Modi is back. He is back with more seats, power and most of all with a bigger mandate than he had in 2014. As Mr. Surjit Bhalla pointed out during his poll analysis in one of the TV channels, it was a ‘Modi Earthquake’; because of the way Modi had exerted dominance contrary to many people’s beliefs and desires. Probably the only blot in this extraordinary victory for the BJP is Tamilnadu (TN). Not only did the state not elect any BJP MP, it defeated the only sitting MP from 2014, Mr. Pon Radhakrishnan of Kanyakumari constituency. The state BJP and many of its volunteers were confident of winning 4 seats out of the 5 that was allocated to them in their NDA coalition. But they have lost all 5. A big loss.
Tamil Nadu vs other South Indian states
One may point fingers at Kerala and Andhra and say that neither of those south Indian states gave elected any BJP candidates. It is only partially true. On deeper analysis, one would see that the voting percentage for BJP in Kerala has clearly increased. Neither can one dismiss the fact that there was some sort of a Hindu consolidation that lost to the minority consolidation in the end. If we take Andhra on the other hand, there was a huge anti-incumbency wave against Chandrababu Naidu. His party TDP has been totally decimated. So it would be fair to assume that no party had the chance to withstand this wave. Even the Congress party was unable to win a seat there. Therefore it would be wrong to compare these states with what has happened in Tamilnadu.
There have been a lot of comments by Tamil Nadu BJP (TNBJP) supporters (including yours truly) expressing anguish in social media platforms on how the people of the state have chosen to vote for the UPA alliance who have been, for the past few years, pretty much anti-development, anti Hindu and anti – India. On first glance, the reasons that they ascribed to this loss seem to be justified. After all, it is the people of the state who voted and they have done so, against the BJP and specifically against Modi who is uncorrupt, pro-development and is nationalistic to the core. But this allegation would only be partially true. A deeper analysis needs to be made in finding why the people voted so and if the party had any role in its own debacle. Hence, here is an attempt at such an analysis of the party’s failure in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu presents a very unique and significant problem for the BJP. It has failed in a state, which was the largest beneficiary for some of its key governmental schemes like MUDRA, defense corridor, Ayushman Bharat Yojana etc. And it has also failed in a state with quite a large population of Hindus; the party’s largest and traditional vote-bank, regardless of whether it acknowledges it or not. Yet, the party and its mechanism failed to make any considerable impact in the minds of the people of Tamil Nadu while they were able to accomplish just that in states like West Bengal, Tripura and even Kerala.
Understanding Tamil Nadu
Before going any further, one needs to understand the reality of TN and its politics. It is one of the developed states in the country. Most of the state was electrified even before Modi came to power in 2014. The state has had a good health care scheme even before the PM’s Ayushman yojana, called the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme (CMCHIS). The literacy rate is pretty good when compared to the rest of the country. Perhaps the only big issue is water. Everyone is aware of the Cauvery issue. There are many many districts in south TN, which have been suffering from perpetual drought. This has, of course, affected agriculture in the state.
But when it comes to politics, the state is full of contradictions that would baffle any outsider. This is the typical perception of BJP in the state: ‘It is a party of the RSS. RSS is a Brahminical organization. Hence, so is BJP. BJP is also a North Indian Party. Hence they are Aryans whereas we Tamils are Dravidians (Oh yes, the basis for all this is Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT)!). The Dravidians were oppressed by Aryans. Hinduism is actually Brahminism (that’s is why if you debate any Dravidianist or Tamil chauvinist, his final argument will be, “ Will you let non-brahmins do the puja in temples”!). Since BJP supports Hindutva, its Brahminical tendencies are exposed. So everything the party does is with the intention to oppress the Tamils, ergo, the fight between Aryans Vs Dravidians that started millenniums ago is still going on.” All this attitude while most of the Tamilians are practising Hindus who visit temples regularly.
When the Supreme Court bans Jallikattu, there is BJP’s hand in it. Even when it was the UPA government that brought the ONGC Hydrocarbon project to Neduvasal, which was also approved by the present DMK chief, M.K. Stalin, it is only the BJP that planned to take over the farmers’ lands by killing them with poisonous methane gas. Even when there is no pollution from the Sterlite Copper Industry, there is the Hindutva’s party hand in it, which wants to destroy the people living in Tuticorin by polluting them, despite the NGT’s no objection certificate for its functioning. The NEET exam is another act of oppression by the Hindutva Aryan brigade to oppress the Dravidians. It doesn’t matter if the BJP builds a statue of Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar in Haridwar. Nor does it matter if the government makes it a rule to print local languages on railway tickets. In other words, anti-Modi/anti-Hindutva is the flavour of the state.
