Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

South India holds the key to Modi’s legacy

- Shailesh Kumar Shailesh Kumar is senior analyst for Asia, Eurasia Group The views expressed are personal

To become a panIndia party, the BJP must focus on Karnataka, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana

With the dust just beginning to settle following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s massive victory in Uttar Pradesh, he and the BJP will inevitably be thinking about what’s next. Their top concern will be how to carry the momentum forward and fulfil their aspiration of replacing the Congress as the pre-eminent national party. To achieve this goal, they will need to extend the party’s reach and capture the elusive Upper House of Parliament. The solution to this lies in the south.

A nationwide presence would allow Modi to recast institutio­ns, and build a legacy that makes the current administra­tion more than just another “non-Congress” government. Yet, the conversion of the BJP as a Congress replacemen­t will not be complete until, like the Congress, it expands into more state capitals and accordingl­y secures the Upper House.

The recent five state elections have the capacity to increase the NDA’s Upper House seat count from 74 to 100 — but for a majority it will require 123 seats.

There are four southern states where the BJP does not have a major presence but can offer tremendous value: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana. These states hold the keys to Modi’s aspiration­s.

The Telugu Desam Party, an ally of the BJP, is in power in Andhra Pradesh and wields substantia­l influence in Telangana. The BJP has a close working relationsh­ip with the TDP and should work through it to secure electoral support.

It is Karnataka and Odisha where the BJP will focus its attention, which can add upwards of 18 Upper House seats.

The BJP’s ties with the AIADMK, which maintains significan­t control in Tamil Nadu, has had at best been tenuous. Co-opting the AIADMK would be the ultimate coup for the BJP.

In addition to building an Upper House presence, winning and developing a presence in these southern states will fulfil the BJP’s desire to become a pan-India party and break out of the Hindi heartland. All other parties, including the Congress, will become regional entities bound by a common focus of dislodging the BJP.

Thus, 2017 appears to be a mirror of 1977 when a coalition of Centre-Right parties came together with to break Congress’ status as the national party.

The poles of politics in India are on the verge of flipping, an event that has decades-long implicatio­ns for India, its governance, and its institutio­ns. And for the BJP, the path to completing this re-orientatio­n lies in winning the south.

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