New Delhi: In a recent off-the-record conversation between a BJP general secretary and journalists, a beat reporter smiled at the idea of the BJP conquering the south in the next five years of Narendra Modi Sarkar. The vigilant BJP leader spotted that scorn and replied, "Aap log aise hi muskhurate the jab hum kehte the ke hum Tripura jitenge" (You used to smile the same way when we used to claim that we would win Tripura). 

When Prime Minister Modi visits Lord Venkateshwara in Tirupati on June 9, he will not only pay tribute to him but also the south Indian voters. The BJP is on a mission to establish its strong footprint across the south of Vindhya, beyond Karnataka.

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The idea seems highly ambitious but the BJP is serious about it. PM Modi visiting the revered Tirupati shrine on June 9 is part of that 'Look South' strategy of the Amit Shah-led BJP. This is the second temple Modi will be visiting after the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi, after his massive landslide victory on May 23. 

Why Tirupati?

Tirupati is not only the most revered shrine of entire south India but also witnesses a massive 35 million footfalls a year. Lord Venkateshwara, the temple's deity works as a unifier of all the southern states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and others who have been otherwise in a scuffle with each other. Andhra Pradesh still believes they have been wronged by bifurcating the state into Telangana. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have been in an age-old fight over River Cauvery water that often turned bloody. Modi praying at Lord Venkateshwara shrine can be that glue to unitedly appeal to the BJP's core vote bank in the south, however subtly it may be.

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Also, many may call it an exaggeration, but the master of symbolism Modi is, he is somehow connecting the Kali Yuga with today's India. Lord Venkateshwara who is an incarnation of Vishnu, mythologically appeared to save mankind from troubles of Kali Yuga.

BJP beyond Karnataka

The BJP made a spectacular performance of 25 seats win out of 28 in Karnataka in 2019 Lok Sabha election but fared reasonably bad in other southern states, as expected. The southern states, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala send 129 MPs to the Lok Sabha.

Puducherry and Lakshadweep add one seat each making it 131 seats. Since the election in Vellore was cancelled, south India in totality had 130 seats to offer. BJP got a minuscule 30 out of it. Basically, excluding Karnataka, just five seats in south of India. For the BJP to accomplish a 'Mission South' beyond Karnataka will be an uphill task.

Sources say the two states that will be on BJP's list to target in the immediate future are Telangana and Kerala. The BJP currently enjoys a vote share of 19.5% in Telangana. A BJP source said the party's immediate goal is to cross the Congress in the state which had a 29.5% vote share this election. Another target will be Kerala where however minuscule, there has been a vote share increase for the BJP. Its vote share increased from 10.45% in 2014 to 12.93% in 2019. The BJP hopes to exploit the Sabarimala controversy in the coming days more rigidly in God's own country. In both states, BJP's focus will be the Hindu votes. And what better start than the PM himself praying at Tirupati?

While BJP's ‘Mission South’ looks way too ambitious, but given its past record of breaching the Left wall in Tripura or winning 18 seats in Mamata Banerjee's Bengal, it isn't unattainable. While the BJP officially maintains, PM's Tirupati pilgrimage is his personal choice owing to his 'aastha', it definitely has more to it.