The Tamil Nadu BJP Leadership Has Damaged The Party’s Prospects 

by M R Subramani - May 30, 2019 12:55 PM +05:30 IST
 The Tamil Nadu BJP Leadership Has Damaged The Party’s Prospects Tamil Nadu BJP leaders H Raja and Tamilisai Soundararajan
  • The mainstream media (MSM) has called the BJP loss in Tamil Nadu as an anti-Modi wave but there are other reasons aplenty as to why the BJP came up with such a bad performance.

    In politics, it is not uncommon for the Opposition to mislead or confuse people with false narratives and statistics. But the Tamil Nadu BJP made no efforts to challenge the Opposition’s narrative.

    The cadre says that there is no connect between the state leadership and the karyakartas and no strategy was discussed. The rot runs deep in this southern state.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won hands down in most parts of the country in the just concluded Lok Sabha polls, its performance in Tamil Nadu and Kerala was below par. In Kerala, the party’s strategy to support the protests against the Supreme Court ruling allowing women of reproductive age to enter the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple didn’t yield the expected results.

In Tamil Nadu, the story was totally different with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) routing the BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), including the All-India Anna DMK (AIADMK). The mainstream media (MSM) has called this as an anti-Modi wave but there are reasons aplenty as to why the BJP came up with such a bad performance. The party didn’t have any strategy in place at all.

No post-mortem no celebrations

If you need a sample of how bad things are in BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit, it is enough to point out how the party in the State is yet to call for a meeting to review its performance in the Lok Sabha elections. Nor have the BJP Tamil Nadu leaders tried to enthuse their workers by celebrating or holding even a simple press meet for Narendra Modi’s whopping victory in the Lok Sabha elections.

If the MSM and Opposition parties call Tamil Nadu’s behaviour of routing the BJP and its allies as an “anti-Modi wave”, it is not without reason. And unfortunately for the saffron party, even the AIADMK, its ally, conveniently terms it so to escape from the fact that it was facing anti-incumbency, having been in power since 2011.

The anti-Modi wave

The simple truth is that the MSM and the Opposition got away with their portrayal of Modi as someone who has worked against the interests of Tamil Nadu and its people. The trend to blame Modi for happenings in Tamil Nadu began in 2016 January when state-wide protests were held demanding that the traditional jallikattu (bull fight) should be allowed to be held immediately.

Modi and his Cabinet worked overtime to counter the ban on jallikattu. They came up with a law to bypass a stay by the Supreme Court but not a single person in Tamil Nadu acknowledged the BJP government’s role in resolving the issue.

What Tamil Nadu’s people have failed to realise is the dangerous game that the anti-India forces have played in the name of jallikattu. Had not the police acted swiftly to chase violent protesters from the Marina Beach on 24 January 2017, a group of three or four fringe elements would have hoisted a separate Tamil nation flag at Fort St. George on Republic Day.

What the people didn’t realise and the state BJP leaders failed to drive home was that the ban on jallikattu was a fallout of a policy drafted by the previous UPA Government headed by Manmohan Singh. The DMK was an active member of that government until 2011 and after that it had extended outside support.

Buoyed by the response to the jallikattu protests, the Opposition parties led by the DMK, got into an overdrive and began efforts to show the Modi government in poor light. Thus followed a series of protests — against the hydro-carbon extraction at Neduvasal in Pudukkottai district, for the release of water in the Cauvery river by Karnataka, to close the Sterlite Copper Plant at Thoothukudi and against the construction of the eight-lane Salem-Chennai green expressway.

Countering the false narratives was absent

The BJP leadership in Tamil Nadu failed to counter all these protests where false allegations were levelled against the central government and the Prime Minister. For example, hydro-carbon extraction at Neduvasal was permitted by the UPA government. Farther back in history, it was the DMK government that first took it lying down when the then prime minister Indira Gandhi forced Tamil Nadu to give up 100 thousand million cubic feet of water from its share.

The Sterlite plant began operations during the 1996-2001 regime of the DMK. The protests for closure was against the plant’s expansion. Ironically, it was the UPA government that had cleared Sterlite’s expansion programme. Even as the protests began in February 2018, it was evident that vested interests had taken over the protests. The Tamil Nadu government failed to act, while the Sterlite management didn’t realise the gravity of the situation and failed to initiate talks. When the protests turned violent on 22 May, it was the state police that fired on the mob. Still, the centre and PM Modi were blamed for the whole episode.

And the reason for laying the blame at Modi’s door was because the DMK and the rest of the Opposition held the centre responsible for the continuance of the AIADMK government, led by Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS). But how could Modi be blamed when the DMK couldn’t even move a no confidence motion against the EPS government?

What ails the Tamil Nadu BJP leadership?

The problem with the BJP leadership in Tamil Nadu was that not a single individual tried to raise these questions with either the MSM or on social media. And, if at all any attempt was made to quell the misrepresentation of facts, it was too weak to convince anyone.

For three long years, the state BJP offered no defence to all the allegations and charges made against Modi and the central government. Nor did they take it up with the party’s central leadership to let them know of the imminent danger of the people of the state turning against the PM.

And now even a week after the results, why hasn’t any Tamil Nadu BJP leader tried to tell the people the reasons for Modi’s victory in rest of the country when Tamil Nadu voted against him? The Tamil Nadu BJP President, Tamilisai Soundararajan, made a statement that those who didn’t vote for the BJP in Tamil Nadu will eventually realise their mistakes. Is this the way a leader should react to a flop show that occurred under her watch?

