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With High Rhetoric and Low Performance, BJP Grapples for Power in Tamil Nadu

Neelambaran A |
Contrary to its claims of becoming an alternative to dravidian parties, the BJP still depends on the regional parties to keep itself alive by winning a few seats in Tamil Nadu.
With High Rhetoric and Low Performance, BJP Grapples for Power in Tamil Nadu

Still from the Vetrivel Yatra. | Image used for representational purposes only. | Image Courtesy: Newsminute

Tamil Nadu continues to be a tough nut to crack for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  The past electoral performances of the BJP stand testimony to its miserable status, despite its tall claims. Thus, the saffron party continues to be a negligible force in the southern state with its influence limited to a few pockets. 

Contrary to its claims of becoming an alternative to the dravidian parties, the BJP still depends on the regional parties to win a few seats. The national leadership of the BJP only set its eyes on the state after the two big leaders of the dravidian movement, M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalitha, passed away. 

Meanwhile, the fringe groups, which operate across the state under different names and leaders backed by the Sangh Parivar, have been campaigning against minorities and trying to consolidate the majority vote base for long, but with limited success. 


So far, the BJP has managed to send its members to the Assembly only on two occasions in the history of the state. The party managed to send a lone member to the Assembly after fighting on its own in 1996, and four members with the support of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 2001. In other elections, BJP has fought on its own or with smaller regional parties and has returned empty handed. 

Unlike many other states where the party had managed to improve its vote share since 2004, Tamil Nadu remains an exception. Here, the vote percentage for the BJP has remained more or less stagnant, remaining under 3%, except in 2001. 

bjp assembly

Images: Prakash R

The growing influence of the party in few districts, particularly in Kanyakumari, is a cause of concern. The district has an equal population of the majority and minority religions. The party managed to come second in a couple of assembly segments in this district at the cost of the AIADMK.

Both DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) on different occasions have helped the BJP in getting a foothold. But, the DMK, since 2001, has turned its back on the BJP while the AIADMK seems to be giving it a lifeline in the 2021 Assembly elections. 


The fortune of the BJP in TN is no better in the elections to the Indian Parliament. Though the party has allied with the DMK in 1999 and AIADMK in 1998, 2004 and 2019, the highest number of seats won by it is only four in 1999. The party returned with one seat in 2014, while drawing a blank in all other elections. In 2009 and 2014, the BJP fought together with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) of Actor Vijayakanth.


Images: Prakash R

The BJP’s vote share remains similar to its performance in winning seats in the assembly elections. The accommodation of leaders from the state in the Union ministry has not paid many dividends. The only MP and minister during 2014-19, P Radhakrishnan, went on to bite the dust in 2019, along with his four other colleagues. 

The impact of the policies pursued by the BJP-led Union government has been a crucial factor in the party’s massive defeat. The repeated attempts to impose Hindi, introduction of NEET, ban on Jallikattu, support for the Sterlite plant—all have had adverse impacts on the mindset of the state’s voters.

As a result, an anti-BJP wave has side-lined the party with a rejection of all the narratives put forth by its leaders. 


The BJP continues to make tall claims on its growth in the state, while the reality is otherwise. The lack of a credible and acceptable leader remains a challenge for the party. One the most vociferous leaders of the party, Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan, after her crushing defeat to K Kanimozhi from Thoothukudi Lok Sabha segment in 2019, became the Governor of Telangana. It took several months to find a replacement for her, exposing the leadership crisis within the party.  

Many other leaders, including H Raja, remain controversial, adding to the woes of the party. Very recently, the BJP has been inducting people of disrepute to its folds. Many 'history sheeters' have managed to get appointed to district-level posts, leading to murmurs within the party. 

R Vijaya Shankar, Editor of Frontline magazine, said, "The BJP is intellectually bankrupt. There is no credible and respectable leadership in the party ranks. While I participate in television debates, the bankruptcy is clearly visible with the BJP representatives resorting to personal attacks and mudslinging, unable to defend them and their policies". 


After a controversy over the 'Skanda Sashti Kavacham', a recitation in honour of Lord Murugan, the BJP took out a Yatra during the pandemic to consolidate the 'Hindu' votes. The Vetrivel Yatra turned out to be a meek failure due to lack of patronage from the public. The party planned to conclude the yatra on December 6, coinciding with the anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition, signalling its intentions on vote bank politics. 

The party, which accused the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi for the spread of COVID-19 spread, defied the ban of the state government and went ahead with the Vetrivel Yatra, exposing its desperation for political gains

The party attacked both DMK and AIADMK after the row, but then decided to stay along with AIADMK for the upcoming Assembly elections. Also, with actor Rajinikanth deciding to stay away from politics, the party now has very little options.


The clout of different right-wing elements has reasonably increased in the last decade, signalling a sign of threat in the state. There are hundreds of right-wing parties and fringe groups working under different names, yet they are united in consolidating the 'hindu' votes. But their success rate has been pathetic much to the disappointment of the BJP. 

The Vinayaka idol immersion is the long-followed 'sensitive event' by the various right-wing forces. The immersion rallies are intentionally planned through the settlements and worshipping places of the minority religion, particularly that of the Muslims. In districts like Kanyakumari, Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Ramanathapuram, Tenkasi and Chennai, fear during the event has been gripping people where there are considerable minority populations. 

The state has several religious events of even higher magnitude, but nowhere does the threat of communal tension exist. The agenda set by the BJP and other Sangh Parivar outfits is inciting tensions for political gains at the cost of harmony and religious unity for electoral gains, critics say.

The decision of the AIADMK to continue its alliance with the BJP may end up being a setback to the former. The BJP has nothing to lose, but the future of AIADMK is at stake as the saffron party is allegedly trying to poach the party as a whole for its growth in the state. 

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