First step: on the general election, the BJP’s southern push

The BJP’s southern push was evident in run-up to first phase

Around 62.3% (preliminary) of 16.63 crore voters turned up at polling booths across 21 States and Union Territories on Friday in the first phase of the election to form the 18th Lok Sabha. Across 102 Lok Sabha seats, 1,625 candidates were in the fray. People of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim also voted to elect new Assemblies. Reports of isolated incidents of violence and disruption apart, polling was largely peaceful. In one of the two seats in strife-torn Manipur, at least a 72.32% turnout was recorded amid reports of violence. All 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu went to the polls in the first phase of the general election, preceded by the most ambitious push by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to make a political entry. The BJP hopes to find a foothold in Tamil Nadu, where the Dravidian parties are faced with challenges of various types. The charismatic leaders of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, respectively, passed away in the last decade and the BJP has found a strident leader in K. Annamalai, a former police officer. The DMK continues to maintain its hold over the levers of state and social power in Tamil Nadu, but the BJP is invested in redefining the political character of the State.

The BJP’s State focus has both ideological and tactical strands. The party rightly sees that the strongest resistance to its politics, outside of the spheres of influence of the Left parties, is from Tamil Nadu, where the regional parties have the social, material and intellectual resources that make them formidable. Tactically, the BJP needs to pick some seats in newer regions considering that it has peaked in its strongholds in the Hindi belt, and can grow no further. Reports from parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh that went to the polls on Friday suggest the ruling BJP faced headwinds. In the event of losses here, the party hopes that any gains in peninsular India could at least partially compensate for these. Meanwhile, regional parties across the country are trying to hold their ground in the face of the BJP’s stridency but without offering any new imagination as the campaign has shown so far. The BJP works on the plausible premise that popular resistance to nationally dominant parties may have weakened over time in Tamil Nadu. The extent of the BJP’s advances will be known only when the votes are counted, but campaigning in the first phase has given out enough signals about the seriousness of its southern project.