No matter how diminished Dravidian politics may be, the Hindi-speaking northerner remains an outsider.

PTI
Voices Opinion Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - 16:51

Tamil Nadu might look like an attractive prospect for the BJP. Jayalalithaa is no more. Karunanidhi is incapacitated. There is no other leader of stature around. The Congress is almost moribund, as in most other states.

Rajinikanth might be hugely popular as an actor, but whether he can convert that into electoral currency is very much a moot point. He is still humming and hawing anyway.

In the circumstances, it does make eminent sense for the saffron party to go all out, and hitch up a coalition with the AIADMK as also with Rajinikanth’s outfit (whenever he chooses to float one) and try to enter the legislature in a big way. The hope for the BJP is that after a couple of more elections, it can consolidate its position and make a bid for power itself, having swallowed the AIADMK in the meantime.

But wishes don’t necessarily turn into horses, and the BJP has too big a baggage to explain away.

The state’s politics is pivoted on Dravidianism, however attenuated or parodied over the decades. Periyar and his self-respect movement still have such a hold on popular imagination that anyone seen to stand against its tenets will have very little chance of gaining widespread support.

Periyar EV Ramasamy rebelled against Brahmin hegemony and denounced Hinduism as a Brahminical creation, and hence against the interests of the vast non-Brahmin masses. Besides, he also argued that the Brahmins were Aryans and northerners, who had subjugated the southern Tamils.

The BJP can comfort itself by saying that his anti-Hindu tirades have become passé, kind of. Crowds throng temples and godmen and godwomen spring up everywhere and boast of numerous followers. Religious festivals are celebrated with élan. The Brahmins having been effectively sidelined, anti-Brahmin rhetoric is dismissed with guffaws.

But then there is another dimension that persists – the anti-north sentiments. Opposition to Hindi might not be as virulent as it was in earlier decades, but people caring to learn the language still number a few thousands only – most of them Brahmins and other upper castes.

More than anything else, the Hindi-speaking northerner remains an eternal outsider, always viewed with suspicion. I am not talking of the various fringe groups, but of the general Tamil distrust of, and even contempt for, anything north. And the saffron party cannot hope to neutralise such sentiments easily.

It is true that when the BJP was in power at the Centre for six years from 1998, both the major Dravidian parties vied with each other to curry its favour. Jayalalithaa might have walked out of the NDA in a huff in 1999 as it would not dismiss the DMK government, but took care not to attack the Centre or the BJP. We must remember that neither the DMK nor the AIADMK nor any of their allies bothered to condemn the 2002 riots in Gujarat. The DMK joined the NDA without many qualms, and remained a coalition partner almost till the last days of the Vajpayee regime.

In those six years, the BJP sought to expand its base, setting up units everywhere.  It even had four members in the TN Assembly, and they won in 2001 because of the DMK support.  But come 2004, the strut was gone, and to this day the BJP has not had any member in the house since, as it could not gain entry into either of the major alliances.

Partnering minor parties, the party did manage to win a seat to the Lok Sabha in 2014, when the DMK and the Congress went their separate ways. But in Nagercoil, where the BJP won, polarisation politics has been at work for long, for various reasons.

Since then the party has been seeking to rebuild itself in the state from scratch, as it were, and is certainly gaining traction both because it is in power at the Centre and also because of Modi’s own personal popularity.

Now the question is whether this is enough for it to become a major contender for power. The RSS has some presence in the state yes, but its following is confined essentially to the Brahmins and some intermediate castes like Thevars . It has not grown much despite the patronage it can dispense these days.

For its part, the BJP is trying its mighty best to keep the AIADMK government going as long as possible, to coerce the party into becoming an electoral ally. Amma’s minions have so many things to hide that arm-twisting them should not be a tough task.

The PMK, with some following in the northern districts could choose to cast its lot with the BJP. Some Dalit outfits too could be rallying behind the BJP, but their appeal is far too limited to have any major impact. If anything the BJP itself could be a bit reluctant to join hands with Dalit parties for fear of alienating the intermediate castes.  

All that apart, where is the vote-catcher in the AIADMK now? Modi’s own popularity cannot go very far, not after NEET etc, while the Stalin-led DMK will be a major player.

How the BJP fares in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state is a matter of conjecture. What happens in state elections is a lot more uncertain – after all national issues are not of much consequence then.

Whatever the vaulting ambitions of the saffronites, their prospects do not seem to be that bright as of now.

(Views expressed are personal.)