Historically it used to be the function of Periyar’s Dravida Kazhagam (DK), to spread such spurious propaganda. Nowadays, it is a conglomeration of many forces which includes DK, Tamil Separatists/Nationalists like Seeman, Evangelists and the Church with their paid NGOs, Islamist organizations like IMUL, SDPI, PDP. All these forces are supported by the DMK party, fuelled by the Tamil media and fully endorsed by Kollywood actors and directors. For e.g., all these groups were involved in the Jalikattu protests. They were all involved in the beef protests. One of the first medical institutions that protested against NEET in TN and went to the court was the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, because then they would be forced to accept students from other parts of the country who wouldn’t be Christians. It was then joined by the SRM medical college, Chennai, which used it’s media power and TV channels to discredit NEET and consequently BJP. The Sterlite Protests saw the direct involvement of the church from the start to finish.
BJP’s own role in the campaign
Now let us consider the BJP’s own role in this disastrous campaign. Probably one of the obvious reasons that everyone in the state agrees on is the leadership of TNBJP. Much to the dismay of several of the party’s well-wishers in the state, the central leadership changed the state leadership after the 2014 elections. In the larger context of things this change was understandable and a necessary one too. The BJP, like in many places in India and especially in TN, has always been looked upon as a party of Brahmins. With TN being the proponent and sustainer of the fascist, anti-Brahmin, Dravidian ideology, it was only natural for the BJP to try to change that image and have an OBC leader which it was fully justified in doing so.
But it then curiously opted for Dr. Tamilisai Soundarajan as the TNBJP president. No one in the state knew about her prior to that, not even many BJP Karykartas. She is a good person with a kind heart, probably is a good doctor too, but the same could not be attributed to her political acumen and her leadership skills. In both these avenues, she has been found to be seriously lacking. Forget TN politics, she couldn’t even unify the different factions inside TNBJP. It is an open secret in the state that there are many factions inside the state party unit with their own agendas who could care less about their rivals in their organization. But as a leader she should’ve been able to put an end to it by unifying them towards a common goal or at least restrict the damages caused by these divisions, keeping them to the minimum. But she has done neither. There was dissatisfaction with the party state-in charges like P. Murlidhar Rao as well, who just couldn’t understand the nature of TN politics. The central leadership was informed/warned several times about these shortcomings by BJP well-wishers, karyakartas and volunteers. But for reasons unknown, it paid no heed to it.
The party should’ve realized its mistake at least after Late CM, Ms. Jayalalitha’s death. They were caught off-guard, fully unprepared for the events that were to follow. After her demise, the anti-national Hinduphobic forces mentioned earlier left no stone unturned in creating and setting up a narrative of anti-Modi hysteria and Hinduphobia, that has heavily affected the state politics and most likely would play a part for years to come in the future. Issues like Jallikattu, which was actually a Hindu issue and which should’ve ideally been taken up by the state BJP unit, were instead taken up by these anti-social elements, making them as their cause. This gave rise to several newer parties like Naam Tamilar Katchi under Seeman, Makkal Nidhi Mayam under Kamal Hassan, which have now encroached upon the NDA votes.
Communication failure on part of BJP
Probably the biggest reason for the party’s dismal electoral loss is the failure in communication at both the state and the central level. If we take West Bengal as an example, the main central leadership of Modi, Amit Shah and several other BJP leaders were able to easily communicate their ideas to the Bengalis through their speeches in Hindi. The people in Bengal were able to understand them just fine, without any translator/interpreter. But when it comes to Tamil Nadu, their inability to speak in Tamil has always been a huge handicap. If Modi were able to talk in Tamil, BJP in all probability would be ruling TN by now. But sadly after the initial rumours in 2014 of its leaders learning Tamil, the party has not moved in that direction.
Even this handicap of their central leadership could have been counterbalanced to a certain extent with good charismatic state leaders. But that too hasn’t happened yet. Just imagine how pathetic the situation is when the two most ‘Capitalistic’ districts of TN, Coimbatore and Tirupur, have ironically elected CPI (Communist Party of India) candidates in this election. In fact, TN has elected more communist candidates than Kerala and Bengal put together. Strangely these two districts also have a large RSS cadre with a strong BJP presence and are considered as its stronger constituencies. Demonetization and GST have of course affected these districts which have a large number of SMSE, but it is the responsibility of the state leadership to pacify those who were affected, make them understand the issues and policies and provide relief to them, none of which happened. The central leadership has failed miserably in nurturing and identifying good leaders who could take a stand, fight on crucial issues and communicate as well, especially from the OBC and Dalit communities. It is not clear if this is because of the party’s extensive attention to northern and northeastern states or if they have genuinely given up on TN.
