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21 May 2018

Bump on BJP south gateway

J.P. Yadav, TT, May 21, 2018, New Delhi: Karnataka has jolted the BJP's hopes of expanding its footprints in the south and emerging as a pan-Indian outfit, party sources acknowledged on Sunday.

Party president Amit Shah had during the campaign billed Karnataka as the BJP's gateway to the south. After the early trends seemed to indicate a BJP win on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hailed the "unparalleled victory" and the party's southward expansion.

Shah had planned to use the "Karnataka victory" to mount a strong Lok Sabha campaign in the other southern states and help gift Modi a bigger victory than 2014. That dream now appears to have been dashed, many in the BJP feel.

"A win in Karnataka would have motivated the party to go in for the kill in the other southern states," a BJP politician from Andhra Pradesh said.

The Telugu Desam Party, which had provided the BJP with a foothold in Andhra in 2014, has dumped the NDA and is leading an aggressive campaign accusing the Modi government of betraying its promise of special status for the state.

The BJP had won three seats in undivided Andhra in alliance with the Desam. Now, given the anti-BJP sentiments being fanned by Desam boss Chandrababu Naidu, his rival and YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy would find it difficult to tie up with the party, sources said.

"This could mean zero seats from the key southern state," a BJP source said.

The BJP has very little influence in Telangana and was eyeing a deal with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti of K. Chandrashekar Rao by exploiting its rivalry with the Congress at home.

Rao's push for a federal front was seen as a BJP-sponsored effort to keep the regional outfits away from tying up with the Congress. But Rao's decision to help the Janata Dal Secular during the Karnataka battle appears to have wrecked the BJP's Telangana hopes too.

Rao offered refuge to JDS members in Hyderabad and is scheduled to attend H.D. Kumaraswamy's swearing-in on Wednesday, an event that would be projected as symbolising a wider anti-Modi front in 2019.

"Rao's positioning suggests he is not confident of a Modi victory in 2019," a BJP insider said, adding that his party, however, might hope for a post-poll tie-up with Rao.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP's plan to exploit the political vacuum left behind by Jayalalithaa's death stands in tatters given the anti-Centre sentiments over the Cauvery dispute.

BJP sources highlighted how Modi was recently greeted with protests in Chennai. The BJP had won one Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu in 2014 and was eyeing a couple more next year.

A BJP politician said the party had been considering a possible tie-up with actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth but that now looked unlikely following the Karnataka setback. Rajinikanth has described the Karnataka outcome on Saturday as "a win for democracy".

As for Kerala, party leaders feel that winning a Lok Sabha seat there would be next to impossible in 2019.

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