Reporter’s Diary: A Southern sojourn as India votes for Lok Sabha 2019

Frank Rausan Pereira

As part of Rajya Sabha TV’s ‘India Votes 2019’ coverage, I recently traveled to four states in South India and picked a sense of what may transpire in the states. Here’s my story.

Not much has changed from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as far as the clout of the regional parties is concerned. The regional parties continue to dominate the political landscape in Southern India. There is however an exception… the state of Karnataka.

Bengaluru: Prime Minister Narendra Modi given a party symbol by Karnataka party President B S Yeduyurappa,party candidates Sadananda Gowda,PC Mohan and others  during a Vijaya Sankalap election rally ahead of the Low Sabha Election 2019 in Bengaluru, Saturday, April 13, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Bengaluru: Prime Minister Narendra Modi given a party symbol by Karnataka party President B S Yeduyurappa,party candidates Sadananda Gowda,PC Mohan and others during a Vijaya Sankalap election rally ahead of the Low Sabha Election 2019 in Bengaluru, Saturday, April 13, 2019. (PTI Photo)

In the Kannada speaking state, a lot is at stake for both the major national parties. Karnataka is the only state in the South where the BJP and the Congress were in a direct fight with each other. Interestingly, it is the only state in the region where the elections were fought on national issues. The vote in the state was either for or against the Prime Minister. The ruling Congress-JD(S) alliance rather than focusing on what they have done in the state, were keen on addressing the ‘follies’ of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. Even the BJP, rather than highlighting the failures of the state government, were focusing on the achievements of the Union government and were canvassing for votes in the Prime Minister’s name. Local issues took a backseat. It is difficult to say which way the vote has gone and whom this strategy will help in a keenly contested election.

Rahul Gandhi with DMK chief MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu

The story was very different in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. The issues were highly localised – issues like the Cauvery river water sharing with Karnataka and anti-incumbency against the state government dominating the discourse. In a post J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi scenario, the national parties tried to stage a comeback in the state, but they will have to wait a little while longer to gain a foothold in the state. Nothing has changed in a state where language and Tamil identity have been fiercely protected. The Dravidian parties will rule the roost this time too. It is probably something that the national parties realised before the polls and hence decided to align with the regional parties and form their respective mega alliances.

Police escort Madhavi (of Andhra Pradesh) and her family members after she was heckled by the protesters while she was seeking the entry to the Lord Ayyappa Temple on its opening day in Sabarimala, Kerala, Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018. Tension was witnessed outside Sabarimala temple that was opened for the first time for women of all ages on Wednesday, following a 28 September Supreme Court verdict that turned over the age-old custom of not admitting women between the age group of 10-50 years of age. (PTI Photo)

Police escort Madhavi (of Andhra Pradesh) and her family members after she was heckled by the protesters while she was seeking the entry to the Lord Ayyappa Temple on its opening day in Sabarimala, Kerala, Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018. Tension was witnessed outside Sabarimala temple that was opened for the first time for women of all ages on Wednesday, following a 28 September Supreme Court verdict that turned over the age-old custom of not admitting women between the age group of 10-50 years of age. (PTI File Photo)

In ‘God’s Own Country’ too the issues were highly localised. The dominant subject especially in the southern part of the state was the Sabarimala issue. The BJP has been trying to capitalise on the sentiment on the ground and has been vocal about it since the Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to allow entry of women of all ages into the shrine. How much of an impact it has had on the voter remains to be seen. The BJP though is confident of opening its account in the state in this election and is hoping to do well in the state’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur. In the other 17 seats however, it is a direct fight between the Congress led UDF and the CPI(M) led LDF. Kerala is a state where the Congress is hoping to do well and add to its national tally.

JAGAN-Naidu

Like in Tamil Nadu, in Andhra Pradesh too the contest was between two regional players, the TDP and YSRCP. Jagan Mohan Reddy managed to get huge crowds for his rallies and there is definitely a groundswell of support for the former Chief Minister’s son, but his lack of administrative experience and affinity towards Hyderabad, may lead to his downfall. On the other hand, TDP supremo and incumbent Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has been going through a rough phase ever since he split from the NDA, but he is credited with building Hyderabad into a global city and his pro-development image may work in his favour. ‘Special category status’ to Andhra Pradesh was one of the most dominant issues in the state. It is also important to note that this will be the first Lok Sabha election in Andhra Pradesh after bifurcation.

The assembly elections in Telangana showed us that the TRS led by K. Chandrashekhar Rao is a force to reckon with in the state. Not much has changed in 6 months and it looks certain that the party will do well even in the Lok Sabha polls.

There are several aspirants from South India who would like to see themselves as the Prime Minister of the country come May 23rd, but it looks like 2019 may not be the year for them. At best, they can be king makers.

- Frank Rausan Pereira, Consultant Anchor (English)