With its defeat at the hands of its ideological opposite, the Congress, in the Karnataka State Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ambition to extend its tentacles to other Southern States has suffered a severe blow.

The BJP’s apologists attribute the party’s defeat to anti-incumbency and to the poor quality of its candidates. But the reality is that the defeat was due to poor performance, unprecedented corruption, and the refusal of the voters to accept the BJP’s communally divisive ideology.

The BJP’s silver bullet – Hindutva with a marked anti-Muslim and anti-Christian ingredient – proved to be a dud. The party relied so much on the efficacy of undiluted Hindutva that it did not field a single Muslim or Christian candidate. The BJP’s North Indian centered leadership and its local hangers on, did not see that its aggressive anti-Muslim Hindutva is not guaranteed to appeal everywhere and every time.

Its gross miscalculation was evident in the Bajrang Dal-Hanuman episode in the Karnataka elections. In a pathetic last ditch effort to exploit the Congress’ promise to ban the extremist Hindu outfit Bajrang Dal, the BJP equated the rejection of Bajrang Dal with a rejection of Lord Hanuman himself (Bajrang Bali is another name for Hanuman). It used the media to spread the message that the Hindu majority was “very angry” with the Congress for its “blasphemous” proposition. Huge images of Hanuman were paraded by BJP supporters. But the voters refused to equate the violent outfit Bajrang Dal with Lord Hanuman. The BJP and its propagandists had miserably failed to read the mind of Karnataka’s Hindus.

In contrast to the Northern States the Southern States have a different history of communal relations. The Muslims did not come to the South as conquerors but as peaceful traders. And by the time the Muslims established kingdoms in the Deccan, they had lost their ardor for conversion and iconoclasm. This can be seen in the survival of a host of Hindu temples in the South in contrast to the North.

The Christians’ entry was also peaceful. The role played by Christian missions in the uplift of many depressed castes (like the Nadars and Kallars in Tamil Nadu) is well recognized by the Hindu majority there.

Last but not the least, South India was not a victim of partition – a psychological trauma which still colors Hindu-Muslim relations in the North. Muslim migration to Pakistan took place from North India and not from the South.

Even if other South Indian States do not have a rationalist streak (unlike Tamil Nadu) they had had social justice or social equalitarian phases in their recent history. Kerala had the Sri Narayana Guru movement and of course the communist movement later. Karnataka took rapid strides in social justice during the Chief Ministership of Devaraj Urs backed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Tamil Nadu had a deep-rooted secular and anti-caste “Periyarist” movement. The Dravidian parties which have ruled Tamil Nadu continuously since 1967 follow Periyar’s social and secular ideals considering these as their hallmark.

In fact, one of the main reasons why the AIADMK lost the last elections to the DMK was its alliance with the BJP which is disliked by the population for its religious and majoritarian orientation. On the other hand, the Congress is acceptable as a partner because it is avowedly secular besides being associated with accepted national figures like Gandhi and Nehru.

The BJP has been trying to stoke communal feelings in Telengana and Kerala. In Hyderabad it threatened the historic and iconic Charminar gateway by promoting an adjacent Hindu shrine for Bhagyalakshmi which had come up only in the 1960s. BJP leader Amit Shah had paid a visit to the temple with fanfare to clearly displaying a political agenda. But despite the BJP’s communalizing efforts, the party has not made much headway in this communally mixed Hyderabad.

In Kerala, the BJP has been wrongly portraying the 1920 Muslim riots as anti-Hindu when actually it was a Muslim peasant uprising against Syrian Christian landlords and their British patrons. It is now using a feature film “The Kerala Story” based on an allegedly “large-scale” enticement of Kerala girls for the Islamic terror outfit ISIS, to sow hatred for the Muslims. But this bid has fallen flat as the theme is far from the ground reality.

The BJP is trying to enter Tamil Nadu not by sowing seeds of religious communalism which is difficult, but by attacking the secular, anti-caste “Dravida” movement. It is trying to portray the Dravida concept as a divisive, separatist and anti-national one to de-legitimizing the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government.

The BJP government at the Centre is using Governor R.N.Ravi (its appointee) to question the legitimacy of the DMK’s “Dravidian model of governance” which is based on communal harmony and social justice based on caste equality. Governor Ravi had publicly stated that there is nothing like the Dravidian model.

He had even criticized the naming of the State as “Tamil Nadu” because the term “Nadu”, in his view, implied a separate country. He proposed the term “Tamil Aham” instead. To the DMK and the Tamils at large, the name Tamil Nadu is just “Land of the Tamils”, and nothing more.

Breaking time honored tradition Governor Ravi skipped portions of his speech in the State Assembly which the DMK government had written as per practice. The Governor’s plea was that he did not agree with the contents. If he had any objections he should have pointed out earlier. But he skipped the portions only to spite the DMK government.

Ravi had also sat on bills sent to him for assent instead of sending them back for reconsideration as per practice. On being asked why he had sat on the bills, he arrogantly said that if he did not send them back it meant that he had not approved them. The Tamil Nadu BJP leader Annamalai, on his part, has laid corruption charges running into crores against Chief Minister Stalin’s cohorts.

In the Kerala assembly the BJP has no MLAs. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP won four seats in the 2021 elections in alliance with AIADMK. In Telangana, the BJP made inroads by winning five seats in 2014, but in the 2018 elections the number fell to just one. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP improved its tally in Telangana as they bagged four out of 17 MP seats. The party polled nearly 19.45% of the total votes.

In Andhra Pradesh, in the 2019 elections, the BJP could not open its account. It’s bid to portray Jagan Mohan Reddy as an ‘anti- Hindu’ Christian chief minister has failed.

The BJP has an uphill task in the Southern States especially after its crushing defeat in the Karnataka Assembly polls.