FPJ Analysis: Angsty Congress Stirs The Regionalism Pot

FPJ Analysis: Angsty Congress Stirs The Regionalism Pot

On several counts, the South has certainly done better than the North, and deserves rewards for its superior indices, rather than getting the short end of the stick in resource allocation.

Bhavdeep KangUpdated: Wednesday, December 06, 2023, 10:17 PM IST
article-image
Representational Image

Political scientists have long debated whether the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral success constitutes a One Party Dominant system, like that of the Congress post-Independence. The recent round of Assembly elections, in which it romped home in three states, should put that debate to rest. But it has given rise to another one: the North-South hypothesis.

The Congress victory in Telangana, following its triumph in Karnataka earlier this year, has prompted party leaders and some political commentators to posit a North-South divide, in terms of political culture. They claim that the BJP may dominate the former, but has little traction in the five southern states.

Even prima facie, this contention does not hold water, given the BJP’s success in Karnataka from 2004 onwards. In three of the last five Assembly elections in Karnataka, the BJP has won more seats than the Congress. Even in the 2023 elections, it retained its voteshare, although it lost 38 seats. The Congress benefited largely from the sharp drop in the Janata Dal (S) voteshare. Besides, in the last four general elections, the BJP has won a majority of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state — even during the ten-year tenure of the Congress-led UPA. And in 2019, it made a virtual sweep with 26 seats.

In Telangana, where the BJP is a marginal player, four of its candidates won in Lok Sabha 2019. In last month’s assembly election, the party more than doubled its voteshare to win eight seats and was runner-up in another 18. Indeed, had the BJP not played spoiler, the Congress might have faced a tougher contest. Consider this in the light of the fact that just a decade ago the BJP was a fringe player in Assam, but as of now has been in power for seven years.

So, in two of the five southern states, the BJP is a palpable presence. Its inability to make headway in Tamil Nadu and Kerala is interpreted as resistance to its ‘Hindu nationalist’ agenda. By implication, the rest of India buys into ‘Hindu nationalism’, parts of the South included.

Even in the so-called ‘polarised’ North, the thrust on development and welfarism have been key to the BJP’s success, particularly in states where previous regimes failed to deliver services and entitlements. Financial inclusion, DBT, Ujwala, Awas Yojana, Kisan Nidhi and other schemes have made a visible difference, which is reflected in electoral outcomes. It’s entirely likely that these schemes haven’t made much of an impact in the South, where viable social security models were already in place with concomitant progress in human development parameters.

On several counts, the South has certainly done better than the North, and deserves rewards for its superior indices, rather than getting the short end of the stick in resource allocation. Delimitation, too, remains an ever-present threat. Having succeeded admirably in stabilising their population, these states are faced with the possibility of a reduced share of Lok Sabha seats, which would make Uttar Pradesh and Bihar more dominant than ever. The angst is understandable, and is precisely why politicians should avoid frivolous posts of the North vs South variety, and why PM Modi chose to respond by dubbing them as divisive. Fostering sub-nationalism benefits no party in the long run.

Does the BJP’s limited presence in the South mean that it is not, in fact, the single dominant or ‘system-defining party’? The Congress system of 1951-67 — which faced increasing challenges and gave way to coalition politics from 1989 onwards — was certainly different from the one that currently obtains. The BJP does not enjoy the kind of pan-India footprint that the Grand Old Party once did. On the other hand, its penetration is deeper. Both its geographical footprint and social base have grown substantially in the last ten years. It has brought the most disadvantaged sections — Dalits, STs and OBCs — under its umbrella, while retaining its hold on the upper castes. In 2019, it did well in the Northeast and the East, both of which were once no-go areas for the BJP. It naturally hopes to repeat that success in the South. At this point, it’s hard to predict whether or not it will.

The fact that the Congress is in power in Karnataka and Telangana, and won handsomely in Kerala in 2019, doesn’t make it the South’s party of choice. Any more than the BJP’s near-hegemony in the North reduces the Congress to a regional party.

Instead of self-justification and needlessly stirring the regionalism pot, the Congress would do better to gracefully accept defeat. So confident was it of beating the BJP on its own that it sidelined its I.N.D.I.A allies. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the prime mover in the I.N.D.I.A alliance, was given short shrift. So was the Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav. Both skipped yesterday’s alliance meeting, along with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. It is for the Congress to reach out to them, even if that means eating humble pie.

(Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author)

RECENT STORIES

Shahpur Kandi Project Will Benefit Farmers As India Takes Daring Decision To Stop Water From Barrage...

Shahpur Kandi Project Will Benefit Farmers As India Takes Daring Decision To Stop Water From Barrage...

Editorial: Who Is Responsible For The Blasts?

Editorial: Who Is Responsible For The Blasts?

Editorial: Masala Thriller Okayed, But What About Its Impact On Real-Life Case?

Editorial: Masala Thriller Okayed, But What About Its Impact On Real-Life Case?

Analysis: GDP Second Advance Estimates Encouraging

Analysis: GDP Second Advance Estimates Encouraging

Analysis: Tackling The Forces Fuelling Inflation

Analysis: Tackling The Forces Fuelling Inflation