The South has voted. The fate of candidates to the Lok Sabha from the five southern states and the Union Territory of Puducherry has been sealed. The South might seem a different world when viewed from north of the Vindhyas, but it has fancied itself at least as a kingmaker, even as long ago as in the ‘60s when K. Kamaraj was still a figure prominent enough in national politics to be considered the “Kingmaker”.
What will be the South’s role this time around when, unlike 2014, a coalition is far more likely to rule from New Delhi? The South was not needed in government formation last time out although the NDA did have allies in Andhra. In 2004 and 2009, the South was very much needed, but not in 2014 when the North and West voted enough MPs for the BJP to upend 30 years of coalition politics and come to power on its own.
There are 130 seats down South, which is nearly a quarter of the Lok Sabha and both alliances can hope to get the support of some of those 130 MPs. The power of the regional parties in the Telugu states and Tamil Nadu is such that if a coalition is needed, then the South is certain to be in the thick of it, maybe even regain the pivotal role it played in two of the last three national elections. The BJP had won only 21 seats in the South in 2014 but that tally could still be its in Karnataka where alone it has a hold on the electorate.
The support from the Telugu states could go to either side, or even to a non-BJP, non-Congress front if the poll arithmetic goes the way the TRS chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao draws his scenario. If such a projection becomes reality, it would still have to be seen if KCR emerges as the new age Kamaraj. There is no knowing yet which way a successful YSR Congress would swing, which means that the support of as many as 48 MPs from the two states cannot be taken for granted.
The South is unique in that it has even a Communist party-led alliance ruling a State in this day and age. There is no knowing how the voters have chosen there although it could be said that the Congress can expect to dominate and also bag the Wayand seat, an old stronghold in which the party president is standing, but only as a second seat to his ‘native’ UP base of Amethi. The BJP is expecting to make a breakthrough in Kerala where it is pinning a lot of hope on Pathanamthitta, based on the Sabarimala equation.
A Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK may have won 37 of 39 in the landmark year of 2014, but must expect to win fewer seats this time, though it can could hope to send at least half a dozen MPs this time if poll pundits are anywhere near right in their projections of 20 wins for the seats DMK is contesting but the other 18 in Tamil Nadu where its allies are standing could go either way. While some analysts give as many as 33 seats to DMK+ others see the front making a lesser sweep, but a majority of seats of 39 well indicated. What is clear is all the caste arithmetic, etc. cannot compensate for the Jaya charisma. As a vote gatherer, shewas supreme.
Balancing the Tamil Nadu factor would be the Telugu state MPs whose support might prove critical in government formation. Even if BJP emerges from Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu with the support of 30 MPs, it would have done well enough to offset the swing in Tamil Nadu where it cannot expect the solid fall back option of a bank of AIADMK MPs who held Parliament to ransom to help the Modi government from having to face the House when inconvenient.
The power of regional parties is certain to surface in 2019, their national voice somewhat muted last time out when Jaya, Mamata and Patnaik were outstanding performers despite their cutting out alliances and going virtually on their own. Even so, they had little to do with who ruled from New Delhi. The BJP and NDA, bracing for losses in the Hindi heartland, are looking for gains elsewhere at least from allies. Will they get it is the new Rs 2,000 note question?
The scenarios are invariably intriguing. But it is time the South returned to influence the course of government formation and hopefully provide a vital balance to the politics of the country as a whole. Southern sensibilities may have been trampled upon in the last five years. It is time for a return of good sense and sensibility....