Saffron Seeks a Southern Wave
NEW DELHI:Once considered an “untouchable” in south India and its politics where it could never attract allies, the BJP is now gearing up to increase its footprint there, relying on help from its friendly parties and trying to attract more leaders into its saffron fold.
Going by the response, the BJP leadership has plans to expand and strengthen the party in the southern states in a big way and has prepared state specific special plans to ensure a Congress Mukt Dakshin Bharat (Congress-free South India). These state specific plans include how to build leadership, issues to be raised and how to meet challenges.
Being in power at the Centre is helping the party attract more talent. Interestingly, many Congress and DMK leaders from southern states—including former chief minister and the Pradesh Congress Committe’s ex-president are also in the queue to join the BJP. Top BJP sources say that a former PCC president from a southern state met BJP leaders while the Budget session was on in Parliament. Party sources say he is ready to switch sides, but the announcement will be made at an appropriate moment.
The BJP leadership is not in a hurry to lay out the red carpet to everybody. BJP national general secretary P Muralidhar Rao said that many leaders are keen to join the party impressed by Narendra Modi’s policies, but the leadership is in the process of taking decisions going by their merit in view of the party ideology.
Apart from inducting influential political leaders into the party, the BJP leadership—armed with the enormous response from the party’s membership drive—wants to strengthen itself from the booth level in the southern states. According to BJP leaders, more than 25 lakh people joined during the membership drive in Andhra Pradesh. While the membership reached 40 lakh in Tamil Nadu, it was 17 lakh in Kerala and 14 lakh in Telangana. Party insiders say that this figure is five to six times higher than before.
BJP President Amit Shah visited all the southern states and wants to go all out aggressively to strengthen the party in Kerala, where it has a minuscule presence; it doesn’t even have an MLA there. During his visit, Shah participated in a protest meeting and gave a clarion call to make it a Congress mukt Kerala in the next Assembly elections.
Though the BJP supported a separate Telangana, it won just one Lok Sabha seat and five Assembly seats in the new state in the 2014 elections. Now, the BJP leadership wants the party to emerge as major political force in Telangana in the next four years. Similarly, during his visit to Tamil Nadu, Shah discussed the strategy to strengthen the party in the state.
The BJP leadership has made a Union Minister in-charge of each southern state; they will be participating in party strengthening programmes with the party’s state in-charges. Among those deputed are Health Minister J P Nadda for Andhra Pradesh, coal and power minister Piyush Goyal for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, skill development minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy for Kerala, culture minister Mahesh Sharma for Odisha and MoS,Chemical and Fertilizer Hansraj Ahir for Telangana.
Sources say a union minister holds more weight in states with low BJP presence. State units require nurturing, and ministers can help in listening to their specific demands, which in turn will help them in increasing the party’s presence. Moreover, these ministers can address a state’s specific needs associated with their ministries.
Union ministers such as Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani are pitching in and preferring to hold their official programmes in southern states to give a helping hand to party state units.
The BJP has also prepared a strategy on how to approach state governments in south, keeping in mind the overall interests of the party at the national and state levels.
To develop and strengthen the party at the grassroot level, the party has decided to recruit at least 100 members at the booth level in all the southern states. As part of the strategy, the BJP will launch leadership development programmes from the mandal to the district level in all the states.
Keeping an eye on the Assembly elections, the BJP will launch political training camps from the mandal to district level from August in all southern states, in which union ministers and senior leaders will participate.