What Does BJP Stand for in TN? No One Knows: Experts on 2021 Polls

The 2021 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu is the first polls without a Jayalalithaa or a Karunanidhi.

8 min read
What Does BJP Stand for in TN? No One Knows: Experts on 2021 Polls

The buildup for the 2021 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu has begun and this is the first polls without stalwarts Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. For decades, the state has had either DMK or AIADMK take the seat of power.

BJP might have succeeded in consolidating majority of the country, but when it comes to Tamil Nadu, they have not made even a dent. This year the party has decided to devise various ‘Hindu nationalist’ strategies to garner support, but will that work in a Dravidian state?

The Quint spoke to political analysts and senior journalists to understand if and how the ruling party at the centre is trying to build an image for itself in Tamil Nadu.


Will BJP’s ‘Hindu Nationalist’ Strategies Work?

The yatra is intended to resume from Vadivudai Amman temple in Tiruvottriyur, Chennai.
(Photo: The Quint)

Tamil Nadu BJP unit has been in the news recently for leading a ‘Vetri Vel Yatra’ despite the AIADMK government denying permission for the same. The yatra is a month-long rally, visiting six abodes of Lord Muruga which was scheduled to begin from 6 November to 6 December, from Tiruttani temple to Tiruchendur temple in Tamil Nadu. They were already detained twice for taking out a procession, with huge fanfare, massive crowd of cadre and violation of social distancing norms.

Despite receiving no permission, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to go ahead with its month-long ‘Vetri Vel Yatra.’
(Photo: The Quint)
The yatra is seen as an attempt by the BJP to consolidate Hindu votes in the state ahead of the Assembly elections in 2021.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ Annamalai_k)

The yatra is seen as an attempt by the BJP to first create and then consolidate a ‘Hindu vote’ in the state ahead of the Assembly elections in 2021. The state is known to keep religion out of its election campaigning and party policies due to the ideologies of veteran leaders Anna and Periyar who started the Dravidian parties. But this move by BJP is being seen as a ‘desperate attempt’ to influence at least a section of the public.

Explaining the significance of choosing the deity Murugan, Nilakanatan RS, political analyst told The Quint, “Murugan does not feature in the pantheon of Brahminical Gods. He is the Tamil idea of a God.”

Senior journalist Murari opined that the party has always relied on a ‘divide and rule’ policy and “BJP is notorious for such strategies. For example, during Vinayaka Chathurthi, they will choose paths that have mosques on the way and will walk past them with loud fanfare, drums, provocative slogans during namaz time. This is their age old practice.”

During a hearing of the writ petition filed by BJP seeking permission, the judge at the Madras High Court commented on the elaborate route planned across the state, “If your purpose is going to the six abodes of Lord Murugan, why do you want to tour through routes where there are no Murugan temples at all.”

Is Manusmirti Merely a Political Stunt?

In late October, the Tamil Nadu BJP locked horns with Lok Sabha MP and the chief of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) Thirumavalavan over his call for ban on Manusmriti and his views on Sanatana dharma. In a protest held on 24 October, Thol Thirumavalavan sought a ban on the ancient book of laws, which is considered to be a code of conduct for Hindu society, stating it denigrates women and institutionalises oppression of marginalised castes. The BJP in turn staged protests accusing Thirumavalavan of making misogynistic remarks, resulting in tension in parts of the state.

VCK cadre have been protesting since 24 October, demanding state and union governments to ban Manusmriti, which is considered to be a code of conduct for Hindu society.
(Photo: The News Minute)

Actor-turned-politician Khushbu, who recently defected to the BJP, also joined in the protest

“BJP’s entire political calculus in Tamil Nadu is like a company which focusses on a product based on competition or a buzzword, without actually doing any proper research,” explained Nilakantan, pointing out that the yatra might not garner support the way they think it would.

A few analysts pointed out that a yatra can happen when there is enough organic support because only then can it make an long-lasting impression. Several condemned the party for pulling these gimmicks during the coronavirus pandemic and also using religion to communalise election campaigning.


The MGR Controvery

What is interesting to note is that images of former Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) founder MG Ramachandran were used along with the BJP flag, the party symbol -- lotus and pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a video released by the BJP.

The song, accompanying the video, says: “Ponmana Semmalin Amsamaai naangal Modiyai kandomada” which means “We see MGR in the form of Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi.”

AIADMK spokesperson and former minister Vaigaiselvan opposed the use of MGR to popularise BJP in rural Tamil Nadu. A few BJP leaders say that they used MGR’s image to convey the message that Modi is a defender of the weaker sections of people.

Several criticised them for using an image of MGR, who was a strong Dravidian and an atheist, in a ‘communally ‘charged’ campaign. BJP members justified the move, saying that MGR is not an atheist since he had visited the Kollur Mookambiga temple many times.

