July 1, 2024


Has the national political balance shifted toward South India?

After a decade of single-party rule at the Centre, India again has a coalition government. The BJP, unable to gain an outright majority by itself, has partnered with its NDA allies to form the government. An unexpected turn of events that most didn’t anticipate.

What this has done is posit an interesting question – where are the political winds blowing in the country? As the results trickled in, all eyes turned toward political veteran Chandrababu Naidu, a stalwart of South Indian politics, and his Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Combined with the performances of regional parties in the South holding off the BJP, are the winds blowing toward South India?


The past decade’s one-party rule over Indian elections had one notable exception – the party’s failure to win over the southern region. The five southern states have about 20% of the country’s population and contribute 30% of its economy. In many ways, it’s the heartbeat of India’s manufacturing and high-tech sectors.

The BJP has been pushing the idea of “One Nation” in several forms. The “One Nation, One Election” is one of the more obvious ones. Opposition-ruled states in South India have constantly been at loggerheads with the Centre over several issues – why does it take so long to sanction infrastructure projects? Why don’t the states get their fair share of GST revenues?

Then there’s the delimitation of parliamentary constituencies, widely expected to give Northern states more representation. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has repeatedly criticised the Centre’s imposition of Hindi. There’s clearly no love loss between the southern states and the Centre.

During the campaign phase of the most recent election, the BJP decided to invest a lot of resources in South India. Prime Minister Modi made over a dozen visits to the region. In 2019, the BJP won 29 of the 130 seats in South India – 25 in Karnataka and 4 in Telangana. Their performance this time around wasn’t good either. Not a single seat in Tamil Nadu and only one in Kerala.

Across North India, the BJP mobilised massive support over years of outreach and campaigning. It certainly accelerated once Modi came to the fore. With events like LK Advani’s Rath Yatra, the Hindi belt gave the BJP big numbers and shifted the political narrative from Congress versus others to the BJP versus everyone else.

The South was, and is, a different prospect with its cultural background and relatively progressive politics. Parties like the DMK and TDP have louder voices. The latter is now part of the NDA coalition at the Centre and will have a voice at the table.

Does this mean that South India will soon become true political kingmakers? Are they now just as important, if not more important, than North India?

VIEW: South’s where it’s at

Almost all the Southern states have moved away from a two-party system. Other regional parties have jumped in, and the BJP has been slowly trying to occupy some space. So far, despite their best efforts, they haven’t been successful. If the 2024 election results are anything to go by, then voters in the South saw right through the BJP’s polarising tactics and rejected them.

What’s been clear for quite some time is that South Indian states have routinely outperformed the rest of the country on parameters like health, education, and employment opportunities. A child born in South India is more likely to live a healthier and safer life. This hasn’t happened overnight. It’s thanks to policies like mid-day meal schemes that have kept kids in school in Tamil Nadu. Kerala has been lauded for its healthcare policies.

The North-South divide is real in some ways. With caste politics getting more attention, that’s something South India was at the forefront of long before the northern states saw meaningful caste mobilisation. While containing the BJP’s spin and rhetoric, South India has shown it can think and act differently and be a determining force in Indian politics in the future.

COUNTERVIEW: A long way to go

The North-South divide is often oversimplified to stoke imaginary regional differences. While some states have better socio-economic performance indicators, economic disparities between states and regions aren’t unique to India. The Southern states are expected to lose some political power with the long-pending delimitation scheduled for 2026. Karnataka is likely to lose 7% of its seats. Uttar Pradesh will gain 14%.

Despite the state’s recent growth, only 9% of the members from the Karnataka legislative assembly belong to the BJP. The “gaining states” from delimitation will be Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Gujarat, to name a few. In these states, 56% of the MLAs belong to the BJP. The growing crisis of Southern representation is likely to get worse. Not only won’t they have adequate representation in Parliament, but they might also not have decent numbers in the government.

The BJP’s support base is in North India. They’re incentivised to spend a lot of time and money there. The Opposition has also been consistent in its attempts to create a clearer divide between North and South India. Remarks by DMK Lok Sabha MP DNV Senthilkumar, who labelled people from North India as Gaumutra drinkers, obviously didn’t go down well and didn’t help matters. This will only deepen regional divisions and the South will continue to have cultural capital and the North will keep its political capital.

Reference Links:

  • Why India needs concessionary federalism to address the grievances of its southern states – Scroll
  • Why voters in southern India are more resistant to Modi’s Hindu-centric politics – Associated Press
  • Why south India outperforms the north – BBC
  • South India’s progressive politics vs North’s regressive politics – Asia Times
  • The shifting balance in national politics – Deccan Herald
  • The Fizzled Endeavour to Divide North and South in Indian Politics – News18
  • India’s South Has Wealth, but the North Has the Numbers – Fair Observer

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

a) The national political balance has shifted toward South India.

b) The national political balance hasn’t shifted toward South India.


For the Right:

PLI to ELI – an idea for Nirmala Sitharaman

For the Left:

Tamil Nadu Hooch Tragedy: Time To Have A Relook At BJP’s TASMAC White Paper