Of course, the recent wisdom on BJP’s electoral victories throughout the country in the last 5 years would indicate that such caste equations have been junked. But as it has been mentioned earlier, TN is a unique state, in that it is not like UP or Rajasthan or Haryana where particular dominant castes like the Yadavs or Jats or other OBC communities play a big electoral role. Here almost all the communities have been groomed by propaganda to agree on one common thing, and that is Brahmanophobia. Hence the importance of an OBC leader of any caste who all could agree upon.
Commitment towards Hindu issues
The third crucial reason for the party’s debacle is the state unit’s non-committal attitude towards Hindu issues. These are not just issues that pertain to one religion, namely the Hindu religion. But it broadly encompasses a range of Indic civilizational issues that have been set up as a consequence of false narratives and propaganda. The BJP state unit has been a mute spectator at worst and a feeble one at best, to the increasing propaganda of separating Hinduism from Tamil culture. During the last three years when this propaganda has been at its peak, there has hardly been any proactive action from the party to counter it.
It has now become a fashion in TN for Tamilians to proclaim that they are not a Hindu, that Hinduism has got nothing to do with Tamil culture and that they are just a Shaivite or Vaishnavite. The central leadership should also take the blame for not giving sufficient response to this absurd indoctrination. They still probably haven’t realized how much this propaganda has affected their prospects not only in this election but also for the future. This vicious campaign has successfully checked the consolidation of Hindus, the biggest vote bank for BJP and instead morphed into a regional/lingual/civilizational fight. As a national party and that too as the principal ruling party of the nation, the party should’ve been much more involved in taking proactive measures against these forces.
Of course, there were one or two voices in the party like H. Raja, who spoke against this sinister propaganda. But they were the wrong ones. More accurately, they were of the wrong castes. They come with the tag of being Brahmins. So one could easily understand the limitation of the reach of their message in a state, which prides itself in its anti-brahminical fanaticism. Even Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is not spared, because she is a Brahmin by birth. And now the Mr. Jaishankar, the new Minister of External Affairs, has been added to this August list.
Fortunately, in the last few months, there were indeed some feeble signs of Hindu consolidation in a few parts of the state. A few blabbermouths, unable to contain their Hinduphobia within themselves spewed venom on Hindu Gods, traditions. This included the present DMK chief M.K. Stalin and his sister, Kanimozhi along with a number of their party men and supporters. While individual Hindus and a few organizations rose up to call out these Hinduphobes and protest against them, the state BJP leadership was again missing in action. Not a single leader was protesting shoulder to shoulder with them. In fact, there was a rumour that the state organization earlier this year, in its recommendations to the central leadership on the strategies to fight the elections in the state, specifically mentioned that the party has to distance itself from taking up any Hindu issue! Even if this rumour turns out to be false, the actions and the response of the party would indicate otherwise.
In West Bengal, BJP had just 2 MPS from 2014 elections. What changed in between 2012 – 2019? BJP fought against the Hinduphobia and the appeasement of minorities. It fought for Durga Puja and Jai Shree Ram. And today it is seeing the rich dividends of that fight with 18 MPs and 4 MLAs in the by-election. Who would have thought 5 years ago that the once communist citadel of communism in India would vote for Hindutva? On the other hand, in Tamil Nadu, there was a tremendous consolidation of minorities and other Hinduphobic elements. The party, in its attempt to portray itself more ‘progressive’ and ‘inclusive’ and to ‘prove its enemies wrong’, distances itself from those very people who could bring it to power. And in many cases it even betrays them. There are truckloads of stories that one can listen to from various ground-level Hindu activists and organizations in TN, who have been cold-shouldered by the state BJP leadership when they were in need of their support.
Modi and development agenda
Now one could ask if the development agenda of Modi had no impact on the people. Of course, it had. There were many beneficiaries in the state who took advantage of the central schemes. But at the state level, it never became the agenda that Modi would’ve liked. The only agenda was Hindutva. And since Modi was seen as a poster boy for the same, he obviously became the agenda. In fact, this has worked against BJP’s coalition partners in the state. Both the ADMK and PMK who had won seats in 2014, faced a huge setback this time. Many of their supporters are now lamenting that their loss was due to their association with BJP which is probably true. While the ADMK was able to win enough seats in the assembly by-polls to save its state government from falling, it could manage to win just one seat in the general polls.
