Political highlights of 2023: Biggest stories from South India from the year gone by

Here is a look at some of the biggest political developments that unfolded in the states over the past 12 months.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Jan 01, 2024 | 1:10 PMUpdatedJan 01, 2024 | 1:10 PM

Political highlights of 2023

The Southern States of India witnessed political upheavals of varying degrees throughout 2023.

Here is a look at some of the most significant political developments that unfolded over the past 12 months.

Tamil Nadu:

Senthil Balaji arrested in cash-for-jobs scam

On 14 June, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested Tamil Nadu power minister Senthil Balaji for his alleged involvement in a cash-for-jobs scam. The scam occurred in 2014 when he was the transport minister under the AIADMK government. Many job seekers claimed that they were tricked by Balaji’s relatives or associates, who took bribes from them but did not give them the promised jobs. The ED filed a case against Balaji under the PMLA and interrogated him for hours. Intense drama ensued — he experienced chest pain during the medical examination and was admitted to the ICU of a private hospital. A sessions court remanded him in judicial custody till 28 June. The Madras High Court confirmed the legality of his arrest and remand on 14 July. The arrest sparked a political uproar in Tamil Nadu. The ruling DMK accused the BJP-led Central government of misusing the ED to target its ministers. The DMK also alleged that Balaji was tortured in ED custody. Chief Minister MK Stalin visited Balaji at the hospital and showed his support. The AIADMK and the BJP in the Opposition called for Balaji’s removal from the Cabinet and a fair investigation into the bribery case.

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Minister K Ponmudy’s conviction and removal from cabinet 

If Senthil Balaji’s arrest was a setback to DMK, conviction of K Ponmudy – another minister in MK Stalin’s cabinet
– came as a shocker. The Madras High Court convicted Minister Ponmudy and his wife, P Visalakshi, in a disproportionate assets case on 19 December. On 21 December, the couple was sentenced to three years’ simple imprisonment. Justice G Jayachandran of the Madras High Court also imposed a fine of ₹50 lakh each on them. MK Stalin, who had retained Senthil Balaji as minister without a portfolio, had to drop Ponmudy – who was automatically disqualified as an MLA following his conviction – from the cabinet and give his Higher Education portfolio to Backward classes welfare minister RS Rajakannappan.

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AIADMK walks out of alliance with BJP

Following its clash with Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai in the recent past, the AIADMK — through its organisation secretary and former minister D Jayakumar — said that the BJP was not in an alliance with the AIADMK, led by Edappadi K Palaniswami. Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, AIADMK snapped ties with the BJP in Tamil Nadu. Deeming BJP the ‘loser’ in this equation, AIADMK senior leader Jayakumar, in a scathing attack on Annamalai, said he would poll fewer votes than NOTA in elections. AIADMK passed a resolution to withdraw from the BJP-led NDA in a meeting of organisational functionaries, including district secretaries, MLAs, and former ministers.

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Annamalai’s statewide ‘En Mann, En Makkal’ yatra

Even as his party’s most powerful ally in the South — the AIADMK — parted ways, pointing to him as the root cause of the bad blood between the two parties, BJP Tamil Nadu president K Annamalai continued with his yatra ‘En Mann, En Makkal’ (My Soil, My People) that he launched in 2023. With this yatra – sometimes on foot and others on vehicles, Annamalai sought to build support and a dependable vote bank for the BJP in Tamil Nadu. K Annamalai is a crowd-puller who gets as many waves as he gives to the crowds along the path of his padayatra. But has it created an impact on the common man?

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Vijayakanth breathes his last

Actor-turned-politician Narayanan Vijayaraj Alagarswami, popularly known as Vijayakanth, died of pneumonia at a Chennai hospital on 28 December. He was 71. He was on ventilator support. He founded and led the political outfit Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and was the Leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly from 2011 to 2016. He also served as an MLA from the Virudhachalam and Rishivandiyam constituencies in 2006 and 2011, respectively. He acted in 154 films and was famous for his roles in Vaidehi Kathirunthal, Amman Kovil Kizhakale, Poonthotta Kaavalkaaran, Senthoora Poove, Pulan Visaranai, Chinna Gounder, Honest Raj, Thayagam, and Vaanathaippola. He received two Filmfare Awards South and three Tamil Nadu State Film Awards. He was honoured with Kalaimamani, the highest civilian award in Tamil Nadu, in 2001. He won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actor for Senthoora Poove in 1988 and the Tamil Nadu State Film Award Special Prize for Thayagam in 1996.

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Congress wins Karnataka Assembly polls

The biggest political event in Karnataka was the Congress steamrolling its way to power in the Assembly in May by capturing 135 total 224 seats — with the highest vote share and seats since 1989. The BJP and the JD(S) conceded defeat, finishing second and third in the elections. The voter turnout was about 73.84 per cent, the highest ever in Assembly elections for Karnataka. Siddaramaiah became the chief minister, and DK Shivakumar became the deputy chief minister.

