June 13, 2024


Has BJP begun its ascent in South India?

(Image credit: Narendra Modi’s X post)

The election results were a good news-bad news situation for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The bad news first. They lost out on several seats across states they were expected to perform well. With no absolute majority, a coalition government it is. The good news is they’re still the single largest party in the country. They’ve also performed well across South India.

South India was always going to be an uphill battle for the BJP. But the party and Modi spent a lot of time and resources in the southern states. It seems to have paid off. Victories in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and ground gained in Tamil Nadu and Kerala are proof. Is this the beginning of the party’s ascent in South India?


While Modi has wielded near-total control over the Indian political landscape over the past decade, there has been one exception – South India. It has always been a tough nut to crack. The five southern states, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, account for almost 20% of the population and about a third of the economy. In many ways, South India is a manufacturing and high-tech hub. To want to compete here electorally is a no-brainer.

Political observers and pundits have often said that if a Hindi-speaking, unified civilisation is the big message you’re coming with, South India will prove to be a tall mountain to climb and conquer. Voters in these states don’t necessarily have the same needs as people in the North. Sure, there are still issues of farmer distress and unemployment. But broadly speaking, the states want more recognition for their role in advancing the economy.

The BJP’s infusion of religion into politics hasn’t sat well with voters in South India. In the run-up to the elections, Modi and the party had a clear strategy to campaign aggressively in the South. Per some estimates, Modi made 20 trips to the five southern states. Together, they control about a quarter of the 543 seats.

In 2019, the party won only 29 seats across South India. People here have strong and long-lasting connections to regional parties that have dominated the scene for decades. Take Tamil Nadu for example. BJP didn’t win any of the 39 seats in 2019. Modi’s Chennai visit garnered big crowds and a lot of buzz. He even used AI to translate his speech from Hindi to Tamil in real-time.

Modi has repeatedly mentioned the construction of the Ram Mandir temple in Ayodhya during his speeches. People are religious in South India, which has some of the country’s most visited temples. One difference is religion hasn’t been weaponised by regional parties to the extent that it has been by the BJP.

Its performance in South India this time around is being seen by some as a base to build upon. But is that base strong enough, given its weakened national mandate?

VIEW: It’s a good starting point

There was an understandable perception that South India was too high of a mountain to climb for the BJP and Modi. That seems to have changed and the numbers tell the story. In the 2019 elections, the party didn’t win a single seat in three of the five states. In 2024, it won seats in all the southern states except Tamil Nadu. But even in the Dravidian stronghold, it has increased its vote share from 3.6% in 2019 to 11.03% this time.

Kerala is arguably the most notable talking point here. The party opened its account in the state with its star candidate, Suresh Gopi, in Thrissur, who won by a wide margin. In 2014, the BJP increased its vote share in Kerala from 5% to 13%. Even though it didn’t have a single MP from the state, the party never panicked or gave up. Shah and Modi knew they needed to campaign strategically, and it yielded its first results.

Karnataka is where the seats are for the BJP and could be seen as its gateway to the South. It contested 25 seats and won 17, and its ally, the JD(S), won 2. Things might not have gone as planned in last year’s Assembly elections, where it was routed. But it would be foolish to count the party out since it enjoys good support from the Lingayats and Vokkaligas. Even in Andhra Pradesh, while it won only 3 seats, it increased its vote share to 11.35% from 0.98%.

COUNTERVIEW: Limited prospects

While the party has made some gains in several southern states, the prospect of it spreading is slim to none. Out of the 130 seats in South India, it won only 29. Tamil Nadu was where the party seemed to be the most confident, with Modi and the BJP investing a lot of resources. Modi himself visited the state a record eight times between January and April. However, the return was zero. In Puducherry, where it fielded the popular Home Minister A Namassivayam, the party came up short.

Talk of Ram Mandir didn’t resonate with voters who were more worried over local issues. Even cultural symbolism from the Sengol to the Kashi-Tamil Sangamam initiative failed to capture voter’s attention. What did resonate was the DMK-Congress alliance’s emphasis on federalism, the portrayal of the BJP as a threat to Dalits, and alleged bias against Tamil students in NEET exams.

While the party’s saffron political brand didn’t do as much as it had hoped in some North Indian states, it certainly had no effect in the South. While there may be a lot of online frenzy over the BJP’s significance in the South, it didn’t match the reality on the ground. The party banked on Modi’s popularity but his messaging didn’t work. Its efforts to woo voters through alliances with regional parties also can’t be deemed a grand success. The South remains a tough problem for the BJP.

Reference Links:

  • Lok Sabha Election: What is powering BJP’s South India juggernaut? A look at four states – The Economic Times
  • In numbers: What’s holding the BJP back in South India? – India Today
  • Analysis: Biggest Takeaways From Election Results In 3 Southern States – NDTV
  • BJP’s rise in South and fall in North – Financial Express
  • BJP’s southern surge: First Kerala victory and more seats in Telugu states – The News Minute
  • Significant gains, but capturing South is still a distant dream for BJP – Deccan Herald
  • The South India Story: How The Congress Faltered Yet the BJP’s Saffronisation Plan Didn’t Work – The Wire

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The BJP has begun its ascent in South India.

b) The BJP hasn’t begun its ascent in South India.


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