If development was indeed a big issue like in other states, then the lone BJP MP from Kanyakumari wouldn’t have lost after having done some fabulous work there. If corruption was a big issue then Karti Chidambaram wouldn’t have won. If Cauvery water was the key issue then the people in Tanjore and Thiruvarur districts wouldn’t have voted for DMK even after Nitin Gadkari’s promise of connecting Godavari and Cauvery which would make 1000 tmc of water available for the state. This would take care of most of its water woes. If the killing/arresting of fishermen in Rameshwaram (who are not Hindus, by the way) was an issue, then the people wouldn’t have elected for a Muslim league candidate who is part of the UPA. The Modi government was successful in stopping these killings and was also able to get the Sri Lankan government to release the fishermen who were arrested by them.
Tamil Nadu and other developed states
Let us compare TN with another developed state, Maharashtra. Maharashtra like TN is similar in many ways when comparing several developmental indices. And it has had similar water problems like TN. The BJP government that rules the state came up with the Jalyukta Shivir to address this problem and it has been hugely successful which has also helped the party in all its elections. Now compare that with TN. It was under the BJP government at the centre that the Cauvery Water Management and Regulatory Committees were formed after such a long struggle. This indicates how much these developmental issues were in focus in TN for the polls when compared to other states. Hence the reason why BJP needs to concentrate on Hindu/ civilizational issues in the state is not just to support Hindus but it is to chiefly untangle this complicated knot of anti-development, Hinduphobia, anti-national agenda and to carry forward with its developmental program.
The central leadership has also its share of the blame. There is this argument that the rival candidates in TN had crores and crores of money to throw at people to purchase their votes. And indeed it is true. Otherwise, who would’ve thought that probably the most corrupt bunch of politicians in Indian history could all be elected en masse, be it Kanimozhi, A. Raja, Karti Chidambaram or Dayanidhi Maran? But then the central BJP government should also be questioned on why and how they let these corrupt politicians get away when they were caught in several multicrore scams?
Agreed, that the government shouldn’t interfere with the workings of other governmental institutions like the judiciary and CBI etc. They all have to maintain their autonomy. But it would only be sensible for the government to make and present stronger cases against these corrupt individuals during investigations and in the courts. For eg, when Kanimozhi and A. Raja were acquitted by the Special Court, the court said that the prosecution had failed to prove any charges. By then, the Modi government was in power for almost three and a half years and it could have presented a cogent argument against the accused. Again, Karti Chidambaram has been getting bail after bail for years and yet there had been no decisive step taken by the government to cancel those bails and let him stand trial. PM Modi always has spoken about how the ‘chalta hai’ attitude had been the obstacle in India’s development. But seems like his government, in all these cases, has exhibited just that attitude. There is no point in blaming the thief who is stealing again when you didn’t punish him earlier.
Need of the hour
A strong nationalistic party like BJP is very much the need of the hour in Tamil Nadu. Take a map of India. And if one is asked to point out a single state that is a microcosm of all the problems in India, especially security issues, then the only state that would fit the description is Tamil Nadu. Take any of these issues that are of concern to India: Islamization, Evangelization, Naxalism, Separatism, Communism, alcoholism, Casteism, anti-nationalism, Hinduphobia and many more. All these concerns exist together in a single state, Tamilnadu, which also happens to be a Hindu majority state with developmental aspirations. This makes it quite a good representation of Bharat. Other states have to deal with only one or a few of these concerns, not all. Kashmir has to deal with Islamic terrorism. North East with just Christian terrorism and separatists. Chattisgarh with Naxalites and so on. But Tamilnadu has the entire range of these severe issues all within itself. So even if not for Hindutva for its own survival as a political party, it is imperative for BJP to establish itself as a dominant force in the state at least for the sake of the larger concern of national security. Otherwise, TN would be the next Kashmir in the next few years.
Already alarm bells have started ringing after the Easter bomb attacks in Sri Lanka. NIA has been actively raiding Islamic organization and centres. There were extensive prayer meetings organized throughout Tamilnadu by various churches during and after elections to make sure that Narendra Modi is defeated. There is still no credible data available on the demographic change in TN especially with so many crypto–Christians in the state.
It may probably look excessive and melodramatic if one asks the party to be concerned now, right at the juncture of one its best and almost perfect electoral victory. But if it is willing to seriously introspect on its disastrous show in the state then it needs to fix its organization/leadership and its communication strategies ASAP. It needs to nurture and identify candidates with those abilities. It can’t procrastinate in taking these decisions. It can’t go soft on Dravidian politics. And more importantly, it can’t run away from taking up Hindu civilizational issues.