Investments, Economy & Power: The 2024 Fight for Southern India

While all political parties are focusing on their stronghold regions and trying to overcome their weak spots, this time southern India has emerged as the latest most intense political battle grounds.

Aditi Ananthanarayanan
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The preparations for the very crucial 2024 Lok Sabha elections are on full swing in India. 96 crore registered voters across 543 constituencies will decide who forms the next government in the country.

While all political parties are focusing on their stronghold regions and trying to overcome their weak spots, this time southern India has emerged as the latest most intense political battle grounds. With 131 seats spread across 5 states and 2 Union Territories, the southern belt will have the attention of every political enthusiast.

Southern India is also a region which is not a stronghold for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. With a target 370 plus seats this time, and with the party already reaching its peak in its traditional stronghold seats, the only way to achieve this target will be to expand pan-India by winning more seats in South.

But before we delve deeper into the politics of South India, let’s take a look at why southern India is not just about power politics but also holds the key to India’s financial strength.

The 5 southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala are major contributors to India’s economic growth. As per the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the southern states will contribute 35% of India’s $7 trillion economy by 2030, which is around $2.5 trillion. It says that currently south India contributed to 31% of India’s GDP. This share is expected to grow between 33%-35%.

Recently, G20 Sherpa and former CEO of Niti Ayog Amitabh Kant said, “Tamil Nadu has excelled in manufacturing; it is also a state with most outstanding skilled labour available in terms of cutting-edge sectors. Telangana on the other hand has excelled in the pharmaceutical sector. Almost 35-40% of India's pharma products come from the state.”

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He also added that with travel & tourism as its main attraction in ‘God’s own country’, tourism in Kerala contributes to around 10% of the state’s GDP, while Karnataka has established itself as the services centre for India driving the much of the nation’s services economy. And Andhra Pradesh, which has excelled in the manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries, is now positioning itself for significant growth in renewable and green energy areas.

The southern states are also very lucrative for investors and new businesses. Skilled labor, strong infrastructure, industry promotion policies and a competitive investment climate make South India a highly favorable regional destination for multinational firms looking to invest in India.

Boasting strong agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors, these states offer a plethora of investment opportunities to international companies looking to expand their presence in India.

Over the years, these southern states have also learnt the trick of investment attraction. Favorable policies, robust infrastructure, availability of land, high retail growth, easier regulations, tax exemptions, are also the factors that make them more attractive. Easy access to ports in the coastal states also make transportation much easier, both domestically and internationally. 

And there are big names who have turned to the southern Indian states as their next investment destination. Foxconn, Samsung, Amazon, Walmart, Biocon are just some of the mega companies who have chosen the southern states to invest and expand in India.

Now coming back to politics.

The five southern states were once predominantly juggling between the regional satraps. Given the strong presence of the regional political players, the local level state politics has always overpowered the national mood. For instance, no national party has managed to make a mark in Tamil Nadu since 1967. But now national parties are battling it out to get a foothold in these states as well.

BJP, usually known as a party of the Hindi heartland also learnt about southern politics when it saw success in Karnataka. But the other states have still been an uphill task for the party. This time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken upon himself to intensify party’s southern outreach especially in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Telengana where the party’s strategies have seen no success.

In 2019, the BJP won 29 seats in south out if which 25 came from Karnataka, and 4 from Telengana. In 2024, BJP has set its eyes on 84 weak seats in the southern region.

But are things to change this time? Political strategist and now political leader Prashant Kishore says BJP will make significant inroads in southern and eastern states. He says, “I see the BJP in double digits in Tamil Nadu in terms if vote share. It will also be first or second party in Telangana which is a big thing.”

Tamil Nadu is no Karnataka. The latter has seen power vested in national parties like BJP & Congress. Yeddyurappa’s image in the Lingayat community was also an advantage for the party. But in Tamil Nadu, all these years, BJP failed to have a credible face. By launching Annamalai as its firebrand leader in Tamil Nadu who is openly backed and supported by the Prime Minister to counter the local Dravidian politics and forming alliance with around half a dozen regional parties in the state, the Prime Minister is confident that tables will turn this time.

As an example, take Coimbatore, the constituency that Annamalai hopes to represent in 2019. In the last two elections, 2014 and 2019, the BJP was the number two party there. The party’s vote share shot up after 2009, from a mere 4.6% to 33.62% in 2014 and then held around 31.5% in 2019. This time, the BJP is banking on Annamalai’s aggressive campaign to reach the top of the table.

In fact, by allying with PMK, which represents the backward Vanniyar community, the BJP is trying to shrug off its Brahmin upper caste party image.

Many in the BJP feel that their biggest advantage is fragmented AIADMK which paves way for the BJP to at least come to the second spot in the state, if they play their cards right. But even then, cutting through the Dravidian politics will not be easy, the ideology of which rests on regional pride, social justice, linguistic identity, human development & industrial growth, far away from the Hindu-Muslim narrative and Mandal politics of the northern states.

What one cannot miss is the fact that BJP’s preparations for Tamil Nadu began almost 2 years back. When Prime Minister Modi installed the ‘Sengol’ in the new Indian Parliament, a move which trumped many in the opposition, especially the Congress. Adding to that, the Central government also organized the Kashi-Tamil Sangamam and Saurashtra-Tamil Sangamam events in a bid to get closer to the Tamil community.

In a recent interview to Thanthi TV, Prime Minister Modi said, “The votes that the BJP-NDA receives aren’t 'anti-DMK' but 'pro-BJP'”. He also alluded warmly to his special relationship with the late Jayalalitha, former CM and a cult figure as a politician.

Similarly in Kerala, where the politics was usually a traditional two-party contest between the LDF and the UDF, BJP is emerging as a third challenger by fronting prominent leaders such as Union minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar, V Murleedharan and Anil Antony, son of congress leader AK Antony. The party and the Prime Minister have also been strongly wooing the dominant Christian community, hoping to create an impact.

With alliance with the TDP and Jana Sena Party in Andhra Pradesh and with a newly formed Congress government in Telangana, the BJP is hoping is to create disruption in south that will ultimately help the party inch closer to its goal of 370+ seats on 1st June.

South India Annamalai Tamil Nadu Modi Andhra Pradesh Telangana Karnataka Kerala BJP