Southern Lights | The BJP’s ‘look south’ policy sees a dozen southern ministers in Cabinet - Hindustan Times

Southern Lights | The BJP’s ‘look south’ policy sees a dozen southern ministers in Cabinet

Jun 18, 2024 09:27 PM IST

The choice of ministers who are young and well-qualified reflects a seeming focus on federalism

Inducting a dozen ministers from southern India into the cabinet in his third term as prime minister, Narendra Modi has underscored the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ‘Look South’ policy to strengthen its position electorally in the five southern states. Besides being a historic decision for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under Modi’s leadership, this move is being seen as an attempt to compose a more diverse cabinet than in the previous two terms.

New Delhi, India. 10th June 2024: Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs first cabinet meeting after forming new government at South Block, in New Delhi on Monday. also seen. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
New Delhi, India. 10th June 2024: Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairs first cabinet meeting after forming new government at South Block, in New Delhi on Monday. also seen. (HT Photo)

The appointment of the BJP, Janata Dal (Secular), and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members of Parliament to various cabinet posts also silenced many critics who had previously alluded to the skewed political representation, not favouring southern India.

State finance bodies and cash-strapped exchequers hope the baker’s dozen including finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman will ensure equitable devolution of central taxes. Sridhar Pabisetty, a political analyst said: “The choice of ministers who are young and well-qualified reflects continuity and a strong focus on federalism. I would expect the ministers to be tested on their performance and I hope they can push through reforms and keep their promises to their electorate.”

Karnataka has the highest number of ministers with the BJP-JDS alliance winning 19 of the 28 seats in the state. The inclusion of two BJP warhorses - Prahlad Joshi and Shoba Karandlaje — was expected. Joshi, for his deft handling of the Lok Sabha sessions as parliamentary affairs head, and Karandlaje for being her mentor Yediyurappa’s pick.

MV Somanna’s admission, however, surprised many. Unlike his colleagues, he was not part of NDA-II and neither is he from any of the RSS affiliates.

Somanna did his time in the JDS and the Congress previously. But Ramesh Kumar, head of the district unit in Tumkur, from where Somanna won, says his induction into the cabinet was to reward his efforts in building the party in Tumkur, Mysore, and Chamrajanagar.

HD Kumaraswamy being the only JDS representative at the centre had to be accommodated because of the alliance.

A similar story in Andhra meant honouring the TDP boss’ asks. Two of Chandrababu Naidu’s men and one old-timer from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) made it to the centre from the truncated state.

A three-time parliamentarian representing the Srikakulam constituency, Ram Mohan is former TDP leader and former union minister K Yerran Naidu’s son, and the nephew of K Atchannaidu, considered close to Naidu. Young Naidu has been with the TDP since 2012 upon his father’s passing and was made in charge of the MP constituency the following year. He belongs to the powerful Koppala Velama community, categorised under the backward classes that populate the north-coastal Andhra Pradesh territory.

The civil aviation ministry he was accorded is seen as a handover from the erstwhile TDP leader Ashok Gajapathi Raju who held the portfolio earlier in the first NDA term.

A first-timer as compared to his young colleague, the mild-mannered 48-year-old Dr Chandra Sekhar’s academic and professional achievements precede him. Chandra Sekhar also belongs to the powerful Kamma community that Chandrababu Naidu belongs to. He is among the richest politicians having declared assets worth more than 5,000 crore. Many in the party and political circles believe his resourcefulness impelled Naidu to name him part of Modi’s cabinet.

If the BJP ticked the dominant Kamma-Kappu castes by naming Ram Mohan and Chandrasekhar ministers, it had two other boxes on its checklist - nominate an upper caste and an organisation man. Srinivas Varma, a Raju or Kshatriya, ticks both these boxes and is among the handful of ABVP-RSS people whose presence in the northern region helped the BJP up its vote share in the Andhra.

In neighbouring Telangana, it recorded a win of eight seats, a first for the party after the bifurcation of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. While the BJP gave 15 of the 17 tickets to outsiders who joined the party from the Bharat Rashtra Samithi and Congress, it accorded the ministerial berths to G Kishan Reddy and Bandi Sanjay.

A similar choice was reflected when the BJP picked Suresh Gopi, the only MP to win from Kerala to the ministry of tourism. The portfolio comes on the back of the PM’s campaign speeches made to the electorate promising more Vande Bharat trains and efforts to increase the tourism potential to Kerala and Lakshadweep. The light-weight portfolio was also granted keeping in mind the actor’s movie commitments.

The other pick was George Kurian who is the party’s general secretary. Kurian played a crucial role in organising the Sneha Yatra - a journey of love - to woo Christians in the state, an effort that paid off with a significant number of Christians voting for Gopi in Trivandrum.

BJP party officials in Kerala who did not wish to be named also said Kurian’s appointment to the centre is a follow-through of the assurances given to the Kerala clergy who met the PM at his official residence in Delhi last Christmas. Among the asks was that a Christian be named minority minister.

“The BJP has been consistently inducting Christians into the party as spokespersons and as district in-charges. From Anil Antony and George Kurian to Tom Vadakkan. Since then a small section of the priests have been getting closer to the BJP despite there being nearly 18 sects of Christianity in the state," G Gopakumar, former political science department head, Kerala Central University, said.

Perhaps the only default choice was L Murugan from Tamil Nadu. While the BJP expected to win a handful of seats from TN after state president K Annamalai’s aggressive campaign across the state, a crushing defeat only meant retaining Murugan as a minister since he is already a member of the upper house.

Murugan lost to Andimuthu Raja, a former minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. While Murugan claimed all the tribal votes, particularly from the Badga community that is spread out in the upper reaches of the Nilgiris, the majority Christian vote still stayed with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Raja. A Dalit face, Murugan was party president until 2021 when Annamalai took over.

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