Trying to transform BJP into a mass party in Tamil Nadu: CT Ravi
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has formed 48,000 of 70,000 booth committees ahead of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu as it hopes its All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led alliance will retain power in the state this summer. CT Ravi, the BJP’s Tamil Nadu in-charge, spoke to Divya Chandrababu about the party’s poll preparations and long-term goals in the state where it has no members of Parliament or the state assembly. Edited excerpts:
What are the regions you are focusing on?
...We are focusing on all six regions. We do not have a short-term goal...have a long-term goal. We are trying to develop our party as a pan-Tamil Nadu [party and] not [just of] one region, one caste. We are strengthening our party from the booth level...[and have] constituted 48,000 booth committees now out of 70,000.
How long did it take to set up the committees?
...[The committees were on] paper but we have activated [them] now... hundreds of newcomers are there... The public response was good. We tried to bring out the local issues. Long pending issues are there. Some areas have water crises. Now our party is a cadre-based party. Once we are able to convert it into a mass party, it will be easier to get power.
Are you trying to transform the BJP into a mass party by taking up civic and development issues?
Yes, civic and development issues. Same time emotional issues. Tamil issues.
How many seats do you expect to contest?
We want as many... Our intention is for the AIADMK-headed [alliance] to retain power. Our party will go to the assembly with minimum double digits.
Would you bring in a common minimum programme after the elections?
Yes. We will talk with them and decide. We are focussing on development and Tamil issues. [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has given over ₹61,00,00 crore to Tamil Nadu directly benefiting Tamil Nadu people. EPS [chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami is] also doing good. We will focus on development, Tamil culture...and democratic values. You know the [Opposition] DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] does not have values. They are an undemocratic, family-welfare party. They want only family welfare, not Tamil Nadu’s welfare. They do not have internal democracy [and are] only [a] dictatorship.
Why has not the BJP been able to make a mark in Tamil Nadu so far?
The AIADMK and DMK...both were strong. We do not have a strong mass leader. Now our leaders are emerging. In Tripura, we got 1.5% [vote share] in 2013. Now we are in power. In West Bengal, we were in the fifth position. Now we are an alternative party. We will come to power. When assembly elections happen in Telangana, the BJP will come to power. In Tamil Nadu, our party is doing good. Tamil people love Modi, who cares about Tamil people. Once we are able to convert that faith into votes, our party will emerge.
The AIADMK and DMK have formed successive governments in Tamil Nadu and the BJP is viewed as a Hindi-party...
That is not true. We are a pan-India party. They made allegations against the BJP, saying it is as an upper caste party...now a north Indian party. We have democratic values... Our Prime Minister came from a humble background...now he is the number one leader. And so is our national president. Our home minister was booth committee president in 1982. In 1988, I was a booth committee president. Now I am a national general secretary. I used to make announcements, carry party flags. Now I am a four-time MLA [member of legislative assembly], two-time minister. It happens only in the BJP. But who are DMK leaders? DNA will decide leadership in the Congress, DMK, and other parties... Our ideology is the nation first. But Congress-DMK has a family-first ideology.
Palaniswami has also been saying the same thing during his campaign...
Palaniswami comes from a humble background. He has some qualities. Now also he is humble. He does not want his family members to lead or dictate his party. The AIADMK also has some democratic values compared to the DMK. Tamil Nadu state symbol is an ornate temple. But DMK people abused Lord Murugan. How can they rule Tamil Nadu? What is their Tamil culture? Is it corruption, family politics? Abusing Lord Murugan? Woman harassment?
Late former chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala says she is the real AIADMK...
Both EPS and [deputy chief minister] OPS [O Panneerselvam) are seasoned politicians. They are able to manage her. Both of them know her strength and weakness. It is their internal issue. We are not involved. We are with the AIADMK.
What are the BJP’s long-term goals in Tamil Nadu?
We do not have a single MP [member of Parliament] or MLA [in the state]. But many political and non-political people have joined our party. That shows our party is strengthening. What Modi has done for Tamil Nadu helps us. That will also build the party. Modi has directly connected with the Tamil Nadu people... The Congress government was showcasing Mughal tombs, but our Prime Minister showcased Mahabalipuram. When Congress-DMK was in power, they submitted an affidavit against jallikattu. [Congress minister] Jairam Ramesh brought bulls under animal cruelty. But in 2016, the BJP resubmitted an affidavit that it is not animal cruelty, but an animal sport and culture. The BJP and Modi are the real friends of Tamils.
[BJP] is a national interest party... we want to protect Tamil interests. They are trying to create a narrative that BJP is imposing Hindi. When Congress was in power, they imposed Hindi and there were anti-Hindi agitations led by DMK. 74 Tamils died. DMK used that to come to power. But our party has introduced the National Education Policy; [it] treats all 22 languages equally. Primary education should have a local language.