With the state losing two titans within 20 months, the Bharatiya Janata Party may sniff a chance to establish itself in a region once known as its sore spot.
New Delhi: Can the BJP fill the void in Tamil Nadu politics created by the deaths in quick succession of two stalwarts of Dravidian politics — DMK president M. Karunanidhi and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa?
Since the 1970s, when the Congress ceased to be a major player in Tamil Nadu, the two Dravidian parties have had political domination in the state, with national parties marking their presence by riding piggyback on one or the other.
The BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has, however, been making forays into what some analysts once described as a land of embarrassment for the saffron party.
Jayalalithaa’s demise in December 2016 has left the ruling AIADMK virtually leaderless and rudderless, with faction leaders reaching a transient truce to stay in power as long as it lasts.
But Karunanidhi put in place a succession plan that is likely to stave off any major internecine war.
“He (Karunanidhi) was out of active politics for the past two years. He will be missed but Stalin is in full control (of the party),” said Chennai-based political analyst Sumanth C. Raman.
M.K. Stalin was appointed the DMK’s working president in January last year, about three years after M.K. Alagiri, his elder brother and former union minister, was expelled for anti-party activities.
Alagiri had some influence in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu but it has considerably waned since he fell out of favour with his father. Political observers don’t see him posing any major challenge to Stalin’s succession after Karunanidhi’s death.
“Tamil Nadu politics, with or without Karunanidhi, was already going through a period of transition after the death of Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK government is not stable and is seen as serving the BJP’s interests,” said professor R. Manivannan, head of the department of politics and public administration at the University of Madras.
“The AIADMK may not survive for long because it has no leader. The DMK is secure under Stalin. He may have to rally opposition parties against the BJP,” he added.
The BJP has never been a major player in Tamil Nadu. Despite the ‘Modi wave’ and its alliance with five parties in the state — the DMDK, the MDMK and the PMK, among others — for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP could secure only one of Tamil Nadu’s 39 seats.
The saffron party went on its own and contested from 232 seats in the 2016 assembly elections, but drew a blank, securing 2.8 per cent of the votes (as against the Congress’ 6.4 per cent).
Its poor electoral performance notwithstanding, the BJP has managed to create a buzz in state politics, with the party claiming to have enlisted over 50 lakh members in Tamil Nadu. It has been using organisations representing different caste groups to woo them.
“The Congress is seen as a parasitic party, which has some credibility but no vote bank. The BJP is trying to replicate its cow-belt politics in Tamil Nadu,” said Manivannan.
“It has been organising meetings of caste-based organisations (to name a few, Devendra Kula Vellalar, a Dalit community; Nadars, an OBC group; Vanniyar, an MBC group; and Brahmins). But the people see it as an upper caste party with a communal orientation. Whatever be its assessment of the ground reality, it may not translate into votes,” he added.
With the AIADMK in disarray and other regional parties, excluding the DMK, not having any significant support base, the saffron party may see a chance to capitalise on the transition phase in Tamil Nadu politics.
Some movie stars such as Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have emerged as contenders for the political space Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi occupied, but the jury is out on them.
“Kamal Haasan has floated a party but it does not seem to have any significant impact so far. Rajinikanth hasn’t done it yet but there are some expectations that he could do well,” said Raman.
These two actors are, however, giving hopes to the two major national parties. Haasan called on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi during his visit to New Delhi in June, while Rajinikanth has been tweeting in praise of Modi’s initiatives.
But these are only trailers of the political drama that is unfolding in Tamil Nadu. Picture abhi baaki hai.