Vacant blue chairs that greeted BJP president Rajnath Singh at his rallies in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam last week were a telling comment on the NDA and its alliance partners in Tamil Nadu. Even pro-BJP senior leaders of local parties could not salvage the rallies.
Barring the Congress and the communists, no party in the state — not even the DMK or the AIDMK —has ruled out an alliance with a prospective NDA government headed by Narendra Modi. Yet, the panic among the Dravidian parties started much before Singh’s disastrous rally.
This panic is most evident in the 10 constituencies of south Tamil Nadu where Muslims, Dalits and Christians form the bedrock of every political calculation. The Indian Union Muslim League, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, Tamil Nadu Towheed Jamat and smaller denominations of Muslims, Christians and Dalits here have given a call to boycott parties that support Modi.
The BJP’s PM nominee is in fact the first north Indian politician after Indira Gandhi to have become a reference point for all political parties in the state. “This has made all his open and tacit supporters to cleverly articulate their position vis-à-vis NDA,” says Kombai S Anwar, an academic and writer.
Jayalalithaa, who supports temple construction at Ayodhya and a uniform civil code, has attacked Modi’s development model. NDA partners DMDK, PMK and MDMK have also been circumspect.
The S Ramadoss-led PMK does endorse a uniform civil code but refrains from attacking Modi on the Hindutva issue. The Vijaykanth-led DMDK praises the ‘Gujarat model’ but openly attacks the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. And Vaiko’s MDMK justifies supporting the NDA by pointing to the UPA’s failure to resolve the maritime border issue with Sri Lanka.
Sources close to MK Stalin and Kanimozhi confirm that the DMK will have no problem siding with a Modi-led NDA. “As long as you have Jayalalithaa in state government, we need a friend at the centre. Because Muslims are our core vote base, we are treading carefully,” a Delhi-based DMK ideologue says.
Even the BJP has made efforts to reach out to Muslim fishermen by projecting itself as the only party that can resolve the complications posed by Sri Lanka.
The key, it appears, lies not with the Muslims, who seem to have made up their minds, but with Dalits – a 2008 report says they face 100 forms of untouchability – who form another sizeable segment. “Failure of the Dravidian parties to contain casteist vigilante groups has kept the Dalit electorate fragmented,” says Dalit writer R Stalin.