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The fig leaf of the north-south divide

The Congress needs new strategies, not pseudo-political excuses, to win over north Indian voters

The fig leaf of the north-south divide

REVERSAL: The Congress won in Telangana, but suffered a debacle in the Hindi heartland. PTI



Rajesh Ramachandran

IT is excruciatingly painful to watch news TV, but then it is at times an occupational hazard, particularly when election results are announced. So it was on the day of counting last Sunday. News anchors, even those with grey hair, have not got over the bad habit of offering instant analysis for a particular kind of result, more so when it is not to their liking. The Congress debacle in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh was explained off, easily and lazily, as a reflection of a north-south divide.

Does a north-south divide exist in the choices made by the Indian electorate? The answer should begin with a real analysis of the electoral situation

It was instantaneously lapped up by the lazier netas of the Congress, for whom this was the only fig leaf they could offer their supremo Rahul Gandhi: blame the north Indian electorate for an inherent bias against virtuous, liberal and inclusive political choices. And geography be damned. For, Madhya Pradesh — as the name suggests — and Chhattisgarh are not part of ‘north’ but central India. Chhattisgarh is not even entirely Hindi-speaking. So what? All that is required is a plausible escape from tough scrutiny of leadership deficit.

The DMK, whose only leg to stand is dominant-caste identity politics packaged as anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindi and anti-north Indian hatred, took this analysis a few notches downwards by insisting that the BJP can only win in ‘gaumutra’ states. It is fashionable for Kerala Marxists to call the BJP and the RSS ‘cow dung sanghis’, but to label most of India as ‘cow urine’ states, inside Parliament, was a new low. Particularly when Ayurveda and Siddha medical practices that use ‘gaumutra’ are living traditions down south.

So, the question is: does a north-south divide exist in the choices made by the Indian electorate? Well, the answer should begin with a real analysis of the electoral situation rather than a memoiristic one. The proof of the political pudding is always in the parliamentary numbers. Going by the 2019 Lok Sabha election results, the BJP is the biggest party in south India — bigger than any other national or regional party.

The DMK, which wrongly assumes the role of a south Indian spokesperson, has 24 members in the Lok Sabha. It had swept Tamil Nadu in 2019, but does not have a single parliamentarian from any other south Indian state, not even from Tamil-speaking Puducherry next door. It is, in fact, a dominant-caste party wearing a Dravidian mask handed down a century ago from the times of the pro-British Justice Party. There is nothing Dravidian or pan-south Indian about this party.

The second biggest regional party in south India is the YSR Congress. It had won 22 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh. The third biggest regional outfit, Telangana (later Bharat) Rashtra Samithi, won nine out of 17 seats. The Congress had won 28 seats in four states and one union territory — 15 seats riding the people’s anger against the Marxists in Kerala, eight in alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, where it would not win even a single seat on its own (their tallest leader from the state had once lost his deposit when he made an attempt), three in Telangana and one each in Karnataka and Puducherry.

The BJP had won 25 seats in Karnataka and four in Telangana in 2019, taking its south Indian tally to 29 — one more than the Congress’. The biggest difference between the Congress’ or the DMK’s performance and that of the BJP is that while the former owed its victory entirely to alliances, the latter did not have a coalition prop in Karnataka or Telangana. Ideological opposition or even hatred for Hindutva should not blind analysts from seeing facts and counting numbers. The Congress’ 28 southern seats were out of 51 across the country, making it a south Indian party with a north Indian leadership (Mallikarjun Kharge is only a Gandhi family nominee who cannot take independent decisions). The BJP’s 29 seats were out of a total of 303. But yes, the BJP has all the trappings of a north Indian party without a single south Indian in its top leadership, not even a Kharge-like token. Earlier, both the Prime Minister and the party president were from the same state, which obviously did not reflect the nation’s diversity. Now, Nirmala Sitharaman is the only south Indian among senior ministers and top party leaders and even she is more of a Delhi person than a representative of the unwashed Tamil masses.

Now, sentiment is always beyond the numbers. Is there a barbed wire fence between the Sanskritic and Dravidian worlds? Well, the alphabet is the building block of a civilisation. The vowels (a, aa, e, ee…) and the 5x5 matrix of consonants (rows and columns starting with k, kh, g, gh, nga and k, ch, t, ta, p) are the same in Sanskrit and Tamil — that is, two alphabets written in mutually unintelligible scripts are the same for these supposedly antithetic cultures. Then, the names of the sun, the moon, water — suryan, chandran, neer — are the same. The epics are the same, the gods are the same and our inner demons of caste are very much the same.

Sure, the differences are aplenty: in the numerals — instead of ekam, dvayam, trayam, there are onnu, randu, moonnu… — and in innumerable words and, of course, the letter ‘zh’ as in Kozhikode or Tamizh, which is unpronounceable elsewhere. But then, a Malayali understands Hindi better than Kannada or Telugu and vice versa, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi’s Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha and, of course, now entirely because of Hindi movies. There is absolutely nothing political, social or cultural that binds south India together. Even the colonial plan to fuel Tamil secessionism had failed.

The Congress needs robust leadership and analysts, not those who invent pseudo-political reasons for a failure in a tough contest, where it uncharacteristically held on to its vote share. Arguments blaming the defeat on north Indians may please Rahul Gandhi, who was exiled to Wayanad by Amethi’s voters. But they won’t do any good to the party, which needs new strategies to win north India.

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