Why The 'Annamalai Bet' Might Just Pay Off For The BJP

S Rajesh

Feb 01, 2024, 06:02 PM | Updated 06:01 PM IST

BJP state president K Annamalai.
BJP state president K Annamalai.

Political strategist Prashant Kishor, who had worked with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 2021, in a recent interview stated that he sees the vote share of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) going into double digits in Tamil Nadu — anything between 7 per cent and 15 per cent.

Kishor's remarks have brought the spotlight on the BJP's rising graph in the state and are in sync with the results of a couple of other surveys done recently.

A survey by Times Now-ETG that was released in December 2023, predicted a vote share of 14 per cent and another survey by ChanakyaaTV, a Tamil news outlet, released a few days ago predicted a vote share of 22 per cent for a BJP-led alliance (though alliances have not been announced).

The results are significant given that the vote share of the party during the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 was 5.5 per cent and 3.66 per cent in 2019. (The BJP and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or AIADMK did not have an alliance in 2014.)

Even if a low double-digit number of 12 per cent is considered, it would mean a tripling of vote share from 2019.

It also means that the BJP could be overtaking the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) led by Seeman, as the party with the third largest vote share in the state.

Now, coming to the reasons for this significant rise in vote share.

The first is BJP state president K Annamalai's approach of taking the ruling DMK head on. Over the last couple of years, he has become the face of the opposition in the state though the AIADMK led by Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) is the larger party.

The AIADMK has been very reluctant to take on the DMK, presumably because it may have many files on them. 

The best example is the case of Senthil Balaji's arrest in connection with the cash-for-jobs scam. The scam had occurred when he was transport minister in the AIADMK government.

Given this reality, and the party’s recent cosying up to Islamists, such as attending a programme organised by the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which is believed to be closely linked to the now banned Popular Front of India (PFI), there has been a decline in favourable sentiments towards Palaniswami.

Annamalai's ongoing En Mann En Makkal padayatra has been drawing crowds all over the state, which is a reflection of the recognition achieved beyond social media.

What has also helped the BJP is the tag of 'corruption' that has got associated with the DMK during its two and a half years in power. A number of its ministers and leaders such as Senthil Balaji, K Ponmudy, S Jagathrakshakan and E V Velu, are under investigation by central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Income Tax Department.

Annamalai too has helped that tag sustain through the release of 'DMK Files' and the audio tapes alleged to be that of former finance minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan (PTR), in which he allegedly told a journalist that Udhayanidhi Stalin and Sabareesan (the son-in-law of Chief Minister M K Stalin) had made Rs 30,000 crore in a year.

The AIADMK, after the death of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa is weaker than before, creating a void in the opposition space, which the BJP has successfully managed to fill.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has put in enormous efforts to show his concern for the state — from saying that Tamil is the oldest language, quoting the Tirukkural, placing the long forgotten Sengol in the new Parliament building, to wearing the veshti and participating in Pongal and Puthandu (Tamil New Year) celebrations.

Also this time around, unlike in 2019, the DMK-led alliance does not have the advantage of a narrative of Rahul Gandhi becoming the prime minister as it is more than clear that Narendra Modi is going to return at the centre.

This was visible in the ChanakyaaTV survey, which stated that only 30 per cent of respondents stated that Rahul Gandhi could be the next PM, while 42 per cent said that it would be Modi.

Things, thus, look good for the BJP in the state and the 'Annamalai bet' that the party took might just pay off and get it a few seats in 2024, while also setting up a good base for the 2026 assembly elections.

S Rajesh is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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