The BJP’s list of candidates for Tamil Nadu shows the party is betting big on caste and religious polarisation to improve its electoral prospects in the state.
The party’s attempts to woo the Nadar community in the southernmost pockets of the state are reflected in its decision to field Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan and state unit president Tamilisai Soundararajan for the Kanyakumari and Thoothukudi constituencies respectively. Both of them are from the Nadar community and the two constituencies have a large share of Nadars in the electorate. The Nadars are a prominent and influential community in southern Tamil Nadu, owning several educational institutions and business establishments. In the past few years, the BJP has also tried to polarise the Tirunelveli, Virudhunagar, Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga constituencies with the Nadar and Hindutva planks.
Written in history
The plan goes back nearly four decades, when the party made a big issue of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The underlying strategy was to polarise the voters of Kanyakumari and its adjoining districts on religious lines. Most of the fishermen who opposed the use of ferries as transportation to reach the Memorial, as it would hit the fishing industry, were Christians. Riots between Christians and Hindus were fanned at Mandaikaadu, Agastheeswaram, and adjoining areas. In the later years, the BJP profited from these attacks, with a victory in the Assembly elections, and partially taking over the AIADMK vote bank in the district. This pushed the regional party to third or fourth place in Kanyakumari district.
Pon Radhakrishnan has won some and lost some in Kanyakumari but has managed a significant vote share on his own. Tamilisai wanted South Chennai or the Thoothukudi seat but had to settle for the latter as the AIADMK was determined to give the former seat to the sitting MP, Dr J Jayvardhan, son of Tamil Nadu Minister D Jayakumar. She looks at the Thoothukudi seat favourably as it has a good chunk of Nadar voters.
A prominent leader of the AIADMK, former minister Rajakannappan, has hit out at what he calls the BJP’s attempt to saffronise the southern districts and polarise the voters on religious lines. He blamed the AIADMK leadership for aiding this situation. The former minister quit the AIADMK and decided to support the DMK-led front in the Lok Sabha elections.
The same strategy has been tried in Sivaganga by BJP candidate H Raja, Rajakannappan pointed out. A similar and dangerous strategy was attempted in Ramanathapuram constituency, too, where he said the BJP tried to whip up communal tension as the DMK gave a seat to a Muslim, Nawaz Ghani of the IUML, who will contest on the DMK’s Rising Sun symbol. This is why the BJP fielded Nainar Nagendran — he belongs to the Maravar community.
The BJP fielded CP Radhakrishnan, former MP of the Coimbatore constituency, once again for the seat. The front banks heavily on the support of the Gounder community as wooed by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami.