Hindi heartland and the South: What contributes to their political distinctiveness?

The cut and thrust of politics of the Hindi heartland has a different flavour compared to the states of the South.

BySandeep Shastri

Published Dec 14, 2023 | 11:54 AMUpdatedDec 14, 2023 | 11:54 AM

north vs south

The recent victory of the BJP in the three states in North India and the success of the Congress in Telangana has once again raised the question of whether the politics south of the Vindhyas has its own distinctive features as compared to the Hindi heartland.

It is important to underscore the fact that this trend has been seen in the past too. In the 1977 elections held in the backdrop of the Emergency, the Hindi heartland saw the rout of the Congress, save the one Lok Sabha seat that the party won in Rajasthan.

On the other hand, the Congress continued to do reasonably well in Karnataka, what was then the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh, as well as in Kerala. In Tamil Nadu, too, the alliance led by the AIADMK (which included the Congress), won a majority of the seats.

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Track record of Congress

It may also be useful to record that the Congress had won every Assembly election and Lok Sabha poll in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh till 1983. Also, it is important to highlight this context when viewing the variations in the nature and structure of politics in the Hindi heartland and the states in the southern part of India.

It is also important to make the point that the nature of political competition in the five states south of the Vindhyas, is sharply different. Until the Congress won Karnataka, earlier this year, each of the five states had a different lead ruling party.

If it was the BJP in Karnataka, it was two different state-based parties in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, a state-based party-led alliance in Tamil Nadu, and a Left-front alliance in Kerala. The picture has undergone a slight change with the Congress winning Karnataka and Telangana, yet the distinctiveness of the politics of each of the five states continues to be a key feature.

Kerala has traditionally had a Left alliance versus a Congress-led alliance competing for power. While the BJP has been able to increase its vote share, it has been unable to translate that into seats, given the tight bi-polar alliance competition.

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State-based parties

Tamil Nadu has seen, for over half a century, a competition between alliances led by two powerful state-based parties.

The all-India parties have often been junior partners in these alliances and have faired poorly when they have preferred to go it alone. With the AIADMK breaking off from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the BJP strategy appears to be to emerge (in the long run) as a pivot of an alliance opposed to the DMK.

Yet, for this to materialise it would require a few rounds of elections. In Andhra Pradesh, too, the competition appears to be between two state-based parties. There is talk now of the Congress attempting a revival in the state, after its victory in Telangana.

One must bear in mind that in Andhra Pradesh, the YSR Congress is virtually what was earlier the Congress party, a situation very different from Telangana. The BJP-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka aims to make the competition in the state (in the long run) a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress.

With the defeat of the BRS in Telangana, the BJP would see an opportunity to make the 2024 Lok Sabha election a direct fight with the Congress.

The distinction between the North and the South is also seen on all critical social, economic, and educational indicators. This variation has important implications for the cut and thrust of political rhetoric, in terms of dependence, expenditure, initiative, and equity.

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Delimitation 2026

An added factor in this debate has been the emerging discussion on the delimitation exercise scheduled after 2026. While this exercise would be based on the population census done after 2026, there are enough indications to show that the success of the southern states in controlling population growth may impact on their share of seats in the Lok Sabha.

If the population share of states is the sole criterion for the re-distribution of seats, studies have shown that the states of the South and East could well lose as many as 25 seats (assuming that the number of seats will remain 543). The beneficiaries of these 25 seats would largely be the states of North India and the West.

The biggest losers would be Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana, besides Odisha, Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and West Bengal. The beneficiary states would be Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Haryana, and Maharashtra.

One could argue that the total number of seats could be increased thus resulting in no reduction of seats for anyone in real terms. However, in percentage terms, the domination of the Hindi heartland in the Lok Sabha would be more entrenched. This debate has once again exacerbated tensions among people in the southern states on the increased political domination of the Hindi heartland.

Political domination of the north

This perception of political domination of the states of northern India is at the centre of many a protest and agitation. The anti-Hindi protest that is seen in varying degrees of intensity in the states of the South, is often an expression of protest, against the domination of the northern states in the decision-making process as well as the politics of the country.

The opposition to Hindi is, in significant ways, a vehicle of protest, against the political domination of the Hindi-speaking states over the country. Besides, the fact that some languages of the South are seen as more ancient languages compounds the sense of unfair treatment.

Two final points merit attention in this debate on the different contours of political contestation in the Hindi heartland the states south of the vindhyas.

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Choice of language

Firstly, the choice of language by the central leadership of the BJP for its campaign. Prime Minister Modi’s popularity is clearly a factor in the support that the BJP garners in the two states of Karnataka and Telangana. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP did well in the Lok Sabha elections from Karnataka (despite being decimated in the state Assembly polls a year earlier) largely on account of the Modi factor.

The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey of 2014 clearly indicates this point. Yet, the impact of addressing political rallies in the states of the South may not allow the speakers to have the same emotional connect with the audience as it does in the Hindi heartland.

Further, even in the event of translation, much of the emotional connection tends to get diluted.

Secondly, the “Hindutva” factor has been a key factor in the BJP campaign across the Hindi heartland. The impact of this factor in the South seems severely limited. Save in minor pockets, the rise of the BJP in Karnataka has been to a limited extent, on account of the Hindutva factor.

The dominant caste support (Lingayats) and the leadership factor (Modi at the national level and Yediyurappa at the state level) have been key to the party’s success in the state. In the remaining states of the South, the BJP has achieved limited success (as compared to the Hindi-speaking states) on account of the Hindutva factor.

The cut and thrust of the politics of the Hindi heartland assumes a different flavour compared to the states south of the Vindhyas. This explains the variations in the direction of politics of the two regions.