The BJP’s ultimate objective is to capture power in Tamil Nadu. The message was sent out loud and clear to its cadres by Home Minister Amit Shah during his week-end visit of Chennai. Shah, known as the chief strategist of BJP’s continuous electoral successes in various state and national elections since 2014, sealed an electoral alliance with the AIADMK on Saturday for the state assembly elections due mid-2021.
Tamil Nadu has been on the BJP’s radar for a while. It has been continuously making efforts to make inroads into state politics, but the same has proved to be a tough nut to crack as the two Dravidian parties have held sway over the region, giving little space to national parties. Shah’s visit seems to be a reminder of the ground reality – that national parties like the Congress and the BJP have no other option but to piggy ride the regional behemoths for their survival.
Local RSS and BJP leaders who met Shah during his visit complained about the hurdles being placed by the ruling AIADMK in their efforts to widen the party’s appeal in the state. The state BJP is miffed over the fact that the state government has punctured their hopes of consolidating Hindu votes by launching various movements, the latest being ‘Vetri Vel Yatra’ in which the party intends to spread its Hindutva message by publicly holding several mass recitations in praise of Lord Murugan.
Shah side-stepped the concerns of the cadres and asked them instead to focus on building the organisation at the grassroots level. The cadres preferred going alone instead of striking an alliance with the AIADMK. Tacitly, admitting the fact that the party was far from facing the elections on its own strength, Shah advised the cadres to be patient and think long term. He told them that like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and several north-eastern states the party would grow gradually and stand on its own strength. In other words, he indicated that it still needs the prop of a regional party to make electoral gains in the state.
BJP had picked Lord Murugan as its latest weapon to consolidate Hindu votes as the deity is worshipped widely in the state and is considered an icon of Tamil language as well. The immediate provocation of the BJP to take out such a rally was to “expose” anti-Hindu Dravidian ideology in the state ‘propagated’ by the DMK and its ideological parent DK (Dravidar Kazhagam). The DK, a social movement founded by EV Ramasamy or Periyar had an original goal of eradicating casteism in society. Some of Periyar’s followers critiqued ‘Kandha Shasthi Kavacham’, a song played in almost all Hindu households in Tamil Nadu on a daily basis in praise of the Lord. The ‘critique’ which took pot shots at the song was seen as an ‘insult’ to Hindu gods by the BJP. But, the ‘hypersensitivity’ displayed by RSS-BJP cadres was ignored largely by the masses. The local BJP failed to launch a state-wide agitation as the ruling AIADMK poured cold water over their ambition, citing Corona pandemic as a continuing threat.
The AIADMK-led state government has been crossing swords with the Centre on some issues in the recent months, leading to speculations whether their alliance, struck during the 2019 parliamentary elections, would hold till the next year’s assembly polls. The state has been taking on the Centre on issues such as reservation for government school students in NEET admissions and three-language formula in education policy. Earlier the AIADMK government had prevented the BJP and Sangh Parivar cadres from taking out ‘Ganesh Chaturthi yatras’. It’s been booking right wing leaders and activists, accused of making communally insensitive remarks. All this led political observers to believe that the state government led by chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami was emerging from the shadows of the Centre.
The AIADMK cadres had begun to appreciate EPS for these moves as the charge that the party was ‘subservient’ to the Centre had begun to stick. A section of AIADMK was keen that the party goes alone in the forthcoming assembly elections. The pressure from the Centre and deputy chief minister O Paneerselvam and the fear of visits by CBI and enforcement agencies seem to have changed the mind of the party’s higher ups.
In some ways, the hype built before Amit Shah’s Chennai visit by BJP leaders and their supporters in the media, ended in a lame way as the party hurriedly renewed its tie-up with the AIADMK that had come under strain since the parliamentary elections in 2019 in which the BJP drew a blank. Earlier the BJP leaders and their supporters had claimed that Amit Shah’s visit would result in ‘major transformation’ in the state politics. In reality, the BJP seems to have put off its goals of capturing the state for another five years and in the interim decided to work towards building its base.
The BJP’s success in Bihar elections in upstaging its principal partner Janata Dal (United) within the NDA coalition seems to have an effect on AIADMK cadres. Many party supporters took to social media and expressed apprehensions that a similar fate may await them in Tamil Nadu. The poor performance of the Congress in Bihar had shaken up its Tamil Nadu unit as well. In an unexpected move, Dinesh Gundurao, the central observer for Tamil Nadu Congress rushed to convince DMK chief M K Stalin that his party would accept without demur any seat sharing formula proposed by him.
These two visits— by Amit Shah and Dinesh Gundurao – only seem to reinforce the fact that the national parties— BJP and Congress— would continue to piggyback on their respective regional allies in the state for a while. The only difference between the two is that while Congress continues to be on a slippery downward slope, the BJP is certainly on the rise. The party is using its leverage at the Centre to fund more schemes and development works to actively woo electorate in the state besides making attempts to widen its Hindutva appeal.