It was a day of stock-taking for the BJP in Tamil Nadu. While Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu greeted newly-elected Chief Minister Jayalalithaa following her swearing-in ceremony, the BJP’s state unit analysed its electoral rout in the assembly polls.
The saffron party drew a blank after contesting in 134 seats across Tamil Nadu, with its vote share marginally improving to 2.8 per cent from 2.2 per cent in the 2011 polls. The remaining 100 seats were split between smaller allies, who did not fare any better. So what went wrong for the BJP and what is the way forward?
In a press conference on Monday, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu admitted that not having allies was a major problem for the party in the state. The national party found itself friendless ahead of the polls with its NDA partners from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections abandoning ship. While the PMK went alone, choosing to project Anbumani Ramadoss as its Chief Ministerial candidate, its effort to woo Vijayakant’s DMDK failed with the actor-politician, eventually choosing to align with the newly-formed PWF. Vaiko’s MDMK had broken ties soon after the 2014 general elections.
Naidu also accepted that the BJP was no match on the ground to the DMK and the AIADMK. “Both Dravidian parties are fiercely fighting with their resources and network,” he said. But others in the party were also quick to point fingers at the lack of leadership in the state. A senior leader quoted in TOI faulted the party’s decision to retain state president Tamilisai Soundarajan and said the need of the hour was to have a more dynamic leader.
While the aim will be to strengthen the party and rework its electoral strategy in the months to come, veteran journalist TN Gopalan feels BJP’s future in Tamil Nadu is bleak. “Tamil Nadu is a different kind of terrain. It does not suit the BJP type of ideology,” he said pointing to the party’s past performance in the state. The saffron party had tied up with the DMK in the 2001 Assembly Elections, winning 4 seats out of the 21 it contested. But thereafter, the BJP was back to zero.
“Regional parties are not ready to be identified with BJP because of their Hindutva ideology. In a state where there is a semblance of the Dravidian movement, any party which is seen close to the BJP would not be recognized,” explained Madras University professor Ramu Manivannan
Gopalan believes the party’s options are limited when it comes to the Dravidian state. “They have no roots. Either Modi needs to become phenomenally popular or shake hands with Dravidian parties,” he said.
Manivannan states that Tamil Nadu is more challenging for the BJP than southern states like Kerala and Karnataka. He argues that as the fight is between the Dravidian heavyweights, national parties have little place in the political battlefield. BJP’s relevance, Manivannan, is in opposition to Congress, its arch-rival in the Centre.
Observers like Manivannan believe that it will take a lot more than soul-searching on the part of BJP’s leaders for the lotus to bloom in Tamil Nadu.