Tamil Nadu tough nut to crack for BJP
The saffron party, on a roll in other parts of the country, will find it much harder to establish a toehold in politics of the southern state
Close on the heels of a victory in Tirupura, H Raja, the BJP’s national secretary from Tamil Nadu, had created a poll on his facebook page. Will BJP’s Assembly victories continue in Tamil Nadu too was the question. The poll—even if on social media—was clearly a giveaway of the BJP’s intentions to make it big in the southern state. It did not matter that the party had very recently trailed NOTA in the by-election to RK Nagar Assembly constituency vacated by former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. Eighteen hours later, 45.7K votes were polled and 78 per cent of them had voted against the idea. The poll is a pointer to how Tamil Nadu thinks. The poll was removed from his page a few hours later.
The BJP has always dreamt of getting a foothold in Tamil Nadu. Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016 further fuelled the dream. From the review meeting at the State secretariat by the then Union Minister, Venkaiah Naidu, in June 2017 to Deputy Chief Minister O Paneerselvam’s confession recently that he had agreed to the merger in deference to the wishes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s assertion over the state government in Tamil Nadu since December 2016 is both subtle and obvious.
It was widely believed that the BJP will ‘allow the AIADMK dispensation to continue in power till 2019’ after which the Assembly elections scheduled for 2021 could be advanced along with parliamentary elections. While BJP leaders officially deny any such strategy, sources say the BJP had hoped to strengthen its presence in the state by 2019.
But the BJP might still find Tamil Nadu a tough nut to crack. Says R Vijayasankar, editor of Frontline: “The party had probably hoped that by eliminating Sasikala and her family from the scene and keeping Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy and Deputy Chief Minister O Paneerselvam as puppets, they could gain some ground in Tamil Nadu. But unfortunately for them, AIADMK will never compromise on power. They still have four years in power and the AIADMK is clearly not willing to let it go. TTV Dinakaran’s victory in RK Nagar by-election is another surprise factor. The BJP wouldn’t have expected it.”
In states where they have managed to win, Vijayasankar points out that BJP either builds on its own strengths or allies with regional parties that are strong enough. In Tamil Nadu, the announcement by actors Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan to take the political plunge might be one such strategy. Vijayasankar, like many observers, suspect that both Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan might have been propped up by the BJP. “For now, we could only hazard a guess. Going by when Rajinikanth decided to announce his decision to join politics—right after the result of the RK Nagar election—one would naturally feel that BJP had a role. After all, the BJP was trying to eliminate TTV Dinakaran from the scene and he had come up with a huge victory. I also have my own doubts on whether Kamal Haasan will oppose the Centre.” Interestingly, while Kamal Haasan goes after the state government, he remains strangely silent on the Centre. When Rajinikanth said the system was not working, he made it clear he was meaning the state’s system and not the Centre’s.
But observers are quick to point out that except for very few like MGR, Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa, not many from cinema could really make it big in Tamil Nadu politics. Actors like Sivaji Ganesan and SS Rajendran were successful as actors but couldn’t repeat the same success in politics. Much later when actor Vijayakanth showed some promise and success, it was largely because he was seen as an alternative for both the AIADMK and the DMK. “Several actors have political ambitions. But MGR delivered in real life what he promised on screen. I don’t think the actors of today can live up to their screen image,” says S Vijayan, editor of Ithayakkani, a monthly magazine on MGR.
Observers point out that MGR started from the scratch. He had joined the DMK as a member and had put in considerable hard work before rising. Both Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa worked hard to achieve political success. Months before her death, Jayalalithaa toured the length and breadth of the state to campaign for the Assembly elections. Karunanidhi is known for his hard work and political acumen.
“But these actors are so politically illiterate and they still hope to be successful,” rues V Prabhakaran, a student activist. “How can they assume that it is enough for them to be stars to rule us? Tamil Nadu is a progressive state and any person with a desire to enter politics should have basic understanding about equality, regional aspirations and social justice struggles. I don’t know if both these actors have any vision for the state or a manifesto for the people,” he says.
Prabhakaran too thinks the BJP might be playing a role in the political entry of the actors. “But I don’t think the BJP can still succeed. They will have to try harder.” Tamil Nadu, for the BJP which is on a roll everywhere else, still remains a tough nut to crack.