The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is contesting from 20 Assembly constituencies in the upcoming elections in Tamil Nadu as part of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) alliance. However, the saffron party’s prospects of winning a seat remains bleak given the strong anti-BJP sentiments in the state.
In the absence of a dedicated vote bank, the party reportedly relies solely on the transfer of votes from the AIADMK, but the disconnect among the cadres of the parties are evident on the ground, hampering the prospects of the party.
The party has fielded prominent faces and has accommodated four defectors in the candidates list. The AIADMK and BJP candidates are reportedly avoiding the reference to national leaders in their campaign, fearing backlash due to the policies pursued by the BJP-led Union government.
Further, the candidate list of the BJP being published in English and Hindi, while avoiding Tamil has also attracted criticism, a sensitive issue in the state for long.
DISMAL RECORDS OF THE PAST
The state continues to be a hard nut to crack for the BJP. Its electoral performance in the previous Assembly election remains a sombre note. The right-wing party has sent its representatives to the state Assembly only twice so far, first in 1996 on its own and four members in 2001 in alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
The party has tested waters in a total of 880 constituencies from 1991 and forfeited deposits in 831 constituencies. The only time the party managed to secure its deposit in all the contested constituencies was in 2001, while contesting alongside DMK in 21 seats.
The vote share of the party has not been encouraging either. The overall vote percentage of the party has remained below 3.2% in the elections contested since 1991. In 2001, the vote share in contested seats increased to 38%, but only because it contested in the alliance.
R Vijayasankar, editor of the Frontline had told that, “The BJP is ideologically bankrupt and their policies don't appeal to the voters in Tamil Nadu. The sangh parivar organisations are working to build the organisation through the worship places, but may not fructify in the immediate future.”
The BJP has fielded 20 candidates including eight seats in the south and five seats in the western districts. The list reflects that the party has made conscious efforts to balance the caste equations in this election.
Additionally, it has also fielded candidates in a few constituencies considering the religious equations in place. For example, Ramanathapuram, Coimbatore (South), Colachel, Turuvannamalai, Virudhunagar, Vilavancode and Nagercoil have considerable minority populations, which the party is trying to take advantage of. However, the efforts of the party in creating a religious polarisation has not yielded any results so far.
The state president L Murugan is contesting from Dharapuram (reserved) constituency. The national president of the Mahila Morcha, Vanathi Sreenivasan (Coimbatore South); former national secretary, H Raja (Karaikudi); and former IPS officer K Annamalai (Aravakurichi) are other prominent faces in the fray. The Coimbatore (South) constituency has grabbed headlines, since actor and leader of Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM), Kamal Haasan has jumped to the fray from this constituency.
Meanwhile, leaders with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) background are also contesting the elections. The party seems to have ensured that defected leaders were also given the opportunity to contest in the elections. Sitting MLA P Saravanan of DMK was given the ticket within hours of joining the BJP. Kushbhu Sundar, former leader of the Congress who earlier was with DMK is also contesting.
Former AIADMK minister, Nainar Nagendran is contesting from Tirunelveli. He filed the nomination for the elections two days before the party announced his candidature. VAT Kalivarathan, former legislator from Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) has also been given a ticket to contest.
BJP-AIADMK CANDIDATES UNWILLING TO PROJECT MODI-SHAH COMBINE?
Apart from possessing relatively contradictory political ideologies, the cadres of the two parties are yet to gel on the ground, as per reports. The discontent among the AIADMK cadres is relatively high as they appear apprehensive of the BJP swindling their party. This has led to rising apprehensions over the effective transfer of votes from one party to another.
Former MP from AIADMK, Anwar Rajah in a television program had conceded that the party has managed to hold on to power after the demise of late Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, thanks to the compromises of the party. “Otherwise we would have witnessed a similar pattern to what happened in Puducherry and other northern states where BJP toppled elected governments,” he had claimed.
The photo reads, ‘AIADMK-led alliance candidate H Raja’
Another phenomenal development is the reluctance of the candidates from BJP and AIADMK in invoking the names of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the campaigns. The political wall graffiti make no mention of these two leaders, exposing the severe anti-incumbency against the BJP.
Even the BJP candidates are refraining from referring to the names of the Prime Minister and Home Minister. Interestingly, party candidate from Karaikudi and controversial leader H Raja has updated his Facebook profile picture as ‘Candidate of AIADMK Alliance’.
In one instance, the name of PM Narendra Modi painted in favour of a party candidate in a wall graffiti was whitewashed, fearing backlash from the voters.
LIVELIHOOD ISSUES COME TO THE FORE
The inability of the party to project any achievements of the Union government remains a major setback for the campaign. The party speakers and star campaigners are setting the tone of saving the Hindus from the DMK as the base of their campaign.
Meanwhile, the livelihood issues, primarily that of increasing prices of essential commodities are making an impact on the ground. Other issues of introduction of NEET, fear of Hindi imposition, National education Policy (NEP), CAA, NRC, NPR, One Nation One Ration Policy are being projected by the opposition against the BJP, which is received well by the voters in the state.
“The possibility of the BJP winning a single seat is nearly impossible. That is the ground reality in Tamil Nadu,” Vijayasankar said, setting the tone for the party, which is leading the second term at the Centre now.
(The graphs are prepared by Prakash R.)