BJP must read the South to win it

Not because it doesn’t have the cadre or will. And certainly, not because it lacks money. The reason is because the BJP doesn’t understand South India or South Indians.
Image used for representational purpose only. (Photo | PTI)
Image used for representational purpose only. (Photo | PTI)

The ultimate aim of a political party is absolute control of history. The BJP’s thrust to bring South India under its nationalist umbrella is likely to fail. Not because it isn’t trying hard to corral discontented southern netas. Not because it doesn’t have the cadre or will. And certainly, not because it lacks money. The reason is that the BJP doesn’t understand South India or South Indians.

1. Saffron ideologues hate English, calling it a colonial hangover. But the true reason is inverse superiority: most of them don’t understand or speak it. Only 12 of 35 states and Union Territories chose Hindi as their first language, while the rest chose English. English is no longer a colonial tongue, but a global lingua franca, which includes words from Spanish, Russian, Italian, Scandinavian, German and even Hindi.

The call to teach medicine and engineering in Hindi or a local language is fatal to the future of our youth because the world is not insular, and the best engineers and doctors migrate overseas because India neither invests in R&D nor does it offer as many opportunities for career advancement.

2. South Indians don’t hate Hindi or North Indian culture. It’s just that they are sublimely self-confident in their identity and heritage, and, therefore, accepting of outside influences and curious to try new experiences. Bollywood and Hindi music is immensely popular in the South. Northern food has overtaken local dishes in innumerable southern restaurants. More South Indian women wear salwar kameezes than saris.

3. A definitive Pew survey recently noted that southerners are more religious: 62 per cent visit places of worship about once a week, compared to the rest. Southerners have fewer religious chips on their shoulders. Even as the Madhya Pradesh government approaches the Supreme Court against interfaith marriages, only 37 per cent of southerners oppose them.

About 75 per cent of Southern Hindus are fine with a Muslim neighbour. By and large, South Indians don’t consider beef-eating Hindu or non-vegetarian, anti-Hindu.

4. The South isn’t afflicted by xenophobia, having welcomed traders from all over the ancient world, from pre-Islamic Arabia and the Romans. The North had more of a bad time with Muslim invaders. Southerners can lay claim to the legacy of powerful empires of antiquity like the Cholas, Cheras and Pandians.

If the BJP has to make serious inroads in the South, it must do the following things. Forget Hindi nationalism the moment the car passes the Vindhyas southwards; instead, bring local languages into the mainstream. Teach their cadres English, so that they develop a modern worldview. Dial down the communal rhetoric; South Indians are more concerned with the quality of living than hating others.

Drop West-bashing—there are more South Indian IT professionals in Silicon Valley than gaushalas in Uttar Pradesh. Understand geography’s ethnic relevance. Make ideas like ‘Akhand Bharat’ more translatable: what happens in Afghanistan or Tibet exist far outside the southern consciousness.

For a modern country to grow, it is necessary to maintain national pride. Japan, Germany, South Korea and China use their respective languages and customs in daily and official life while adopting the best from other nations and cultures. Unless the North Indian mind is illuminated by southern inclusivity, the BJP cannot hope to unite the country under one ideological roof. The cardinal difference is that the South sees unity as a composite of diversities while North Indian Hindutva strives for homogeneity through cultural domination.

Ravi Shankar

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