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Congress decides to roll back cow-slaughter ban

In August, the Congress government drew flak for its decision to amend the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act of 2020, which allowed cattle slaughter over 11 years of age. The BJP and the JD(S) slammed the Congress government for its decision and said that he was pandering to the Muslim minorities’ sentiments.

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BY Vijayendra appointed BJP Karnataka Chief in course-correction

In a significant development in Karnataka politics, Lingayat strongman and former chief minister BS Yediyurappa’s younger son and first-time MLA BY Vijayendra was appointed the head of the state’s BJP unit on 10 November. This appointment gained significance and is being seen as a ‘course correction’ ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha and local body elections following the BJP’s abysmal performance in the Karnataka assembly elections. For a party that mocks others for “dynasty politics” and “family rule”, the BJP had to elevate its tallest leader’s son as its state chief. This even as BS Yediyurappa’s other son – BY Raghavendra – was a BJP MP from Shivamogga.

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HD Devegowda’s JDS joins BJP-led NDA ahead of Lok Sabha

Following the drubbing it received in the Karnataka assembly election, reduced to its lowest seats ever, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s party JD(S) joined the BJP led NDA. Making it official that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) would jointly take on the Congress in Karnataka, the two parties announced their alliance on 22 September. During the Karnataka Assembly elections, BJP leaders — including Prime Minister Narendra Modi — had deemed the JD(S) a “father-son” party and appealed against voting for “Parivaarwad” (dynastic politics). Both parties performed abysmally in the polls. Union Home Minister Amit Shah welcomed the JD(S) into the NDA, saying this alliance would lead Karnataka on the development path.

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Andhra Pradesh:

Nara Lokesh’s Yuva Galam to revive TDP 

TDP scion Nara Lokesh, on 27 January, embarked on his padayatra Yuva Galam from his family’s pocket borough, Kuppam. The move came as the party faces the worst existential crisis in its 40-year-long history since its humiliating defeat in the 2019 Assembly polls. However, Tollywood actor Nandamuri Taraka Ratna collapsed minutes after Lokesh launched his padayatra. He passed away on 18 February, after battling for his life for 23 days in a Bengaluru hospital. The 39-year-old was survived by his wife, Alekhya Reddy, and two daughters.

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Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest in skill development scam

On 9 September, TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu was arrested in Nandyal for his alleged role in the ₹370-crore skill development scam when he was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh between 2014 and 19. He was on a political campaign in Rayalaseema when the Crime Investigation Department (CID) officials swooped in on his caravan Nandyal and arrested him. He was later brought to Vijayawada by road and was produced before the ACB court, which remanded him to judicial custody. He was in jail for 53 days before the High Court granted him interim bail on 31 October for undergoing cataract surgery and regular bail on 20 November. While Naidu was in prison, film actor and Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan met him and later unilaterally announced an electoral alliance even though he was in the NDA. Pawan wants to ally with the TDP, but the BJP is averse to any tie-up with the yellow party. After his release from prison, Naidu vowed to continue fighting against Chief Minister and YSRCP supremo YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. Naidu’s son and TDP general secretary, Lokesh, recently completed his Yuva Galam padayatra to create an atmosphere conducive to the TDP winning the general elections in 2024.

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TDP-JSP alliance sealed with Naidu in jail

The arrest of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu in the skill development scam seems to have helped cement the much-talked-about TDP-Jana Sena alliance — a development that could have a significant impact on the 2024 elections to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha in the state. Jana Sena Chief Pawan Kalyan announced the alliance after discussing the political climate in the state and the alleged vindictive politics of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s administration. The announcement came after a meeting the actor-politician had with Chandrababu Naidu, in the company of TDP leader and actor N Balakrishna and Naidu’s son and TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh, at the Rajamahendravaram Central Jail during “mulaqat” hour.

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YSRCP MLAs look to jump ship

After the meeting between political strategist Prashant Kishor and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, YSRCP MLAs feeling stifled in the party are planning to switch loyalty. Some MLAs had already been told they would not get tickets this time and were looking to the TDP. Jaggampet MLA Jyothula Chanti Babu was reportedly planning to join the TDP, though the party had a ready-made candidate in Jyothula Nehru or his son Naveen for the seat. Pithapuram MLA Pandem Dorababu, another disgruntled MLA in the YSRCP camp, is wondering if it would be wise if he preferred Jana Sena to TDP.

