Why is the Bharatiya Janata Party spearheading a movement for separating Kongu Nadu or western Tamil Nadu from the state? The BJP is right in the middle of a turf war with its alliance partner All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), a party which has high stakes in the region.
Here’s how. On 7 July, former BJP State President of Tamil Nadu L Murugan, who is from the Kongu belt, was appointed as minister of state for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying and Information and Broadcasting. Just a week after, Dinamalar, a Tamil newspaper which sympathises with the BJP, ran an article which claimed Kongu people are demanding a separate state.
Unlike in Telangana or Uttarakhand, there has not been a demand for separate Kongu Nadu in the modern political history of Tamil Nadu, analysts say.
Kongu Nadu includes Dharapuram, Thiruchengodu, Erode, Palani, Namakkal, Salem, Dharmapuri, Nilgiris, Avinashi, Satyamangalam, Karur, Pollachi, Coimbatore and Udumalaipet districts.
Encroaching Upon the AIADMK Bastion
The Kongu region has always been an AIADMK stronghold into which the DMK has been struggling to make inroads. Among the 57 constituencies in these districts, the AIADMK-BJP combine won 53 seats. Of the four seats the BJP won, two are from this region.
Sources told The Quint that the BJP is looking at contesting from four more seats from this region in the 2024 elections, taking advantage of the support AIADMK has here.
Political analyst Ravindran Duraisamy cautioned that this is the BJP’s subtle warning to the AIADMK. The former wants AIADMK to fall in line.
AIADMK had recently expressed its regret over the alliance which it had struck with the BJP in 2021 Legislative Assembly elections. The alliance cost AIADMK dearly, the party had hinted.
“BJP is using the Kongu Nadu issue to make AIADMK fall in line. They are skeptical of Edappadi Palaniswami succeeding in the 2024 elections. BJP will fuel the Kongu Nadu issue, not for immediate results but for the future. DMK and NTK will fight this tooth and nail. BJP is sending a message that, they will damage the AIADMK’s reputation in the region,’” said Duraisamy.
Sources in the BJP said that the party is looking at deputing senior leaders in the region to strengthen its support base.
Where Religion Didn’t Work, BJP Turns to Caste Dynamics?
In the region, the BJP is now invested in caste politics, analysts say. Kongu region is synonymous with Vellala Gounders, but Arundhathiyars and Vanniyars too are in the majority here. BJP’s Murugan is a Arundhathiyar caste and Annamalai is from the Vellala Gounder caste.
“Hindu Nadars and Devendrakula Vellalars form the main support base of BJP but this is just a meagre number. So, BJP is strategically taking advantage of the support AIADMK has in the area and is making sure their support is with them,” Duraisamy said.
As raking up communal tensions has not worked for the BJP in Tamil Nadu, investment in caste is what may help the party, he added.
Dhanabalakrishnan, a BJP leader who is a Kongu Vellalar has been sharing memes with the letters ‘KND’ (Kongu Nadu) replacing the ’TN’ in vehicle number plates to show his support.
“This will strengthen the Tamil identity. It will strengthen the Kongu Vellalar identity. It will rejuvenate the people from the area. We want separate statehood and we know there are such voices of support.”Dhanabalakrishnan, BJP Leader
State Secretaries Want Kongu Nadu, State Leadership Dismisses Idea
BJP State President Annamalai, however, said the BJP is not interested in Kongu Nadu. “BJP has a clear narrative when it comes to the creation of a state. We don't work on emotional politics, and only believe in developmental politics. No one from the ground is demanding this and it is only hype created by media,” he said.
But The Quint spoke to several BJP state secretaries from the Kongu region who said that they were in support of the idea.
Kanagasabapathy, vice president of BJP, Tamil Nadu told The Quint, “We will definitely discuss this (Kongu Nadu sentiment) in our next party meeting as it is an important issue.”
Subramaniam, State secretary of the BJP media cell in Salem, Namakkal and Thiruchengode said, “Generally, if the population rises exponentially it is a wise decision to opt for the bifurcation of the state so as to have efficient administration, just like in the case of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. If the state government cooperates, we can have accelerated development across the state in no time.”
BJP Moots Paradigm Shift in Tamil Identity Politics?
The BJP, seems to have planted a seed that has grown into a debate.
Ever since the dawn of Dravidian politics in the state, Tamil identity and assertion of the rights of the state and its relationship with the Centre, have dominated political discourse here.
Is the BJP trying to rake up a different identity in Tamil Nadu? Several state secretaries believe that the bifurcation will not dilute their Tamil identity.
“This will not take away our Tamil identity. In Tamil Nadu, there are many Mudaliars, Chettiars, Brahmins and other upper castes and still the state’s identity is intact. We are still Dravidian at heart. It is the same logic. We will always be Tamizhan,” said Subramaniam.