Why isn’t it easy for BJP to enter Tamil Nadu politics?


Chennai: As Tamil Nadu grappled with political uncertainty following the death of chief minister J. Jayalalithaa last December, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was accused of manoeuvring political affairs in the state. But can the party that rules at the centre find a political space in the southern state?

The sudden disappearance of the two principal Dravidian leaders—Jayalalithaa’s death and the departure from centre stage of 93-year-old Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M. Karunanidhi—has led analysts to speculate about the next political course in the state.

For Tamil Nadu, which is celebrating its 50 years of Dravidian parties’ rule, there could be a space that is emerging for an alternative force—but can a party like BJP fill that room?

Mint had reported in September that even as the national party makes desperate attempts to gain a foothold amid political turmoil in Tamil Nadu, the anti-BJP chorus is getting louder.

In spite of the very conducive environment for a new political reckoning, the BJP is struggling to make a mark in an established Dravidian political ethos. Unlike other states, why is it not so easy for the BJP to make a mark in Tamil Nadu?

Observers say that the national party is seen as an outsider and that the party has to reconsider its approach toward Tamil Nadu. With its “authoritative approach”, the party has entered the state as “a villain”, said writer-translator Aazhi Senthilnathan.

Tamil Nadu which is on the lookout for a new political force would want a party that is better than the DMK and ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). BJP doesn’t appear as a better alternative for the people of the southern state, added Senthilnathan.

“(Because) the people are unhappy with DMK and AIADMK, it doesn’t mean that anyone can fill that space. It is about the politics of interest,” he said.

The state unit of BJP drew much flak over the last week, as it demanded that dialogues in a new Tamil film Mersal that criticized demonetisation and GST be censored. The national secretary of the party H. Raja went on to give a communal twist to the issue by pointing to the actor’s Christian faith, attracting a heavy backlash on social media.

Referring to another dialogue, he said: “Vijay is a practising Christian. He should have said (in the film) ‘build hospitals before churches’. But he says build hospitals before temples. It is an attempt to provoke Hindus.” He even posted the voter ID of the actor on Twitter with his full name Joseph Vijay and captioned it “Truth is Bitter.”

In response, social media filled with ‘IAmJoseph’ and ‘ILoveJosephVijay’ hashtags, putting the BJP on the backfoot.

N. Sathiya Moorthy, director of the Chennai chapter of think tank Observer Research Foundation said that selling BJP to Tamil Nadu voters is a difficult task and that the saffron party hasn’t understood or made any attempts to learn about the state and its people. “They should adopt a ‘bottom-up’ approach if they want to connect with the people,” he said.

The BJP, with no representation in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly and one MP from the state, has been attempting to be more authoritarian in order to gain a better bargaining power and it is a clear miscalculation, Sathiya Moorthy added.

But, can there ever be an alternative to the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu?

Writer Senthilnathan said, “Tamil Nadu will certainly surpass DMK and AIADMK. But that cannot be BJP; rather it would be a space for another regional force to emerge.”