The Crucial AIADMK-BJP Connect

AIADMK and BJP have been in an alliance for over three years but a few AIADMK leaders believe the alliance will bring a lot of harm. But the party, in a way, owes a great deal to the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to be responsible for the merger of rival factions led by EPS and OPS in 2017. Without their unification, the ruling dispensation would have lost their strength in the Assembly before a powerful opposition led by DMK.

Murari explained that the alliance will not break as late chief minister Jayalalithaa and Modi had a special equation. However, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami needs to ensure to safeguard the sentiments of the Tamil people, to ensure bagging the votes.

Venkatachalapathy also stated that, “They have tried all kinds of electoral alliances and they have hit a dead end. For the past 20 years, they have not only failed at making a breakthrough, every time they have got into an alliance, they have pulled them too in that election. This is why DMK and AIADMK have avoided association with BJP. However, when Jayalalithaa passed away, the party was in a weak spot and had to join hands with BJP. And what happened? They were able to do reasonable well in the assembly elections but not in the Parliamentary polls,” he said.

A few other experts pointed out that the reason why the alliance is crucial is also because several AIADMK leaders are vulnerable to potential cases and charges of corruption by central agencies in connection with several raids they conducted after Jayalalithaa’s death.

How Many Know the BJP State President?

L Murugan is the state president of BJP in Tamil Nadu.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ Murugan_TNBJP)

After over seven months, the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP named L Murugan as the state president of BJP. He was also appointed as vice-chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC).

Venkatachalapathy said the reason why Murugan was chosen was, “For BJP, this is a long term strategy. They have chosen a party president who comes from a Dalit community. They are trying the same strategy that they have used in other parts of India where there is strong caste identity and caste mobilisation.”

“Wherever there are dominant castes, the BJP always appoints a weaker caste from the community. Interestingly, in Gujarat they have a non-Patel, in Maharashtra, they had a non Maratha chief minister and in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar they have figured out a way to mobilise non-Yadav castes and Dalits,” he added.

Khushbu : ‘Absence of Conviction’

Actor-politician Khushbu Sundar, who has always been vocal against the saffron party’s policies, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 12 October, after stating she felt “pushed and suppressed” by the Congress.

Khushbu was initially part of DMK, then spent six years with the Indian National Congress serving as the party spokesperson, before defecting to BJP.

Putting an end to all the speculations, Khushbu Sundar has officially joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at an event in New Delhi on Monday.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/BJP4India)
Nilakantan R S said this party-hopping “takes some absence of courage of conviction in one’s own ideas to do that. This reminds me of a marketing manager who says absurd things just to get the attention of the manager.”

“She is a capable woman, but her downfall has been because of rivals in the party. In DMK, the main family was against her, she couldn’t handle it so she came out. In Congress, all the rival factions feared her popularity so they undercut her. In that case you have too fight and she didn’t. She never had her own individual identity. By herself she cant mobilise any crowd,” said Venkatachalapathy.


Roping in a Superstar for Support?

On 31 December 2017, the actor officially announced that he would enter politics and would launch a political party.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@smitha_tarur)

Meanwhile, political and economic commentator, S Gurumurthy, met with actor Rajinikanth recently, and reportedly insisted that he should reconsider his plans on staying away from politics. This comes after a note began doing the rounds about Rajinikanth’s old age, health condition and his decision to call it quits. A day later, the star denied he wrote the statement, but said the point about his health in that statement was true.

BJP reportedly wants the actor to speak up for the saffron party, help build their image which could help divide the vote share of DMK and AIADMK.

Another interesting addition to the party has been former IPS officer K Annamalai, who was appointed the vice-president of the party’s state unit.

Former IPS officer K Annamalai is the vice-president of the party’s state unit.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ Annamalai_k)

Can They Make a Dent?

So are we expecting BJP to establish itself as a force to reckon with this elections season?

Unlikely, if experts are to be believed.

Are we expecting BJP to influence the vote share for the Dravidian parties?

Probably not.

Analysts weighed in that they won’t make any dent in these elections but “There is a very clear soft spot for Modi in the minds of the economically privileged but socially conservative. From 2014, the mindset is already seeping in in the state , when it will convert into electoral power, requires a lot of time,” said Venkatachalapathy.

“What does BJP stand for in Tamil Nadu? No one knows. Every policy of theirs is extremely unpopular here, like the NEET issue, Hindi imposition, reservations. These are poll-tested policies that are popular in Tamil Nadu and BJP stands for the exact opposite of all this.”
Nilakantan RS, Political Analyst

This election is a test for Modi’s party to attempt to add at least a tinge of saffron in the Dravidian state.

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