Chances are, in contrast to most BJP leaders and activists who would be celebrating their mammoth victory, glancing with pride at the saffron-splashed map of India, when Amit Shah looks at it, his eye would not fall with delight at the hue that has covered states from Kashmir to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh, or the big new splashing of it in Bengal, Odisha and North East but rather on the 100-odd seats of south India where the colour is anything but saffron.
The three states of Tamil Naidu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have been politically represented strongly by regional parties rooted in a combination of linguistic pride and sub-nationalism, sense of an “evolved culture”, distinct movies and a uniquely local flavour of social justice and welfare governance. These factors, in conjunction, proved to be the high wall for the BJP to scale — whose perception as a Hindi party even before its Hindutva is considered for decades. In the past, the perception that it was as an upper caste Brahminical party hindered it from planting roots in a Dravidian culture.
Kerala’s strong sense of Leftist orientation and strongly pronounced secular outlook have proved to be a deterrence. Karnataka had given BJP a chance, but the leadership the party provided and the governance it offered proved a dampener.
When Tamil Nadu reeled under protests against a Supreme Court verdict on jallikattu, the BJP was not at the lead. Whenever Kaveri river water disputes erupt, the party is not too sure of its position. When a separate Telangana was a quest of its people, or when Andhra Pradesh demands special category status, the BJP has not found its footing.
Little wonder, the party was ecstatic when it found a hook in Sabarimala in Kerala, hoping a single issue would propel it to harness its strong foundation of RSS network in the state to gain parliamentary seats, which did not materialise. It was the first real emotive issue for it in the south which it led and found public salience, and it takes a steep curve ahead to harvest MPs.
Leaders are created by movements, but it takes smart local leaders to identify potential issues — the BJP has largely been bereft of both. A few leaders of the previous generation were committed to the party, but without adequate hunger, or capacity, to grow it.
The BJP has also not found such badly managed states where the economy has floundered, crime has taken over society, and opportunities lacking as is it did in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar or West Bengal in the south.
The various governments here, despite the corruption and caste riddles socio-political contexts, have delivered sound economic growth, jobs opportunities, better infrastructure and welfare that actually reaches and touches people across the south. This has meant that there has never been a strong, ready-to-eat-pie of anti-incumbency or political vacuum for the BJP to grab.
In short, the traditionally ruled BJP ruled states, or its Gujarat model does not come across as a salivating prospect or an ideal for people.
In the south, deceased leaders like MG Ramachandran, M Karunanidhi, J Jayalalithaa, NT Rama Rao and S Rajasekhara Reddy held such sway over political narrative, their party and governance, in touch with the masses and a grip on the media, giving little scope for a party like the BJP to come and disrupt.
Their ability to offer the right support to the governments at the centre during nearly 25 years of coalition governments meant national parties in Delhi wanted their support, not become their rivals.
For example, when the BJP became the first party to support the cause of Telangana, the TRS was not even born, but the alliance with N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP meant it could never push for it locally, not when the Central government of NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee needed the support of the TDP.