—became a life-saver for the BJP, whose national seat tally fell 32 seats short of the required majority. While the Congress is yet to win a Lok Sabha seat in Andhra after the state was formed in 2014, the BJP has won three seats this time with a 11.3% vote share.

Karnataka, the only southern state where the BJP has been in power, had picked 25 BJP MPs in the 2019 election. Since that performance owed to the Modi-wave and seemed unlikely to repeat this time, and since the Congress had scored big in the assembly elections last year, the Lok Sabha election results in Karnataka appeared inscrutable to election observers. Would the welfare schemes of the ruling Congress government help it in the Lok Sabha election? Or, would the voters let other priorities matter in a national election? The results in the end didn’t offer a conclusive response in this regard. As in other states, a combination of local as well as national factors seem to have been at play in Karnataka too.

The BJP won 17 seats in Karnataka this time. Its strategic alliance with the JD(S) has mattered hugely, especially in the old Mysore region where it won ten of its seats. Unlike in 2019, when the JD(S) was in coalition with the Congress, the vote transfer from the JD(S) to the BJP happened effectively in this election, resulting in decisive victories for the BJP in at least seven constituencies. Whereas the BJP’s ideological hold in the coastal region won for it all the three seats from there, the support it enjoys among the Lingayats largely account for its victories in the Mumbai Karnataka region.

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This Lok Sabha election saw the Vokkaligas, a dominant caste, and a chief component of the JD(S) support base, regroup behind the leadership of H D Kumaraswamy. The latter won decisively from Mandya, where most of the sitting MLAs are from the Congress. In winning 2 of the 3 seats it contested and in enabling a sizeable seat tally for its alliance partner, the JD(S) appears to have recovered somewhat from the massive organisational—and psychological—defeat that it suffered in the assembly elections last year. These wins also seem to have offset to some extent the stigma that the Prajwal Revanna scandal had resulted in for the party.

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Will the JD(S) be able to retain its separateness and strengthen itself further while being in alliance with the BJP? Or will it help create for the BJP an expanded voter base in the Old Mysore region, adding the support of the Vokkaligas to the support that the party already enjoys among the other dominant caste, Lingayats, and ensuring for it a state-wide electoral presence?

Five of the nine seats that the Congress won in Karnataka came from the Hyderabad-Karnatak region, where the All India Congress Committee (AICC) President Mallikarjun Kharge exercises considerable influence. The remaining wins consisted of two each in the old Mysore and the Mumbai-Karnataka regions. While nine seats are surely an improvement over the single seat that it had won in 2019, the Congress expected to win a few more seats based on the popularity of its welfare schemes. These schemes ensured for it wide support from among women, tribals, backward castes and Dalits, and explain perhaps its high vote share of 45.4% (the BJP’s vote share is 46%). But the tilt of the Lingayat and the Vokkaliga voters towards the BJP-JD(S) coalition seems to have weakened the Congress’ prospects of a higher seat score.

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The ruling Congress government’s protests that the Central government’s allocation of tax revenues to the state and its blocking of relief funds to a drought hit Karnataka were unfair had not found any support from the 25 sitting BJP MPs. But it looks like the state’s voters did not let this matter in the Lok Sabha elections. For instance, continuing the twenty-five-year-old trend, Bengaluru city picked all of its three MPs from the BJP this time as well. Regaining support in urban constituencies and among the dominant castes of Karnataka will count among the key challenges facing the Congress in the near future.

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The robust wins of regional parties in Tamil Nadu and in Andhra and of a national party-led regional coalition in Kerala have been absolutely crucial for how the ruling and the opposition party spaces are being shaped inside the Indian Parliament at the moment. They have also stirred hope that the judiciary, bureaucracy and the media might now be able to act independently without being fearful of the Central government.

Clearly, the integrity of India’s democracy is best safeguarded by the presence of strong regional parties, which can help keep alive the federal imagination of India and the ideals of decentralised governance. Democratic deliberations are of paramount importance for the flourishing of India’s plural regional cultures. A polity where both national and regional priorities are recognised and valued ensures the well-being of a country, not one where the Central government can push whatever it pleases down the throats of the state governments. The Lok Sabha election results illuminate this plain truth.

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(Views expressed are personal)

(This appeared in the print as 'Moves Of The South')

Chandan Gowda is Ramakrishna Hegde Chair Professor at the Institution for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru

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