The popular Asterix comic series begins with an origin story of the tiny village of Gaul in 50 BCE that holds out against Roman occupation. There are some in Tamil Nadu and Kerala who subscribe to a similar image of their states as ‘lone’ hold-outs against the BJP’s expanding footprint. The truth, of course, is more complicated. In TN, for instance, the BJP managed to win seats in the state Assembly after a gap of 20 years, piggybacking on its partner AIADMK’s ground support. This despite its own vote share having dipped from 2.86% in 2016 to 2.66% in 2021. In fact, it garnered a higher vote share in the 2019 parliamentary polls—3.66%—although that too was a decline from the 5.48% it managed in 2014. Yet, with representation in the Assembly, the party can no longer be derided in the state as it once might have been by some sections. That the BJP takes TN seriously would be no surprise to observers. Its parent organisation, the RSS, has been working in the state since the 1930s. DMK minister Palanivel Thiagarajan has, in fact, mentioned that the party has a larger support base than visible in TN, but fails because of its state leadership.
It is through the matter of leadership that the BJP is seeking to remake its image in TN, where it is largely seen as a Brahmin party. Through its elevation of Tamilisai Soundararajan (from state unit chief to Governor), L Murugan (to state chief and now Union minister) and former IPS officer K Annamalai (to state chief within 11 months of joining the party), it is clearly centring and wooing non-Brahmin communities into its fold. While Murugan, who belongs to an SC community, tried to broaden the party’s appeal through a Vel Yatra for Lord Murugan, the party itself sought to woo another SC community—the Devendrakula Vellalars—by partially acceding to its demand to club seven sub-sects under a single name. The quick elevation of 37-year-old Annamalai, who is popular among a section of youngsters and hails from an influential OBC community dominant in western TN, signals the party’s seriousness in ensuring that the lotus further blossoms in the state.