The years of toil have paid off and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on the ascendance in Tamil Nadu, looking at bright yet challenging days ahead.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being greeted by Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa at Chennai Airport. (PTI photo)
Propelled by the "Modi wave", the party used the support base of six regional players it had aligned with as a launch pad to perform creditably in the Lok Sabha election.
BJP's pre-poll alliance with the DMDK, PMK, MDMK, KMDK, IJK and NJP raked in 19% of the votes polled and the coalition picked up two Lok Sabha seats. The remaining 37 seats went to the AIADMK, while the Congress and the DMK drew a blank.
The BJP, which contested 18 seats in 2009, more than doubled its vote share from 2.34% to 5.48% in 2014 despite fielding candidates in just nine constituencies. The party's vote share was higher than that of its coalition partners and it was runner-up on three seats. Ally MDMK stood second on two seats and the DMDK on one.
But, party leaders admit, the assembly election is going to be a different challenge. BJP's position vis-a-vis Sri Lanka has already invited the wrath of allies. The party also faces an ambitious ally in the DMDK, which contested 14 Lok Sabha seats and is now likely to lay claim on the CM's post.
BJP's biggest worry is finding a leader to match the stature of AIADMK supremo and chief minister J Jayalalithaa, or MK Stalin who will be DMK's CM candidate in the 2016 assembly election. Yet, BJP leaders appreciate the fact that they have converted the state's bipolar polity into a triangular contest.
With Narendra Modi and Amit Shah planning to capitalise on the Lok Sabha gains to maximise BJP's presence in the assembly election, whether the party succeeds in keeping these regional outfits under the NDA umbrella will be closely watched in the political circles.
Modi attempted to make the right noises by asking officials in the PMO to hold a special meeting on the plight of Tamil fishermen, an issue flagged by Dravidian parties in every session of Parliament.
BJP leaders also see an opportunity in the power struggle between the sons of former chief minister M Karunanidhi, who expelled his elder son MK Alagiri from the DMK in March.
A BJP source said both Modi and Shah will separately visit the state soon to boost the morale of the cadre. Shah has appointed Tamilisai Soundararajan, a fiery speaker and daughter of former Tamil Nadu Congress committee chief Kumari Ananthan, as TN BJP president and plans to rebuild the party structure during the membership drive that the BJP will start in November. Soundararajan belongs to the politically crucial Nadar community of the southern state.
H Raja and Lalithaa Kumaramangalam, two senior TN politicians, too, are in Shah's team as national secretary and spokesperson, respectively. The BJP is aiming to win at least 30 of the 234 assembly seats and party leaders admit a lot of energy and application will be required to achieve this.
Focus will be on the seven assembly segments in which the party stood first and 60 others in which it emerged second in the general elections.
"The DMK is a house divided and whether in future it can regroup and give a fight remains to be seen. As things stand today, the BJP has already established itself as a force, at a time when both the Dravidian majors ignored it," Raja told HT.
A multi-pronged approach to strengthen the organisation is in the pipeline. Enrolling of members with booth-level as the reference point will begin in November. A mass contact programme where popular faces of the state BJP will take the Modi government's achievements to the people has also been planned. Training the cadre for polls, too, is on the priority list of the new state unit leadership.
The positives materialising from the Modi government at the Centre will help the Tamil Nadu BJP in the two years ahead of the assembly polls. Raja added that in those elections his party, and not the DMK, will pick up the anti-state government votes.
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