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Congress springs a surprise with Telangana Assembly poll win

The mother of all surprises that 2023 saw was A Revanth Reddy becoming the chief minister of Telangana. Everyone was taken aback by his mercurial rise in a short career. Though surveys had predicted a clear win for the Congress in the Assembly elections held towards the end of November, not everyone was completely sold on it. But as the results of the elections trickled in on the day of counting, the Congress’ winning spree continued unabated. By evening, the BRS conceded defeat with 39 seats, and the Congress emerged victorious with 64 seats. Then, the Congress sprang a second surprise: It appointed Revanth Reddy as the CLP leader, making him the chief minister-elect. In the presence of the party’s senior leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, he seized the occasion. It was a seminal moment for him and a watershed for the party’s journey as it came to power for the first time after the creation of the Telangana state. He was anointed as Telangana’s first Congress chief minister and second after K Chandrashekar Rao of the BRS. The Congress had an electoral alliance with the CPI. Its candidate K Samabsiva Rao contested and won from Kothagudem. The BJP emerged stronger in this election than the 2018 elections by winning eight seats. The AIMIM retained its seven seats.

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DGP Anjani Kumar suspended

The Election Commission suspended DGP Anjani Kumar for allegedly breaking the model code of conduct, meeting Congress leader Revanth Reddy, and congratulating him even as the counting was on.  This caused a stir and raised doubts about the state’s security during the polls. The polls also saw the rise of young leaders in the state, such as Yashaswini Reddy, who trounced the seasoned politician Errabelli Dayakara Rao by a large margin. The 26-year-old Congress candidate bagged over 80,000 votes and became the state’s youngest MLA.

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BJP improves Assembly poll tally

The BJP, which secured only one seat in the last Telangana Assembly election, improved its tally to eight and became a formidable force in the state. The party also challenged the Congress and the BRS in many seats, losing by slim margins. Union Home Minister Amit Shah vowed that the BJP would choose a backward-class leader as the chief minister if the party won the next election. The AIMIM retained its seven seats, mainly in the Old City of Hyderabad, and kept its sway over the Muslim voters.

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LIFE Mission bribery case

Powerful bureaucrats can scandalise the government if they get caught in corruption cases. That happened with M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary to the Kerala chief minister. The Enforcement Directorate arrested him in February for his suspected involvement in the LIFE Mission bribery case. That rocked Kerala. He retired from service in January and was accused — along with others — of making illegal profits by awarding a contract for building houses under the government’s LIFE Mission scheme in Vadakkanchery in Thrissur district. Sivasankar was not new to scandals. He was previously arrested, only to be released on bail by the ED for alleged gold smuggling through diplomatic channels. It came to light following the confiscation of ₹1 crore from the bank locker of Swapna Suresh, also an accused in the gold case.

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Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi’s conviction

On 24 March 2023, a Surat court convicted Wayanad MP and former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi for allegedly defaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surname and sentenced him to two years in jail. This led to the disqualification of his Lok Sabha membership. The action sparked protests across the country. The Congress described the arrest as an attempt to suppress dissent ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In August, the Supreme Court put his conviction on hold, enabling him to contest in the next election. On 7 August, the Lok Sabha secretariat restored Rahul Gandhi’s membership to the House.

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Supreme Court sides with Kerala HC on prosecuting lawmakers

In June, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of the Kerala government against the Kerala High Court order that refused to quash the FIR against LDF leaders for causing a ruckus in the Assembly in 2015. The Court held that LDF leaders had no immunity from criminal law. The apex court pointed out that public representatives could not misuse the privileges given to them to serve the people. It also said destroying the property of the Assembly could not be treated as one of their duties as members of the House.

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The Nava Kerala Sadas controversy

The Nava Kerala Sadas, a public outreach programme to showcase the state’s achievements and seek feedback from the people, was launched by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on 18 November. It followed the Keraleeyam concept, capitalising on the Kerala identity. But at the end of the programme, the Left accused the Union government of neglecting Kerala. The Sadas had a fair sprinkling of state politics with players such as the Left, the Congress, the IUML in the Opposition, and Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, adding spice to the political trapeze act. Vijayan made no bones about the anti-Kerala sentiments emanating from the Centre and the Opposition UDF. The main objective seemed to have been achieved as the Left now has an anti-BJP narrative in place ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

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Oommen Chandy passes away

Oommen Chandy, former Kerala chief minister and a senior Congress leader, died on 18 July at 79. He was a native of Kottayam and a visionary leader with a mass appeal. He succumbed to cancer at a private hospital in Bengaluru. He served as the chief minister of Kerala twice — from 2004 to 2006 and 2011 to 2016. He also held various portfolios, such as home, finance, and law. He was the MLA of Puthuppally for 53 years, the longest tenure in the state. He was honoured with many awards, including the United Nations Public Service Award 2013. He is survived by his wife, Mariamma Oommen, and three children, Chandy Oommen, Maria Oommen, and Achu Oommen.

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