Bengaluru: Tamil Nadu goes to the polls in around six months and the BJP is showing immense confidence in its push to capture a substantial vote share in a state that has been ruled by Dravidian parties for decades.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is currently on a two-day visit to the state. On Saturday, Shah arrived in Chennai where he was greeted by his party’s state leadership and leaders of ally AIADMK, including Chief Minister E.K. Palaniswami, his deputy O. Panneerselvam and senior cabinet members.
He inaugurated development projects and held meetings with the BJP’s state leadership through the day.
During the visit, the allies also announced their partnership for the assembly elections. The development came amid Shah’s meetings with AIADMK leaders, who have several issues to iron out with the BJP, said sources in the latter.
Over the last few months, the allies have been loggerheads over many issues, including the AIADMK’s denial of permission to the BJP to hold processions during the Ganesha festival citing Covid-19, and now the Vel Yatra.
With Shah’s visit, the BJP is trying hard to use the “magic” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the home minister to build confidence among voters, who they believe are swayed by the BJP’s campaign to fill the void created by the falling popularity of the AIADMK and the DMK in the state.
“Wherever Amit Shah ji has gone, the BJP has not only become stronger, it has also won seats. He is the man with the ‘Midas Touch’ and that is why we are confident that the BJP will do well in the 2021 elections,” said Tamil Nadu BJP spokesperson Thirupathy Narayanan.
According to analysts, however, while there is no doubt that the party has worked hard to build a base in the state over the past few years, the BJP does not stand a chance in Tamil Nadu barring a few pockets in and around Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Coimbatore.
The Brahmin vote base, which the party is counting on to gain a foothold, constitutes approximately 2-3 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population. While the majority of this community is in Chennai, Thanjavur, Madurai and Coimbatore, the BJP is also extending its wings to other districts that may be influenced by Modi’s governance at the Centre.
On Saturday, Shah urged state party workers to ensure that the BJP is in a position to capture power in Tamil Nadu by 2026.
BJP’s push in TN
The BJP set its sights on Tamil Nadu nearly a decade ago. But it wasn’t until the death of former chief minister and AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa in 2016 that it found the opportunity to aggressively campaign in the state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence during the funeral of the ex-CM was seen as a message of solidarity with the people of the state.
Since then, however, the BJP has been accused of creating political unrest in the state. According to sources, several national BJP leaders were instrumental in encouraging former CM O. Panneerselvam to split from the AIADMK. The two factions merged later, with the help of BJP, in a bid to oust Jayalalithaa’s close aide V.K. Sasikala, the sources said.
It has also allegedly been using central agencies to raid several businessmen, politicians and civil servants who have AIADMK connections, among other strategies to dominate its ally.
The impact of this strategy led to the AIADMK losing confidence, as was seen during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where the state’s ruling party managed to win just one out of the 39 seats.
Political analysts point out that the BJP is not a new entrant to Tamil Nadu politics. In the 2016 assembly elections, the party obtained 2.86 per cent of the vote share, which is greater than what the DMK allies — CPI, CPM and VCK — won combined.
“Have they made inroads? Yes. The equation is how significant are those inroads,” said political analyst Sumanth C. Raman. Explaining how the BJP has increased its base, Raman said after L. Murugan took over as the state BJP chief, there has been a significant push in the non-BJP areas.
“Earlier, the BJP pickets would be parts of Chennai, Kanyakumari and Coimbatore. Murugan says no, that they should take it to places where they don’t have a base. It is interesting that in rural Tamil Nadu, BJP flags have cropped up… something that was unheard of even a year or two ago,” Raman said.
Pursuing the Hindutva agenda?
The BJP has entered the political arena in Tamil Nadu with the sole aim of creating a communal rift, senior DMK leaders told ThePrint on condition of anonymity. The party does not have a development agenda or anything new to offer to the people apart from the anti-Muslim narrative that it has been building across the country, they added.
“They keep talking of Narendra Modi being the saviour of the masses. Where has he done anything for TN? They think they can take the state by storm, rather they will fizzle out and will even lose their deposits,” a senior DMK leader said.
Asked if there is a Hindutva constituency in Tamil Nadu, Chandramohan, a political commentator and founder-member of people’s group Arappor Iyakkam, said the BJP has found a foothold in the Kanyakumari region.
“Tamil Nadu is a progressive state and the BJP does not have much of a pull. While they have tried to stoke emotions based on communal hatred and religious lines, they have found it difficult to continue the campaign,” said Chandramohan.
The BJP understood that using the name of Lord Ram does not work in the state, so they quickly shifted to Lord Murugan during the Vel Yatra, he said.
“People in Tamil Nadu are not concerned about religion as there is no animosity as such among religions like in north India. However, caste politics play a very big role and most of the clashes and electoral politics is based on caste combinations and politics,” he added.
The Dravidian angle
The traditional BJP vote base in the state comes from three different groups — the forward castes, which vote for the party pan-India; a segment of the Chennai voters, especially the upper caste and educated classes; and now a segment of the communities around Kanyakumari that has had leaders from the Nadar community, said analysts.
With its former state president Tamilisai Soundararajan, the BJP has also made a concerted effort to woo the Devendra Kuula Vellalar and the Nadar communities, adding to its repertoire.
“It is true that Dravidian parties have lost favour with the people of TN as they are disillusioned with them. Not only have the past ideologies eroded, the parties have become extremely corrupt and have been stealing the nation’s resources,” said Chandramohan.
Raman added that there is a growing resentment against parties that seem to insult Hindu Gods. “It is making people think again. The whole Dravidian movement is built on denigrating Hindu faith, but now people are saying enough is enough,” said Raman.
“Social media has played a very big role and any hate speech against a Hindu God reaches the remotest areas in the state. One thing people will not appreciate is denigrating your faith,” Raman added.
‘Elections will test work’
According to a senior AIADMK leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the BJP has tried to build a significant vote base in the past six years, but it is the 2021 polls that will put the organisation’s skills, Modi-Shah charisma and the “need to fill the political vacuum” argument to test.
The leader said the BJP is nothing without the AIADMK and the party is aware of its insignificant support base. Yet it has portrayed itself as a kingmaker as it thinks it can use the force of central agencies and court cases to try to weaken the party leaders, the leader added.
The leader said there is no doubt the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP is highly dependent on Amit Shah to help boost the party’s chances during the elections.
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