The recent overhaul of the BJP office-bearers across India had a different resonance in Tamil Nadu, where it heralded a refreshing change in political etiquette. In a state where it is rare to spot a politician exchanging even customary greetings with a functionary of a rival party, when the new state party president is congratulated by parties across the spectrum, does it not say that the times are changing? Hitherto, appointment of a new state-level top honcho would never be acknowledged by rivals. If at all they did, it would at best be to work out strategies to counter the potential impact the appointment could have on their popularity.
But Tamilisai Soundararajan was flooded with messages from leaders of many parties in the state, where the BJP is never seen as an independent force to reckon with. Apart from the chief minister, whose greetings were immediately reciprocated by Soundararajan with a desire to meet her soon, even DMK chief M Karunanidhi had a word of greeting for her and two state BJP functionaries nominated for national-level posts, H Raja and Lalitha Kumaramangalam. Though the good wishes from leaders of NDA allies were natural reactions, Karunanidhi’s gesture pointed to a new trend.
The BJP picking a woman to head its state unit is also a pointer to its aspiration for a new image. Soundararajan, daughter of Congress leader Kumari Anandan, is a gynaecologist practising in Chennai. As a regular at television debates, she is popular among people. Her image is a far cry from that of a Hindutva zealot, the quintessential pracharak whose hardline approach is perceived as a put-off in a polity nurtured in Dravidian political ethos. So the friendly doctor with a string of jasmine adorning her thick locks not just comes as acceptable persona but has also introduced political manners in the state.