K.V. Prasad

Party's hopes of building a strong base in Coimbatore fell as quickly as they rose

C.P. Radhakrishnan rejects theories of BJP being directionless, confusedSays party will prove its strength in the May 8 Assembly elections

COIMBATORE: Eight years after communal riots and serial bomb explosions in Coimbatore catapulted the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate to victory in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the party found itself in a position where it had to begin afresh to fight the May 8 Assembly elections.

While the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front and its rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led combine announced the seats from which they would contest before March 25, the BJP was yet to interview the aspirants.

It had declared much earlier that it would contest all the seats in the State.

But BJP State president C.P. Radhakrishnan rejects theories of his party being directionless or confused. Every move in the State needs the approval of the national leadership and the process takes time, he says.

The BJP owes whatever little progress it made in the State to Mr. Radhakrishnan's win by a margin of 1.44-lakh votes in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. Though it opened its account in the 1996 Assembly polls, winning the Padmanabhapuram seat, Coimbatore became a turning point in the party's pursuit of a political base in Tamil Nadu, where even the Congress was struggling for political space in the face of domination by the Dravidian parties.

The voters' momentary rage over the killing of innocent people in the February 14 blasts translated into an overwhelming wave in favour of the BJP. And the party took it as an endorsement of its Hindutva ideology.

But, in the snap polls, 13 months later, the BJP realised that its Hindutva hard-sell would not work in Coimbatore. Mr. Radhakrishnan victory margin dropped to 54,077 votes in the wake of a tough challenge mounted by Communist Party of India candidate R. Nallakkannu. Interestingly, Mr. Radhakrishnan belonged to Tirupur while Mr. Nallakkanu was a rank outsider.

Hopes belied

The BJP lost the seat in the 2001 Assembly elections and 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Its hopes of establishing a strong base in Coimbatore fell as quickly as they rose.

Mr. Radhakrishnan contends: "Individually, we can take on any other party. But nobody contests alone now... "

He is confident that the party will win the Coimbatore West seat.

The fight is against the AIADMK and the Congress and the BJP has to contend with the fact that the segment has a sizeable number of Muslim voters.

A senior party leader admits that plagued by infighting, the rout at the national level in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls and the absence of an alliance with any major party or formation, the BJP will have to start from scratch in Coimbatore.

The stigma

He too rejects the theory that the BJP can cash in only on a communal surge. But the stigma cannot be wished away. It has stuck because the party has not made concerted effort to consolidate its position in the State on a major plank such as development.

The BJP, according to insiders, has not had enough time to change tack. By the time it realised that the communal strife in Coimbatore was only an aberration, infighting became a deep-rooted malaise in the party and prevented a quick and efficient reworking of the poll plank. Many senior leaders have been sidelined.

A handful of functionaries take all the decisions and this affects the party's poll prospects, says a senior party member.

Mr. Radhakrishnan admits there was groupism two years ago but claims the party was unaffected. "We will prove our strength in the elections," he adds.