In Karaikudi, where BJP's national secretary H Raja is contesting as the AIADMK alliance candidate, an auto stand sports a saffron flag with the BJP lotus on it. In Tamil Nadu, where auto unions are typically affiliated to the CPM’s CITU, DMK’s LPF or even the AIADMK, a RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Janata Mazdoor Mahasangh (BJMM) auto stand is certainly an oddity. And it reflects the BJP’s efforts to establish an all-round presence in the state.
- BJP’s footprint in Tamil Nadu’s trade unions
- For long, the Tamil Nadu-based trade union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) was the only trade union in the state that supported the BJP. In 2009, the BMS joined hands with the Left, who lead a majority of the trade unions in the southern states. This, however, was short-lived.
- After 2014, the BMS started distancing itself from any government workers' strikes. The move, as P Sukumar of CITU recalls, upset the members of the union. While many members left the union, only those who conformed to the BJP’s ideologies chose to stay, he says. Thus, the union emerged as a workers association in Tamil Nadu that supports the BJP. In addition, the Bharatiya Janata Mazdoor Mahasangh, another union, has been helping the saffron party gain ground in the state.
K Balamurugan, an auto driver there, says the Karaikudi auto union that started with 10 drivers has grown to 200 in the district. Balamurugan, who is the BJMM state secretary in-charge of Sivagangai, Ramanathapuram and Pudukottai districts claims that some of his fellow auto drivers left the CITU and migrated to the BJMM.
For the BJP, auto drivers are useful foot soldiers. Mobile as they are and often serving poorer sections of society, they scout for beneficiaries for central welfare schemes and, thereby, attempt to take the party and Narendra Modi to them. Through the BJMM, the Sangh Parivar has sought expand its influence among the poorest sections, in-part through unions serving them.
While Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the labour wing of the RSS, is active in state-run bodies such as Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO), the BJMM has been functioning in the grassroots in the state since 2013, a year before the BJP — steered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — returned to power at the Centre.
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