Undaunted by the dominant Dravidian parties, the BJP is trying to project itself as a third alternative
Despite trying hard for decades, the BJP has little or no presence in the southern states except Karnataka. The South contributes 129 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP has only 29. Notably, political churning is happening in Tamil Nadu, where the BJP is all set to capture the space riding piggyback on its ally AIADMK.
The party strategists have realized a need to penetrate the South to retain and improve its overall tally in the 2024 polls and readied its ''Operation Dakshin Vijay''. The aim is to reduce the North-South divide and prepare for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. It will gain momentum after the Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
Almost two years before the scheduled Parliament elections, the BJP has identified two big targets in south India — Tamil Nadu and Telangana (both ruled by regional parties). Karnataka's elections are a few months away, and Telangana will face elections in less than a year. Top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, have begun visiting the South more often.
Tamil Nadu posed a challenge in both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Undaunted by the dominant Dravidian parties the BJP is trying to project itself as a third alternative. The BJP has been unsuccessful in the state for various reasons. First, it has yet to develop tall, charismatic state leaders to match the decisive Dravidian leadership.
Secondly, Tamil Nadu has embraced the Dravidian ideology for more than five decades. Even Congress lost its dominance after 1967 when the DMK captured the state. Since then, the two main Dravidian parties – the DMK and the AIADMK --have been ruling the state alternately. The BJP's Hindutva has found no appeal in the state.
Thirdly, Tamil Nadu is opposed to the imposition of Hindi as the third language in schools. Fourthly, Tamil Nadu has no appeal for caste coalitions and social justice. Therefore, national parties like Congress, the BJP, CPI, and CPI-M have been riding piggyback on the DMK and the AIADMK coalitions.
The BJP's preparations for the 2024 elections began with its state president K. Annamalai sounding the poll bugle in a party convention held at Madurai recently. Added to that was the boost from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah's visit last week. The political activities in all the parties are reaching a pitch after Modi's official visit.
Shah held a lengthy meeting in Kamalalaya, the BJP headquarters in Chennai, and discussed the party's poll strategy. He stressed the need for utilizing the present vacuum in the state after the death of two stalwart leaders - M. Karunanidhi (DMK) and J. Jayalalitha (AIADMK). While M.K. Stalin is ruling the state, the AIADMK is almost headless, while caught in legal and political wrangling.
If the BJP can manoeuvre, it is partially thanks to the AIADMK's inadequate vigour to retrieve lost ground.
The AIDMK today is a divided party and suffers from factionalism. The party's two groups—headed by two former ministers, Edapadi Palaniswamy(EPS) and O Pannerselvam (OPS), are fighting legally and politically for its leadership.
VK Sasikala, Jayalalitha's companion for more than three decades, threatens to capture the party after her release from prison. Her nephew TTV Dhinakaran has already set up his party, AMMK, and contested 2021 but with a five per cent vote share. With this four-way split and no cohesiveness, the party needs clarification.
The BJP will be part of the AIADMK-led alliance. Yet, it functions as the main opposition party criticising the Stalin government. Even after the death of Karunanidhi and Jaya, the two Dravidian parties have more than 30 per cent vote share while the BJP got just 3 per cent.
Apart from the main opposition party, AIADMK, the state has several small but critical political parties, such as the PMK, DMDK, Naam Tamilar Katchi, MDMK, and the national-level Congress party, all with some pockets of influence. And communities retain a caste-neutral image. The party is trying to expand its outreach from existing pockets of Nadars, Gounders, and Devendra Kula Vellalar.
The focus is on the western and southern districts of Thoothukudi Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari. The party targets an ambitious 20 per cent vote share in 2024 and at least 10 Lok Sabha seats. However, the alliance part of the two coalitions still needs to be fixed. After all, there are two years to decide as all parties have an open mind except the Communist parties. The BJP would nudge Stalin to dump Congress. The EPS faction wants to abandon the BJP and even go on its own with other smaller parties.
With such changing equations, it is difficult to predict now, but of the two coalitions, the DMK-led alliance seems steady.
In politics, one week is said to be long, and two years is very long.
(The author is a senior journalist)