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Will Modi magic work in the South?

Shekhar Iyer, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 30, 2013
First Published: 20:34 IST(30/9/2013) | Last Updated: 15:27 IST(1/10/2013)

An evening before he addressed by far the BJP’s biggest-ever Tamil Nadu rally in Tiruchi on September 26, Narendra Modi was closeted with his Kerala party leaders in Thiruvananthapuram.

As the BJP prime ministerial candidate heard out their assessment of the party’s prospects, Modi finally spelt out his key message. “No matter what it takes,” he said, party workers in the south should work hard to take advantage of a national climate favourable to the BJP. The focus on southern states could help the party make up for “deficits” in the north, and help carry the day.

For a Hindi-speaking BJP, the south has always been a big challenge. Atal Bihari Vajpayee came closest to cracking the problem because he held some appeal for educated middle class non-Hindi speakers.

What is causing eyebrows to be raised this time round is a recent survey by Tamil magazine Junior Vikatan. It said a clear majority (53%) of Tamil Nadu voters felt Modi was best suited to be PM, with chief minister Jayalalithaa, Rahul Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh trailing far behind. It published the findings in a cover story titled “Shock result!”

BJP insiders say Modi may meet the Tamil Nadu CM soon for a “friendly” fight to ensure the BJP wins at least four seats.

Karnataka, the one state considered a strong base of the BJP among southern states until 2010, is still likely to be its best bet. Despite the fear of the CBI gunning for him, BS Yeddyurappa is trying to work with Modi.

Yet the BJP cannot hope to retain all of the 19 (out of 28) seats in Karnataka it got in 2009.

In April, Modi made his Kerala foray, attending a function at Sivagiri Mutt, creating a flutter in the state dominated by minorities and leftists. The BJP’s calculation is it should try for two of the 21 seats, at least.

In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP won seven Lok Sabha seats in 1999 in an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a regional player which got 29. But the two split in 2004. A much weakened TDP is ready to tie the knot with the BJP again to ride on the Modi wave in coastal areas.

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