Soundararajan and her team should have been the first to offer their resignations for BJP’s rout in the state. Next, they should have taken pains to explain how the people of Tamil Nadu had got carried away by the misleading campaign carried out by the Opposition in collusion with a vested media.

Having access to plenty of data they could have explained to the people how Tamil Nadu has benefited from the various schemes implemented by the Prime Minister, one great example being that Tamil Nadu is the major beneficiary of the MUDRA loan scheme for small and medium businesses.

In politics, it is not uncommon for the Opposition to mislead or confuse people with false narratives and statistics. But the Tamil Nadu BJP made no efforts to challenge the Opposition’s narrative. Neither did the state unit have a narrative of its own nor did it have a plan to counter the Opposition’s mischief. Probably the state leaders thought they could ride piggy back on one of the Dravidian parties to victory rather than make the effort to counter the misrepresentations single-handedly.

The Mersal disaster

An amusing side-show of Tamil Nadu BJP’s ill-fated campaign has been to help actor Vijay and his producers laugh all the way to the bank following the success of the Tamil film “Mersal”. The film, a rehash of Kamal Hassan’s “Aboorva Sahotharargal (“Appu Raja” in Telugu and Hindi), should have wound up silently within a week of its release.

But Tamilisai and the BJP national secretary, H Raja, made ill-considered statements demanding a ban on the movie only to see it rake in over Rs 200 crore in no time. The ban was sought over dialogues in the movie criticising GST. The whole episode could have been handled in a more suave and quiet manner rather than by going public and giving sound bites to a hostile media. Such as it was, it landed up showing the Tamil Nadu BJP in poor light with the likes of Tamilisai getting reduced to a laughing stock.

The BJP’s poor show should also be shouldered by its state in-charge and party general secretary, Muralidhar Rao. Has Rao delivered any tangible result for the party in Tamil Nadu at all? On top of this, Rao’s inaccessibility to the cadre has contributed greatly to their misery.

And some more

The state BJP leadership has to accept a couple more short-comings on its side. One, it hasn’t groomed any young leader yet. For example, in Karnataka 28-year-old Tejasvi Surya is seen as a future star. In contrast, no one can be picked or pointed out as a future star in the Tamil Nadu BJP.

Second, the leadership has never tried to get any feedback from the cadre till now. For example, if a top leader of the state goes to Trichy, the local leaders there help him/her to interact with the media and travel to other parts in the region. Often, the leader would only ask where the meeting or interaction was to be held and not seek any feedback from the cadre about any issues. Never has any state leader even tried to find out at the grassroots level what the cadre or the people felt about the party.

Apparently, not having collected any feedback from its own cadre, the State leadership has been giving wrong feedback to the central leadership. What Swarajya hears from the cadre is that there is no connect between the state leadership and the karyakartas and no strategy was discussed.

The painful alliance for 2016 Assembly elections

One example of how the cadre has been left high and dry is how the BJP formed an alliance in the 2016 Assembly elections. Forced to fight on its own, the saffron party formed alliances with the Indiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) and Indiya Makkal Kalvi Munnetra Kazhagam (IMKMK).

In Perambalur, the BJP allowed IJK to contest in 42 seats, effectively giving them all the Assembly constituencies. This left the cadre fuming for they felt the party could have contested in at least a couple of seats in the district. In the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, the IJK chief, Parivendra, founder of SRM University and promoter of Puthiya Thalaimurai television, won the Perambalur Lok Sabha constituency with a huge margin after forming an alliance with the DMK.

Similarly, for the Assembly elections, the IMKMK was allowed to contest from 25 seats although it is a party that is hardly known in Tamil Nadu. The BJP cadre in Tamil Nadu found it hard to understand why an unknown party was allocated so many seats to contest.

Even in the by-elections to the RK Nagar Assembly constituency in 2017 — caused by the death of AIADMK supremo, the late J Jayalalithaa — the cadre had suggested that the BJP desist from putting up a candidate. Initially, the BJP had put up Gangai Amaran, a Tamil film music director and brother of popular music director Illayaraja, before elections were cancelled as the Election Commission found cash being distributed to the voters.

When the by-elections were finally held, the party replaced Amaran with a candidate whom the party leaders thought would attract the Nadar voters in the constituency. However, the BJP fared miserably getting votes lower than what was cast for NOTA.

Listen to the cadre

The BJP cadre feels that the state leadership has to get fresh faces to take part in panel discussions instead of continuing with the old hands, who are anyway unable to counter the charges against the party. In Tamil Nadu panel discussions on televisions are often against the BJP and its spoke-persons should be capable enough to put the party’s point of view with clarity and be able to defend the party with assertiveness.

Some BJP cadres even complained of a “sabotage within” the party to defeat certain candidates during this Lok Sabha election. For example, C P Radhakrishnan was seen as someone who could win the Coimbatore constituency without any problem. What was distasteful was that some leaders were working to ensure he didn’t become a central minister, in case he won!

Infighting within the BJP results in sabotaging the chances of others. The cadres feel that the five state presidents that BJP has seen in the last 20 years have only worked to pack off their opponents within the party than do anything constructive for the party’s prospects in Tamil Nadu.

A cadre sums up well

A cadre sums up the situation in Tamil Nadu leadership thus: “When we among the cadre are not able to tolerate these leaders, how do you expect the people of Tamil Nadu to tolerate them?”

Swarajya wrote in this report last year on how the BJP needed a major surgery in Tamil Nadu. The BJP’s central leadership now has no choice but to overhaul the state unit from top to bottom. A new leadership has to be in place by November but it is to be hoped that the central leaders act earlier to infuse new blood and hope for the party in Tamil Nadu.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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