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The story of the Lok Sabha elections is one of a sustained electoral rise of the BJP

Among these three states, post-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh remains a difficult terrain to conquer for the BJP, while Telangana has given the party significant space and Karnataka sees the BJP as a major player now. It is clear that the BJP has penetrated the southern region substantially, with a focused long term plan

analysis Updated: May 28, 2019 14:38 IST
Venkatesh Athreya
Venkatesh Athreya
Lok Sabha elections,BJP,South India
Modi supporters celebrate the BJP’s win, Bengaluru, May 23. In 2014, the BJP alliance got 43.37% of votes and 17 seats. In 2019, it got 55% of votes and 25 seats (AFP)

The spectacular victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the elections to the Lok Sabha, 2019 across the entire country saw only three states bucking the trend. The BJP drew a blank in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. But it is not as if BJP has not gained at all in the South. It won a massive victory in Karnataka with 25 out of 28 seats, securing a very high 55% of votes and nearly wiping out the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) combine. The BJP also performed exceptionally well in Telengana, securing four Lok Sabha seats and 19.09% of the votes as against one seat and 10.37% in 2014. Clearly, the BJP is on its way to becoming a major player south of the Vindhyas, while it extends its presence in the North, west and east. Is this altogether a surprise? The short answer is ‘no’.

When the BJP came into being in 1980, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) seemed to have decided that it should strenuously focus on becoming a party spread across the country and should not remain what it was then – a party of the north.

As early as the assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh (AP) in 1983, the BJP entered the fray contesting 80 of the 294 seats and winning 3, securing 2.76% of the votes. Though its vote share fell to 1.32% in 1985 assembly elections in that state, the BJP won eight of the 10 seats it contested, allying with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). In 1989, the BJP contested 12 seats in alliance with the TDP, secured 1.78% of the polled votes and won five seats. In 1994, the BJP did not have an alliance, and contested 280 seats on its own, securing 3.89% of the votes polled and winning three seats. In 1999, it contested 24 seats in alliance with the TDP. It secured 3.67% of the votes and 10 seats. This alliance continued in 2004, with the BJP winning two of the 27 seats it contested and securing 2.63% of the votes. There was no alliance in 2009. The BJP contested in 271 seats, securing 2.84% of the votes and two seats. In the assembly poll for the then undivided AP in 2014, the BJP got 4.1% of the votes and nine seats (Telangana 5, AP 4) in alliance with the TDP.

The BJP drew a blank in post-bifurcation AP in 2019 in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Though the BJP contested in all 175 assembly seats and 25 Lok Sabha seats, its vote share in the assembly election was only 0.84% and only 0.91% in Lok Sabha elections. It won just one assembly seat in Telangana in December 2018. However, in a spectacular victory contesting on its own in 2019, the BJP has won four Lok Sabha seats as against 1 seat in 2014. Its vote share has gone up from 10.37% to 19.09%.

The Andhra–Telangana trajectory of the BJP’s growth suggests that it benefited significantly from the alienation of regional political forces in these states from the Congress. It also seems to have judiciously combined contesting on its own and forming alliances from time to time with the regional parties. For a party that is strongly centralist in its philosophy and functioning, this shows considerable tactical flexibility.

The BJP entered Karnataka assembly impressively in 1983 itself, contesting 110 seats and winning 18, with a vote share of 7.93%. However, it suffered a minor setback in 1985, contesting 116 seats and winning only two while seeing its vote share fall by more than 50% to 3.88%. Its performance in 1989 was similar, with 118 seats contested, won four and had a vote share of 4.14%. But the BJP made large gains in 1994, winning 40 of the 221 seats it contested and securing 16.99% of votes polled. The gains continued in 1999, with the BJP getting 44 seats and 20.69% of the votes. The BJP posted a spectacular performance in 2004, becoming the single largest party, winning 79 seats and securing 28.33% of the votes polled. It further improved on this in 2008, winning 110 seats and 33.86% of the votes polled. Though BJP suffered a setback in 2013, winning only 40 seats and securing a vote share of only 19.9 %, the BJP recovered impressively in 2018 assembly elections securing 33.86% of votes and 104 seats. The story of the Lok Sabha elections has also been one of a sustained electoral rise of the BJP. In 2014, the BJP alliance got 43.37% of votes and 17 seats. In 2019, it got 55% of votes and 25 seats. The Congress got 31.94% and JD (S) got 9.85%) in 2019 as against combined 52.22 % in 2014 though JD(S) contested separately then.

Among these three states, post-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh remains a difficult terrain to conquer for the BJP, while Telangana has given the party significant space and Karnataka sees the BJP as a major player now.

It is clear that the BJP has penetrated the southern region substantially, with a focused long term plan.

Venkatesh Athreya is adjunct professor, Asian College of Journalism

The views expressed are personal

First Published: May 28, 2019 14:37 IST