"RK Nagar was an embarrassment for the party and we don't want a repeat of that," a top leader from the party tells TNM.

BJP gearing up for Mission Tamil Nadu 2019 Amit Shah sets ball rolling with first meet
news Politics Tuesday, July 10, 2018 - 09:34

BJP has kick-started its 2019 Parliamentary campaign in Tamil Nadu, with its national president Amit Shah arriving in the capital to plan the reversal of the party's fortunes in the state.

Even as the dust settled on a sweltering Monday afternoon in Chennai, a sea of saffron and green descended on the VGP Golden Beach Resort along the city’s coast. Party workers of the BJP from Puducherry, Andamans and Tamil Nadu had gathered to strategize ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Despite allegations of the Centre controlling the state government in Tamil Nadu, the friction between the BJP and the EPS OPS combine has not gone unnoticed in recent days.

From opposing simultaneous elections to Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan's comments on terrorism in the state, the friction between a national party trying to make a dent in the state’s politics and a government working overtime to hold on to power made Monday's meeting significant. National secretary H Raja, BJP Tamil Nadu President Tamilisai Soundararajan, Puducherry BJP Chief Swaminathan and Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan were amongst the well recognised party leaders present at the venue.

The BJP supremo made no direct reference to the AIADMK but claimed that he was 'saddened' when he thought about the graft reported in Tamil Nadu.

“These days, Tamil Nadu figures amongst the most corrupt states in the country,” he emphatically proclaimed. When the BJP comes to power in the state, this corruption in the government will end," he added.

With opening speakers criticising Dravidian politics and both the DMK and the AIADMK, the mood had been set.

Monday’s meeting primarily involved issuing instructions to Maha Sakti Kendras and Sakti Kendras, booth level organisations of the party. Elaborating on the groundwork, BJP State President Tamilisai asked cadre to categorise booths into A, B, C and D corresponding to the number of votes polled  by the BJP: 100, 50, 25, less than 10.

The most important leaders will be in charge of D booth, she announced.

In addition to registration of smartphone and two-wheeler owning cadre, plans were made to draw the lotus symbol across the booths. Key voters i.e. voters who can sway others had to be given importance.

One man in a blue shirt is standing on the lawn of the resort with a model boat in hand. This is Saravanan, from the BJP Fisherman Cell in the state.

“They have done a lot for fishermen. Whenever we have a problem, we are able to talk about it. We are the priority for them. They tell us on TV, WhatsApp, etc. This whole program was meant to be for us only. That's why they are holding it on the seaside. Whenever Amit Shah comes here, he always meets fishermen. He will definitely mention Rameshwaram in his speech, you watch,” he says.

Saravanan is one of the foot soldiers of the party, tasked with helping the party gain the fishermen’s vote in the coastal districts of the state. And he has his job cut out for him.

The cadres will have to convert D booths to C booths and C and B booths into A booths. For a party that has largely seen a dismal performance in the state, this will be an uphill task.

But by October, which is when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to arrive in the state, the state BJP wants have 1.25 lakh strong team in place at the booth level.

"Amit Shah has kick-started the campaign here. He has given us advice on how to tour the state. A primary team of 25 people will be chosen and the assembly segments divided amongst them. We are expected to talk to people, gauge their mood and mobilise support," says Srinivasan, the party's state secretary from Madurai. But does he believe the task at hand can be accomplished?

"For the workers here, Amit Shah's visit is a morale booster. We are starting our work right away. He was already pleased with the turnout today," he adds.

Caste counts 

A good portion of the 7,000-strong cadre had come from Cuddalore and Villupuram, the Vanniyar belt in the state, traditionally the PMK bastion.

Speaking to TNM, Bhaskar who has been brought in on a bus to the venue from a village in Cuddalore, says, “Modi is our daddy. What have the Dravidian parties done for us all these years? If not one, then the other has come to power. Both of them have accumulated wealth for their sons and grandsons, that's all they have done. All the people who make fun of me will come around.”

Another section of the audience was from Coimbatore, where the Gounder vote forms a majority of the vote share. One senior BJP leader who wished not to be named says, “We want to at least target 5- 7 seats in the elections in the south-western region. And we want to make sure that even if we don't get that, the vote for the others is split as much as possible. Our cadre will vote for our community first because that is everything.”

Leadership change? 

During the months that BJP National Secretary H Raja was mired in one controversy after another, BJP State President Tamilisai Soundararajan was reportedly ticked off for the image of the party had taken a beating.

Despite appeals made to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, little had changed except perhaps a gag order on Raja who has laid low over the months.

Even as Raja walked onto stage to translate Amit Shah’s speech, cheers and applause rent the air. With cadre singing 'gumthalakadi gummava, Raja-vuna summa va', his popularity was there for all to see.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one top leader tells TNM, “Leadership is definitely a concern for us right now. We don't want people who are just eager to give press conferences, we need someone who is a strong administrator. RK Nagar was an embarrassment for the party and we don't want a repeat of that.” 

Also read: Madras HC orders CBSE to give 196 marks to Tamil medium students, for errors in 49 questions