Stuck between two Indias

As the electoral process in TN nears end, TNIE takes a close look at the new trends that emerged during the poll campaign to analyse if those overtures will translate into votes
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the road show, organised in support of BJP contestants for Lok Sabha election, in Pondi Bazaar in Chennai
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the road show, organised in support of BJP contestants for Lok Sabha election, in Pondi Bazaar in Chennai(Photo | P Jawahar)

On the day of polling, a young supporter of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), in a village falling under Chidambaram constituency, was seen convincing his grandmother to press the Lotus symbol and her instant response, or rather a question, was, “Why not Two Leaves or Mango?” The youth explained that it is Lotus in place of Mango this time.

Walls of nondescript villages in Chidambaram are mostly filled with symbols of political parties, among which the Lotus symbol painted in an unusual blue, yellow and red — the colours of the PMK flag — stands out.

The last-minute decision of the PMK, the party that commands significant support among Vanniyars, a Most Backward Caste, to get into the NDA alliance, had baffled many. Though a quick look may draw a picture that the party founded by S Ramadoss could politically benefit from the alliance, there are many possible fallouts of PMK’s choice.

First, it would help the DMK alliance in the Vanniyar-populated constituencies in the northern Tamil Nadu to get an edge over its main political rival — the AIADMK. Second, it paved the way for the BJP to gain entry into the Vanniyar dominant villages. Ironically, both are not expected to favour the PMK. Meanwhile, the BJP has clearly made inroads into other caste dominated belts, popularising its symbol, flag, and other identities. In the western region, many Gounders, predominantly youngsters, started seeing the BJP as their party after K Annamalai, a member of their community, was made the party’s state president.

Similarly, the BJP has endeared itself to the Mukkulathors and Nadars in the south by fielding candidates such as former chief minister O Panneerselvam, AMMK chief TTV Dhinakaran, and former governor Tamilisai Soundararajan in this election. A native of Cuddalore district, Durai Chandrasekaran, general secretary of Dravidar Kazhagam, said, “Although BJP may not win a seat this time, its identity politics and assertive communal slogans have reached even remote villages. PMK thought it can gain by aligning with the BJP but it’s the saffron party that has profited the most through the alliance. PMK’s latest chosen path has potential for self-harm and only that.”

Chandrasekaran added it was through the party’s earlier association with the BJP that several Hindu outfits popped up in many villages in the state, especially in Villupuram district. “PMK’s alliance with the BJP will lead to the growth of the latter in the northern districts,” he said.

However, BJP’s plan to win over the Dalits, mainly in the northern part of the state, has not taken off. Tada Periyasamy, a popular Dalit activist who was lured into the party and given the post of state SC wing president, left in a huff just before the election. Also, the growing popularity of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), under the leadership of Thol Thirumavalavan, has resisted the saffron party from penetrating into the Dalit settlements. Just as it did in the past elections, or maybe way more than the past, BJP did everything to get at least one additional vote from the Tamils.

The camaraderie of MK Stalin and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was on display during the latter’s recent visit to TN
The camaraderie of MK Stalin and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was on display during the latter’s recent visit to TN(Photo | Express)

The party’s attempt to position itself as the protector of the Tamil sentiment by invoking the Katchatheevu issue, endorsing the state’s culture with Prime Minister Nadrendra Modi appearing in Tamil costume of dhoti and speaking in Tamil were among their many moves. Additionally, Modi and other BJP leaders tried to present the ruling DMK as a threat to Tamil values. However, it is not their maiden effort.

When the state unit of the party was under the leadership of La Ganesan, the present governor of Nagaland, several such attempts had been made 25 years ago. The late social scientist MSS Pandian even wrote a detailed article on it titled ‘Tamil-Friendly Hindutva’ in the Economic and Political Weekly. But, when Annamalai said he was totally against NEET exemption, the party proved that it failed to understand the nature of Tamil identity politics. This is when every other political party in the state, including the PMK, had taken a firm stand against the NEET.

The previous AIADMK government gave reservation for government school students in medical admissions after acknowledging that NEET was a major obstacle for them. Janaki Raja, a Tamil professor, said, “The Tamil identity advocated by the Dravidian majors has several layers. It includes social justice, secularism, equality, education-for-all, and empowerment. It is connected to modernity. On the other hand, the BJP’s Tamil identity is associated with Hindutva. These two Tamil ideologies are poles apart and the people of this land know it well.”

Icing on the cake are the campaign speeches of BJP leaders which went against what the regional parties stand for. While the DMK continuously emphasised federal, secular, and plural India, BJP leaders spoke of strong centralised India. These were always palpable from the speeches of DMK leader and Chief Minister MK Stalin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in their campaign meetings. What caught much attention this time was AIAD MK general secretary and former chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s speech delivered a couple of days before the polling. The leader, who had remained tight lipped about his ex-alliance partner, came down heavily on the party.

In a street-corner campaign in Tiruchy, minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi, pointing to three nearby shops, said, “While one shop has a Muslim name, the other two have Hindu and Christian names. We all live here happily as brothers, all thanks to him,” and pointed to a statue of CN Annadurai. In contrast, BJP national president JP Nadda, while campaigning for IJK leader TR Paarivendhar at Musiri in Perambalur constituency, exhorted the gathering to shout ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

Also, this may be the first time in the state that the Jai Shri Ram slogan was raised during election campaigns. The fierce cadre of BJP were seen shouting the slogan all along the stretches during roadshows held by their national leaders. A Thiruneelakandan, a social researcher, said, “I have seen crowds gathered to see Indira Gandhi and MGR, during my college days. Later, Kalaignar Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa had that charisma. Though their events were not roadshows, people would gather all along the route to get a glimpse of them. Security arrangements would be made to control the crowd. Those were natural. They gathered not for money or biryani. But the BJP leaders’ roadshows are organised spectacles.”

Another important phenomenon during this election that has gone unreported was the fervent use of social media to spread ideas. Political parties used a legion of social media influencers, especially popular YouTubers, to speak for them. BJP scored top in terms of leveraging the social media platforms in the campaign. These efforts mainly targeted young voters. For instance, Madan Gowri’s podcast episode with Annamalai has reached two million views, as of Saturday evening. Surprisingly, even some of the apolitical Instagram content creators posted political reels this time.

In fact, PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss convened an influencers’ meeting in Chennai, ahead of the campaign. Some famous food video bloggers and film reviewers also uploaded videos, explicitly showing their political leaning. Sources said some of these influencers and YouTubers created content for money from parties and the rest did it out of their own political interests. Sources added that these content creators’ role in the upcoming elections, especially in 2026 assembly polls, will be enormous.

A Tamil podcaster popularly known by the name Hashirama Senju of Schumy Vanna Kaviyangal Podcast said, “In the days running up to the elections, social media platforms were brimming with so much political content. So many apolitical content creators too joined the game.” He shared that both the DMK and BJP have a strong social media presence. “AIADMK is relatively weak in this field with just a few influencers’ support,” he added. Though the pulse of people could be ascertained from the campaigns itself, the result of all these experiments could be a big surprise too. The state is waiting, patiently.

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