Much before independence, seeds of resentment against Indian National Congress were sown in South India because of the so-called national party increasingly becoming pro-cow belt party eventhough many leaders of national stature have emerged from South India. The pro-Hindi stance under the garb of nationalism in the BJP and periodically in the congress had given birth to regionalism, which took roots first in South India.
The very first general elections in India in 1952 saw Congress struggling to form government in the then Madras province eventhough it swept the polls elsewhere in the country. At the behest of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the services of Independent India’s first and the only Indian Governor-General C Rajagopalachari had to be sought to stitch a congress government in the Madras Province, when communists almost managed to form government there. After stabilising the govenment, he handed over reigns to K Kamaraj in 1954. Tamil Nadu became the first state in the country to have a government formed by a regional party DMK in 1967 and since then no national party, be it congress or now BJP, have been able to form government there.
In Kerala the first communist government led by EMS Namboodhripad was formed in 1957 and in the last 3-4 decades the state has not witnessed a single party rule. The congress led UDF and CPI(M) led left front have been coming to power alternately. In the case of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the picture is slightly different. Though regional parties have emerged since 1983 in the two states, which is now three with the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and AP, the power has been shared between regional and national parties.
There is general dislike to North Indian politicians in South India as they are perceived and seen to be promoting only the interest of cow-belt. There is also a feeling in South India that politicians from north want to thrust upon them Hindi putting them at a disadvantage. Until recently not many in the North knew there existed four important and ancient launguages in the South. For North Indians, anything south of Vindhyas, is all the same. North Indians know very few freedom fighters from South though there were many, who were in the forefront. This sort of indifference and step-motherly approach of North Indian politicians have led to growing resentment in South India for North Indian political leaders, who are seen as discriminatory, corrupt and have scant respect for welfare of South Indians. This may not be totally true but the feeling that northern politicians rough shod over South Indias is only growing and this is increasingly visible in entire South India.
With social justice movement taking firm roots in South India, communalism too had very little scope but lately with BJP spreading its tentacles, particularly in Karnataka and Kerala, there has been sporadic communal clashes and political murders. But improvement in social indices like health, education, infant mortality, law and order and so on in southern states due to the people-centric policies pursued by the politicians there, the five states have performed resonably well in economic development when compared to northern states. This is partly because of the fact that social justice movement, which is taking roots in North India only now, had ensured that political parties in power laid emphasis more on social development that is health and education.
Casteism, corruption and communalism is there in South India as well but it is much less compared to North India due to which general education, health care and development is more pronounced in the South. Also corruption in South India is institutionalised unlike in north. This ensures work is done on greasing the palms unlike in the North where one is not sure work would be done even after paying money. As corruption is institutionalised, everyone pays same money for getting the same work done, which is not he case in the North.
South laid emphasis on educaiton and health long ago, the benefit of better quality manpower is being reaped by the states now. Of couse, southern states have been successful in in achieving quantity in education and now perhaps they will have to improve the quality of education. Populist measures like noon meal scheme, cycles to girl students, Amma canteens in Tamil Nadu, now replicated in Karnataka, laptops to students and the like have contributed to sociao-economic development of the southern states.. It will take decades for northern states to catch up as these sort of schemes are beginning to take roots only of late.
This being the case, the National Parties, which are dominated by pro-Hindi political leaders find it difficult to win elections with thumping majority without the support of regional parties. Even congress, whenever it tried to sideline prominent leaders in the respective southern states, the party had faired badly.
Usually Southern states believed in personality based politics. This is one of the reasons that Southern states have thrown up strong and powerful state Chief Ministers, be it E M S Namboodripad, A K Antony, K Karunakaran in Kerala, Rajaji, Kamaraj, C N Annadorai, M Karunanidhi, M G Ramachandran, J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, S Nijalingappa, Veerandra Patil, Ramakrishna Hegda, Devraj Urs, Deva Gowda in Karnataka and P V Narasimha Rao, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, Chenna Reddy, Rajashekera Reddy, N T Rama Rao and M Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh.
This being the scenario, it would be interesting to see how BJP fairs in the elections to state assemblies in coming years. Though BJP is trying hard to dominate south Indian politics as well, it is seen as a party that would impose hindi under the garb nationalism. Besides there is a general fear that communal tension flare up in south, which has hardly had any communal violence in the last few decades. The muslims and Christains in the South have no problems with Hindus in South and they participate in hindu festivals as well besides having blended well with the local people and culture. Also BJP is seen as a brahminical party in south eventhough Prime Minister Narendra Modi belonged to a backward community. Anti Brahmin feeling is very strong in South eventhough it has mellowed down in recent years with improvement in education and more job opportunities. With not many brahmins, barring a few exceptions, getting into politics or government jobs in south, the resentment too is diminishing day by day.
Karnataka is among the first southern states likely to go to assembly polls in early 2018. Congress party headed by a dalit leader Siddharamaiah is in power at the moment. The main contest wil be between Congress and BJP. Karnataka is the only southern state where BJP has established firm roots. Congress always secured 30-35 per cent of the vote share, mainly from backwards and dalit communities. Even during worst of times it secured at least 30 per cent of the votes. BJP came to power for the first time in 2009 on its own securing highest ever 33 per cent of the votes. Its leader B S Yedyurappa, who is from upper lingayat caste accounting for 9 per cent of the state population, is seen as a very corrupt leader, whereas congress chief minister Siddharamaiah, though faces anti incombency factor, still may scape through because of its good work done for the uplift of the poor and backward classes in the state. Opinion polls too suggest this. To scuttle whatever little chance BJP has in Karnataka in the next assembly polls, Siddaramaiah has whipped up the anti-hindi and anti-communal feeling in the state.
In Tamil Nadu, popularity of Dravidian parties DMK and AIADMK parties are on the decline. While AIADMK is rudderless after the death of its supremo leader J Jayalalithaa last December, DMK with its ageing leader M Karunanidhi ailing and his son Stalin, though emerged has is successor has not been able to fit into his father’s shoes. There is a political vaccuum and both congress and BJP are virtually non-existent. Lately BJP has made some inroads but not adequately to win elections. Tamil Nadu assembly elections are due only in 2021 but because of political turmoil after Jayalalithaa’s demise, there could be mid-term poll and it is not clear who will fill the vacuum. New political forces led by cinestars Kamal Hasaan and Rajni Kanth are emerging but clear picture has not yet emerged.
In Kerala, assembly elections are due only 2021. Left Democratic Front is in Power and main opposition United Democratic Front led by congress is not far behind. BJP is emerging as a third front but is far behind the other two fronts. Like in Karnataka, BJP will emerge has a political force in the state in the next elections but it appears unlikely at the moment to form government there.
In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, regional parties TRS and Telugu Desam are in power at the moment. The elections are due in 2019 and at the moment both the parties are going strong in their respective states. BJP is emerging as a political forces in these two states but the rivals to these regional parties could still be congress, which however is rudderless at the moment in both the states.
So Regional forces are to stay in southern states and if at all any national party that would capture power in southern states, it would perhaps be congress in Karnataka and congress led UDF in Kerala in the next assembly polls as things stand today.
(K R Sudhaman has been former Editor in Press Trust of India and
Economics Editor in Financial Chronicle and TickerNews)