Battleground Tamil Nadu: Without Major Allies, Will Modi Factor Work For BJP?

Battleground Tamil Nadu: Without Major Allies, Will Modi Factor Work For BJP?

New Delhi:

Tamil Nadu is becoming the second state after Karnataka where the BJP is hoping for a breakthrough in the south. The battle is for 39 seats, in which the BJP is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make a dent in the Dravidian politics that has dominated the state for decades. Over the last months, PM Modi has been on a major push, advocating Tamil history and culture from various forums, besides holding multiple rallies in the state and its capital Chennai.

“PM Modi sees an undercurrent that we do not,’ political strategist Amitabh Tiwari said during the NDTV show “Battleground” anchored by Editor-in-Chief Sanjay Pugalia.

Even so, there is a “daunting task ahead,’ he said. “The advantage BJP enjoys in other parts of country, the DMK enjoys here. Without denting DMK vote share, the BJP cannot hope to make inroads. It is banking on PM’s charisma to bring in votes,” he added.

The ruling DMK was gracious. “PM does enjoy a great deal of attention in media space and among common people… we are happy that the PM has come often to Tamil Nadu,” said party spokesperson Manuraj Sundaram.

He, however, made two crucial points. First that there is “tendency now to distrust Delhi” — a fallout of the unequal funds coming in that has been flagged by a section. Also, there is considerable apprehension over the delimitation exercise, which would inevitably lead to lesser representation in parliament for the southern states compared to the north, given south’s controlled population.

Secondly, Tamil Nadu is state “that has been dominated by a type of politics – Dravidian or socialist politics, strong sense of identity,’ Mr Sundaram said.

The AIADMK, which broke off the short-lived alliance with the BJP last year, was critical of the Prime Minister’s efforts to champion the southern state.

“He is the Prime Minister of country and should look at states with equality,” said party spokesperson Apsara Reddy.

The Prime Minister’s approach is ‘seasonal” she said. “When polls are announced, he comes here. By reciting a few lines from Tirukkural, you don’t become a Tamil.  It won’t translate to larger seats or vote share,” she added.

The AIADMK, which tied up with the BJP after the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, broke up last year over a host of differences — not the least of which were state BJP chief K Annamalai’s derogatory comments about the party.

Minus a key ally, the BJP tied up with S Ramadoss-led PMK, which allows it have a shot at the Vanniyar vote, which dominates several constituencies in north Tamil Nadu. More importantly, it helps the BJP balance the perception as a party for upper castes, especially Brahmins.

The party is contesting 23 of the state’s 39 Lok Sabha seats. Of the rest, the PMK is contesting 10 and smaller parties the rest.

The BJP is not hoping for many seats, said educationist Sandeep Shastri. What the party is hoping for is to occupy the spot of the prime challenger to the DMK. “When PM Modi was asked if 2029 was an important, he said I’m looking at 2047. I think he was speaking with Tamil Nadu in mind, because the long term goal is very much there for them,” he added.

Mr Tiwari, however, pointed to the presence of a substantial chunk of swing votes, which, he said,  is the BJP’s target. The party is hoping that the young voters will bring that voteshare to it, he added.

This was seconded by state BJP chief Narayanan Thirupathy. “The youth vote will be critical,” he said, and the shift would “come from both DMK and the AIADMK”.

“We need to understand DMK without (ally) Congress is not going to cross 15-16% (voteshare). The DMK is not a big party as we think,” he added.

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