OPN Modi beach
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a trip to Lakshadweep Image Credit: ANI

There exists a stark geographical reality that encapsulates India’s electoral dynamics. Consider Uttar Pradesh, with its staggering population exceeding 240 million, a figure eclipsed globally only by China, India itself, the United States, and Indonesia.

This single state commands a staggering 80 seats in parliament. When we expand our view to include Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Jammu & Kashmir, the Northern region alone boasts a formidable tally of 243 parliamentary seats.

In stark contrast, the South contributes a modest 132 parliamentary seats, the West 78, and the East, inclusive of Odisha, West Bengal, and Assam, a mere 63. It is clear that the political reins of India are tethered to the North.

At the forefront of this Northern hegemony is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, arguably one of India’s most successful prime ministers. Current projections foresee a comfortable majority for the BJP, with estimates ranging from 330 to 375 out of 543 parliamentary seats.

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Amid this electoral landscape, Modi’s pivot towards the South demands scrutiny. He has been strategically positioning himself below the Vindhyas with remarkable frequency during this election season.

In recent days, his campaign trail has traversed Kerala, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu as part of a “Mission South,” particularly targeting states where the BJP has historically struggled.

At every stop, he commands immense crowds, akin to a revered rock star. In Kerala, for instance, his rally attracted over 200,000 enthusiastic attendees, despite his inability to converse in the local Malayalam language.

Modi’s magnetic appeal transcends mere political allegiance; it embodies a broader sentiment of pride and privilege among the electorate.

While this adoration may not invariably translate into votes for local BJP candidates, Modi’s presence undoubtedly leaves an indelible mark, eroding the opposition’s stronghold with each visit. Even incumbent opposition MPs seeking reelection grow apprehensive when Modi sets foot in their constituencies.

Looking South

Following his engagements in Kerala, Modi turned his attention to Tamil Nadu, long considered the bastion of Dravidian politics. In a departure from conventional identity-based rhetoric, Modi focused on inaugurating substantial developmental projects totalling Rs17,000 crore ($2.1 billion).

This concerted effort to foster growth and prosperity contrasted sharply with his scathing critique of the opposition’s obstructionist stance.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP has strategically emphasised heritage (virasat) alongside development (vikas) and trust (Vishwas). Despite the state’s devout populace, it is notable that the avowedly atheist DMK has maintained political supremacy for decades.

Spearheading the BJP’s campaign in Tamil Nadu is K. Annamalai, a former Indian Police Service officer turned political outsider, whose burgeoning popularity augurs well for the party’s prospects.

Shift in India’s political landscape

Modi’s outreach extended to Telangana, where he focused on development, progress, and governance. This nuanced approach underscores the BJP’s recognition of the South’s distinct sociopolitical landscape, characterised by a more discerning electorate.

In cricketing terms, Modi’s strategy for the South resembles a test match, a protracted endeavour spanning the next five years leading up to the 2029 general elections.

It necessitates not only a formidable pace line-up but also shrewd spin bowling tactics. Modi assumes the mantle of the opening batsman, with Annamalai poised to emerge as a game-changer from the South.

The outcome of this strategic foray into Southern territory remains to be seen. However, Modi’s calculated overtures signal a resolute commitment to expanding the BJP’s footprint beyond its traditional strongholds, setting the stage for a paradigm shift in India’s political landscape.