BJP Losing Popularity: What Rajnikanth’s Comment Means for 2019
Politics in Tamil Nadu has been in a flux since the death of Jayalalithaa in 2017, who was the chief minister of the state and undisputed supremo of AIADMK. DMK’s doyen M Karunanidhi followed suit this year.
The AIADMK has no visible head, and seems to be operating in survival mode. More industrial and infrastructure projects have been approved in the last few months than in decades of AIADMK and DMK rule.
The DMK, on the other hand, has declared MK Stalin as the rightful heir and leader. But the in-fighting within the party, and the shocking loss in the 2016 elections continue to loom large.
Rajinikanth and BJP
Rajinikanth is yet to launch a political party, although he had made his intentions to enter politics quite clear at last year’s (December 2017) fan meet. He is in the process of formalising his fan clubs, that number at over 80,000 worldwide, and seeks to use this as a precursor to forming a party.
He has been vocal about his faith in God, his appreciation for all things Modi/BJP/Sanskrit, and has a non-committal attitude towards the AIADMK and the DMK.
After his meeting with the Prime Minister last year on 7 November, the local media and the opposition parties see him as an unofficial ally to the party. In any case, Rajinikanth’s ideas are more in sync with the BJP than with any other party in Tamil Nadu.
But is the BJP really that big in Tamil Nadu?
The BJP in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is seen as a state that promotes, supports and banks on Dravidian ideology; Tamil culture is unique and separate from the rest of India, and has no place for Hindi, Hindus or Brahmins.
When seen in this light, the BJP as a political party comes across as a direct ideological rival to all that the DMK stands for. For over a year now, MK Stalin has been vocal in the press and in his tweets in showing his opposition to the BJP, and its stance on promoting Hindi, the Ram Mandir, and a host of other issues.
With the AIADMK falling from public grace steadily after the deaths of anti-Sterlite protestors in Thoothukudi, the DMK has emerged as the most likely choice for a new government in TN. More importantly, it has become the strongest anti-BJP voice from the south; one that has questioned the PM on his silence in the Thoothukudi protests, opposed the ‘Ram Rajya Rath Yatra’, the Hindi signboards, and more.
The BJP has a minimal presence in Tamil Nadu. In the absence of any form of spade work at the ward level, its presence has been inconsequential right up until the 2016 elections. Its visibility in the media is due to the fact that the DMK sees the BJP at the centre as its arch rival.
Why Rajinikanth Matters to the BJP
Rajinikanth has the ability to swing votes. He has not supported any other political party over the last two decades. Nor has he ever mentioned that he would ally with the BJP in the coming elections (whether he would contest in 2019 is itself doubtful).
Nevertheless, after Jayalalithaa’s death, he has grown more vocal in his political stance and ambition. He spoke of ruling Tamil Nadu at the fan’s meet and later at a public gathering, for the first time in 21 years.
Should he choose to support the BJP, even if he decides not to contest, the party is bound to receive a huge boost to its presence in the state.
Rajinikanth’s Quote and Its Consequence
Rajinikanth’s comment that the BJP is losing its popularity, and that its losses are a setback, can be seen by the party in two ways.
One, Rajinikanth could be distancing himself from them, which makes the chances of a solid BJP presence in TN even more distant.
Two, Rajinikanth is sending out a veiled invitation to the BJP, where he believes he can help the party and Prime Minister Modi regain lost ground.
The media in Tamil Nadu – print, electronic, TV and digital – is predominantly anti-BJP and pro-DMK. And yet, Rajinikanth, on the few occasions he speaks or tweets, gets more screen time than any other party in the state.
Will Rajinikanth sit out the 2019 elections and support the BJP? Or will he join the fray and fight against the DMK, leaving the BJP in TN to watch by the sidelines? The answers are right around the corner.