As India heads for a general election in the upcoming year, the ongoing state elections have gained much traction both in national and international media offering a glimpse into the potential outcomes of 2024 poll. The emerging reports depict an increasing support for Narendra Modi’s right wing Hindu nationalist party, which draws much of its votes from its implementation of Hindutva ideology, capitalizing on extremist sentiments of Hindu populace of the state. What many reports tend to overlook however, is the persistence of the North-South divide deeply embedded within India’s internal geopolitical dynamics, reflected even in the sample as small as the current state elections.
The North South split essentially stems from the ineffectiveness of Modi’s Hindutva spell in the southern states of India relative to their counterparts in the north. While the northern states seem to increasingly get entangled into Bharatya Janta Party’s (BJP) propaganda, the southern states in contrast, seem immune to such schemes.
The current state elections provide a picture of similar scenario, where BJP has gained electoral dominance in three of the four northern states (i.e. Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan), with its ally Mizo National Front (MNF) set to win in Mizoram, while the only state undergoing elections in the south i.e. Telangana has rejected BJP once again.
This contrast is attributable to the more progressive and liberal attitudes prevalent among the populace in the southern region due to intellectual divide. The region has a literacy rate of 80% as compared to 60% in the north, with most of India’s 1500 engineering institutions and 63% of her medical institutions concentrated in the south. Among the 100 leading colleges / universities (according to 2020’s estimates) across the country, 43 of them including IIT Madras, IISC Bangalore, Bharat University of Chennai, and the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (Hyderabad) are located in the south.
The south also surpasses the northern states in aspects of law and order, per capita income, taxation systems and population management. The per capita GDP in the southern states is over four times higher than that of the underdeveloped north. Moreover, the region contributes significantly to the nation’s tax revenue, with 25% of the total Indian tax coming from the southern states.
Notably, with higher productivity and lower population, the six states in the south (including Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry) have essentially been subsidizing the northern states due to their superior infrastructure and robust economy driven by sectors such as IT & software services, manufacturing, textiles and tourism. It is worth highlighting that among India’s 30 primary and high-income Special Economic Zones (SEZs), 12 are located in south India. Conversely, 9 SEZs, developed at the cost of southern India’s progress, are situated in the North (source: Asia Briefing Ltd). The southern region also hosts India’s major IT hubs (including those in Bengaluru and Karnataka), which have earned the name of India’s Silicon Valley.
In terms of governance, the southern states have outshined their northern counterparts, with lower rates of extremism and crime. These characteristics are reflective of the higher level of literacy and improved economic progress in the region inhabited by a more enlightened and liberal populace, inclined towards democratic values.
BJP’s keen interest in securing control over the economically favorable southern states clashes with the region’s staunch resistance to the party and its extremist Hindutva ideology. The continuous string of electoral setbacks for the BJP in this area has prompted Modi and his Hindutva proponents to devise an alternative strategy for the region. The party’s current scheme involves the strategic alteration of seat distribution in assembly between the north and south in a manner that favors the BJP’s political agenda.The Delimitation Act, under which the northern states are set to gain more seats and the south is bound to lose in contrast, is one such effort in pursuit of this agenda. The Act, if implemented, will essentially increase the seats for the northern states, where Hindutva is at peak, from 42% to 48%, while reducing the seats for southern states from 24% to 20%.
BJP’s ‘One Nation, One Election,’ is another such attempt of the Modi’s party in a bid to overshadow the campaigns of political parties in the south and mark a win in the region. Though leaders in the south have consistently voiced their concerns over BJP’s attempts at political engineering aimed at creating circumstances conductive to Modi’s win in the south, the shape that India’s political landscape would eventually take still relies on public support for Modi’s agenda. The current indicators, with rising support for Modi in the mainland areas do not depict a favorable scenario for the progressive south. The divergence in public opinion in the north and the south pertaining to BJP’s Hindutva ideology seems far from converging in any area, solidifying the prospects of a widening North-South split.