In Tamil Nadu, BJP’s strategic moves

BJP State President K. Annamalai along  with party caders  stage a day-long protest against State Government at Valluvarkottam in Chennai.

BJP State President K. Annamalai along with party caders stage a day-long protest against State Government at Valluvarkottam in Chennai. | Photo Credit: RAGU R.

Keen on altering Tamil Nadu’s bipolar political landscape, which is dominated by the DMK and the AIADMK, the BJP is aggressively projecting itself as a bankable alternative through a twin strategy. Firstly, party State president K. Annamalai is laboriously trying to showcase the BJP as the main opposition party by frequently taking on the ruling DMK. Second, post its national executive meeting in Hyderabad last month, as part of ‘Mission South’, the BJP has begun groundwork to highlight Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “benevolence” towards Tamil Nadu.

After tasting marginal but noticeable success on the BJP’s own strength in February’s urban civic elections, Mr. Annamalai is leaving no stone unturned to expand the party’s base. He tours districts on most days, holds meetings with functionaries of the party’s numerous wings, and makes random stopovers to mingle with people of different sections. He also does not lose an opportunity to put the DMK on the defensive by levelling charges of irregularities in one department or the other. Irrespective of whether the charges have a substantial basis, State ministers have been forced to respond to them, keeping the subjects alive in the minds of the people. He is aided by an ecosystem that ensures that Tamil Nadu-level issues are escalated to a debating point on English television channels and reach intended Tamil households through social media.

The party has also put the State government on the back foot on certain issues by staging agitations. Three months ago, for instance, the government restrained local bodies from passing resolutions to rename streets/buildings. This was after the BJP protested against a proposal to rename a temple car street in Tiruvarur in memory of former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who represented the Assembly constituency in his last two terms. The BJP has even sought to build a counter-narrative on the rising cost of fuel and domestic LPG cylinders by asking why the DMK government failed to cushion this price rise by fulfilling its electoral promises. The DMK in its manifesto had said it would reduce the price of petrol by ₹5 (the government reduced it by ₹3/litre last year), diesel by ₹4 and offer a subsidy of ₹100 per LPG cylinder.

Alongside this, Mr. Annamalai is carefully making himself central to the party’s growth. He is cultivating an image of an emerging youth political icon, with videos shared by the party showing him being mobbed by youngsters posing for selfies. He is also planning a year-long padayatra in 2023, to galvanise support.

Simultaneously, as part of the larger organisational plan, the party has assigned one Union Minister for every four Lok Sabha constituencies in preparation for the 2024 parliamentary elections. Union Minister of State V.K. Singh has made two trips to the constituencies allotted to him. Such trips by Central ministers will become frequent soon. The idea is to enlighten the BJP’s block and union-level functionaries about how the Modi government’s schemes have “benefited” the State. These functionaries will in turn take this to the people to counter the campaign of the DMK and its allies that the Union government is “anti-Tamil Nadu”. Whether or not such an outreach translates into votes in the long run, the party wants to have an image of not being antagonistic towards the State.

If the BJP is able to manoeuvre for an alternative space, it is partially thanks to the AIADMK’s inadequate vigour to retrieve lost ground and the absence of credible and serious third players. It is early to predict if the BJP would gamble heading an alternative front or go it alone in the 2024 polls. However, should it align with the AIADMK, its groundwork is certain to give it a greater leverage in seat sharing negotiations than in 2019.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2022 1:56:44 pm |