It came after eight months of suspense, but the appointment of L Murugan as head of the Tamil Nadu BJP sends all the right messages.
Going by comments from some of the neutral party insiders, Murugan’s appointment will ensure the party will fare well in the State Assembly elections, scheduled in May next year, but only among the “also-ran parties”.
It may sound a little uncharitable but the BJP in Tamil Nadu has let slip an advantage it seemed to enjoy in 2016 through rudderless leadership in the State.
Murugan’s appointment is a welcome one for a couple of reasons.
One, he belongs to the Scheduled Caste community and no major political party has till now has had a chief from the group.
The Congress might have made a representative from the Schedule Caste in Tamil Nadu as a central minister but it has never appointed a person from the community as the State unit chief.
Even the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) or the All India Anna DMK (AIADMK) have never come up with such a leader who can or could have gained national prominence.
The other advantage that BJP derives is that L Murugan is a young leader in his early 40s.
Tamil Nadu BJP insiders say that with such a State chief, the party can really make things tough for others.
More importantly, Murugan’s appointment has ensured that the Opposition, particularly the DMK and Dravidian critics cannot call the BJP anymore a party of Brahmins or uppers castes.
Murugan, as the Vice-Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), shot into prominence when the DMK was asked to provide proof that the land from where its official journal is being published is not a “Panchami” one.
“Panchami” lands were allocated to the downtrodden sections by the British to carry out farming operations. There are restrictions in these lands changing hands.
But Murugan as NCSC Vice-President, often took suo motu cognisance of incidents which affected the Scheduled Castes.
“He will not wait for people to complain to him on any incidents affecting the Scheduled Castes. He would be among the first to be at the spot,” says a State BJP leader.
Once at the spot, Murugan would announce all the measures that are required to be taken then. “If there are 20-odd things to be done on the particular incident, he will order them immediately,” says the leader.
Thus, Murugan fits into BJP's narrative as a young and pro-active leader.
When Murugan’s predecessor Tamilisai Soundararajan was appointed Telangana governor eight months ago, quite a few names did rounds for the Tamil Nadu BJP unit chief’s post.
Probably, the BJP’s central leadership was under pressure but it took its time. Had anyone whose name did rounds been appointed, the party would have been more busy defending the appointment than looking ahead.
In Murugan’s case, the party faces no such problem. Also, the BJP had till now appointed the State unit chief from various castes, starting from Brahmins to Gounders to Nadars.
Some of these leaders were charged with promoting their own castes rather than develop the party in the State. The latest appointment, the Central leadership would hope, will help in getting the Scheduled Castes behind it.
It is something to watch out for since the Scheduled Castes in Tamil Nadu are under pressure to convert to other religions.
There are likely to be pitfalls on the way.
One, will the new Tamil Nadu BJP chief be given a free hand to function? This is important, given the way various lobbies and interests function in the State unit.
Second, the influential among the current set of leaders in the State unit should not use him as the “mask” and resort to back-seat driving. This will be a tough ask for Murugan.
Third, the State unit is now watching at the likely reshuffle of the State unit office-bearers. The shuffle will be the key to how Murugan functions.
The best option for the central BJP leadership will be to ask Murugan to report directly to it. That will give the new chief a free hand and sync his functioning with the aspirations of the national party.
As regards its chances for the 2021 State Assembly elections, BJP would do well to put up a good fight than expect any miracle. Probably, it should start now for the 2026 elections or even better the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.