CHENNAI: “Building strong; basement weak” is a famous quip of actor Vadivelu in one of his films. The line is being used to describe the status of the BJP in Tamil Nadu at public meetings as the party has been struggling to get a strong foothold in the State, dominated by Dravidian majors, for over half a century.
Despite its efforts, the BJP is yet to make significant inroads in the State in terms of winning Assembly or Lok Sabha seats and gathering a following in Tamil Nadu. Nonetheless, party leaders tend to speak highly of their prospects.
The party opened its account in the State Assembly in the 1996 Assembly elections with the victory of C Velayuthan from Padmanabhapuram. In 2001, the party increased its tally to four Assembly seats, in alliance with the AIADMK. However, since then the party has been unable to win an Assembly seat. It has fared better in parliamentary polls. In 1998, the BJP, in an alliance with AIADMK, contested in five constituencies and won three seats.
However, AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa withdrew support to the National Democratic Alliance led by the saffron party, and in the 1999 general elections, the BJP joined hands with the DMK. The BJP was allotted six seats and won in four constituencies. In the next two Lok Sabha elections, held in 2004 and 2009, the BJP was unable to win any seats. In 2014, it formed an alliance with PMK, MDMK, DMDK and a few other parties in which it contested in seven seats but won only one.
Since the death of late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in 2016, and the illness of her arch-rival DMK president M Karunanidhi, the politics of Tamil Nadu have been in a state of flux, with talk that it might be time for an alternative to the Dravidian majors, DMK and AIADMK.
While actor Kamal Hassan has already jumped in the fray with his Makkal Needhi Maiam, his competitor and friend, actor Rajinikanth, is expected to take the plunge in January.
Meanwhile, since Jayalalithaa’s death, BJP leaders, perhaps spotting an opening for the party in the current scenario, have taken to being critical of the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, attempting to position the party as an alternative to the DMK and AIADMK. The DMK, for its part, has been opposing the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre on every ocasion.
In this context, the visit of BJP national president Amit Shah, after one and a half years, to Tamil Nadu has come as a morale booster to the party’s cadre. Shah has made the party office-bearers take a vow to form a corruption-free government in the State — by forging an alliance, of course.
The question, however, is with whom?
Kamal Hassan has declared that his party would not align with the BJP, even meeting All India Congress Committee president Rahul Gandhi recently. Given, its rhetoric against the Dravidian parties, that would leave the party to be floated by Rajinikanth as its only other option. The actor sparked rumours of a possible alignment after stating that he would pursue ‘spiritual politics’ but since then he has been tight-lipped about his future course of action.
Interestingly, clarifying a statement made by Shah on July 9 in Chennai, senior BJP leader L Ganesan has said, “Alliance with Rajinikanth is just a speculation. Even Amit Shah did not think about that possibility. What our leader said is that in the given situation in Tamil Nadu, BJP would have to forge an alliance and the details would be known in the coming months.”
Further, the party claims that it isn’t worried about the charges that it always acts against the interests of the people of Tamil Nadu. S R Sekar, spokesperson, state BJP, said, “All the contributions made by Central government to the welfare schemes are being eclipsed by the party in power. The local government takes credit for whatever the Centre does. For our part, the NDA government at the Centre is not in the habit of pasting Prime Minister Modi’s picture on every welfare scheme.”
“Amit Shah is a proven poll manager. He does not believe in a pompous show. He strikes at the root when he works for the party. Yes, we have strengthened our base at the booth-level in all constituencies. By September, we will complete the appointment of two in-charges for each of the 66,000 polling booths in Tamil Nadu and in November, these 1.25 lakh in-charges would meet the Prime Minister. They will take care of the campaign — taking the Centre’s contributions to the Tamil Nadu people,” he elaborated.
The BJP spokesperson said Shah had proved his mettle in many other States. “In Tamil Nadu, also, Shah’s scientific approach will leave its mark.
AIADMK is weak and DMK is not strong. There is no significant leadership. Modi is the only leader before the people of Tamil Nadu now,” he claimed. Sekar does not rule out the possibility of simultaneous elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly and the Lok Sabha next year.
“As a political party, we have to be ready for any eventuality in politics.”
Political analyst Tharasu Shyam has a different view on the anti-BJP mood prevailing in the State. “Such perceptions will change when some strong developments takes place. In 1965, Tamil Nadu witnessed anti-Hindi agitations. Lal Bahadur Shastri was the then Prime Minister and there was huge opposition to Congress. But the mood changed after Indo-Pakistan war. Though right now, there is a mood against BJP, it may change if some key development takes place. Besides, the BJP has proved that it could make its organisational structure stronger in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
Surprisingly, it was Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, on Saturday, who spoke most plainly on alliances. When asked about PMK founder S Ramadoss’ announcement that his party would not ally with BJP at any cost, Radhakrishnan quipped: “When the elections approach, every party will be desperate to forge some alliance. At that time, whatever is decided by each political party is termed as an alliance.” No doubt this would apply to the BJP too.
Story so far
1996: Opens account in Assembly with victory of C Velayuthan from Padmanabhapuram
1998: Wins 3 seats in LS elections
1999: Wins 4 seats in LS elections
2001: Wins 4 Assembly seats
2014: Won one seat in LS election