Uttar Pradesh is currently on the radar to set the path for national elections. Alongside are Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, who are in the electoral fray. So why is Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party cadre pumped up about the upcoming local body polls this weekend?
Urban local body elections in Tamil Nadu (TN) are happening after a 10-year gap. Typically, the local body elections come and go without a whiff. Although the 74th Amendment to the Constitution marked a watershed moment in India's evolution of local government, citizens are yet to grasp the importance of local body elections and what it means for improving their living conditions.
In most local body elections, the general assumption is that victory is usually assured for the ruling party. So, it may not come as a surprise if Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) wins the local body elections. But what is remarkably stark in this TN election is the saffron surge across the state. In TN, the BJP has often been touted as a 2 per cent Hindu-Brahmin-Hindi party and continuously mocked for failing to make any inroads. But this time around, the BJP party led by its new state president K Annamalai is at the forefront leading the fight.
In the past five decades since the Dravidian parties lodged themselves firmly in the political firmament of TN, it has been next to impossible for BJP to achieve any electoral gains in the state. The last assembly election saw a minor turning point with the BJP winning four seats.
At present, if you are travelling in TN, you will undoubtedly cross paths with local candidates campaigning on the ground. Previously, the BJP candidates would canvass in small numbers and with little fanfare. But this time around, the cadre in TN is highly charged up. Saffron flags at street corners, large groups of volunteers campaigning house to house, autos plying with speakers blasting party vision, candidates canvassing in open vehicles, etc. A lot of factors can be attributed to this.
Primarily, the BJP government at the Centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done impressively with well-intended schemes like providing cooking gas connections, water connection, medical insurance, bank accounts, building toilets, houses, etc. The dedicated BJP party workers in all localities educated people on these central schemes and helped avail them. As a result, as rightful citizens, and after years of not having access to necessities like food, water, shelter and health, there is a marked improvement in their living conditions.
Secondly, during the challenging Covid times when people were in dire need the BJP cadre were out trying to help with what they could. Much goodwill was generated for the party due to its selfless service during the floods or the pandemic. There has been a steady increase in party membership in the last two years as well. Cursory scrutiny of the candidate list will reveal that there are many first-timers along with long-time workers.
Thirdly, the rise of Annamalai as the leader in charge has primarily changed the party's perception as a Brahmin-dominated party. Annamalai has a lot going for him. His educational credentials as a management and engineering graduate from top-tiered colleges along with the fact that he has served in the public domain, and was known as a forthright IPS officer in his previous avatar, excites people. But above all, his no-nonsense demeanor appeals to people across the spectrum, be it party workers or neutral folks, men or women, young or old. His entry into the party has also inspired the younger section of BJP cadre and there is even an increase in party enrolment.
Fourthly, the dynasty politics of DMK and the power vacuum in All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) after Jayalalithaa’s demise have left people floundering. The conduct of DMK in just eight months with a plethora of unfulfilled electoral promises has left a bad taste in the mouth of citizens. The loyal women vote bank that forms a significant chunk of AIADMK is also steadily shifting as they feel BJP is the only party respectful of women.
And finally, there is some push back against the targeted rhetoric against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since winning his first term in 2014 DMK, in tandem with the local media largely controlled by them, have constantly placed all their failures at his feet. For any ill plaguing the TN society, fingers are pointed in the direction of Modi as its fountainhead. A significant factor contributing to this course correction is the advent of alternative media. Social media has thrown light over the party's governance at the Centre and in states in power.
A thousand lotuses blooming is what most supporters desire. Of the 12,000 plus ward seats up for election, BJP may not win a significant number of seats. But they sure are giving a tough fight by leaving no stone unturned to inform people of their vision. This three-cornered election contest is a reality check of the party's strength.
From a 2 per cent party that had no seat at the high table, a significant increase in the vote share will scale the party to the next level. In the end, for the BJP, this election is about the fight and not seats. A significant improvement in vote share is expected. If that happens this election would be a significant milestone for the BJP Tamil Nadu unit.
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