For first time in 20 years, BJP makes mark down south

Published on May 04, 2021 01:00 AM IST

Chennai: The Bharatiya Janata Party has made some significant electoral gains down south, especially in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, where its vote share has increased from previous elections

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ByDivya Chandrababu

Chennai: The Bharatiya Janata Party has made some significant electoral gains down south, especially in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, where its vote share has increased from previous elections. The party could also get some consolation in Kerala, where its vote-share did not go down much despite the Left Front alliance sweeping the polls.

For the first time, the BJP, whose strong hold has always been the Hindi heartland, has made a mark in the southern states, where it had failed to expand its base despite several efforts.

After a gap of 20 years, the BJP has won four seats in Tamil Nadu assembly elections, results of which were announced on Sunday. It also opened its account after two decades in neighbouring Puducherry, where it had no presence before the polls. Its three MLAs in the Union territory were all nominated members. The BJP won six seats in the UT and NDA is set to form the government in alliance with senior partner All Indian NR Congress (AINRC) in the National Democratic Alliance. AINRC met governor Tamilisai Soundarajan to stake claim to form the government.

In Tamil Nadu, the BJP contested in only 20 seats in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led alliance, winning four of them. It won Tirunelveli, Nagercoil, Modakurichi seats and a nail-biting contest in Coimbatore South. The party got 2.62% of the total votes polled, which was two percentage points less than that of the Congress, which contested 25 seats in alliance with the MK Stalin-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

The national party has been pulling all stops to make inroads into the Dravidian heartland, sensing an opportunity after the demise of Dravidian stalwarts and former chief ministers J Jayalalithaa in December 2016 and M Karunanidhi in August 2018.

While it is evident that the Dravidian parties still hold sway in Tamil Nadu with the DMK winning a majority and AIADMK finishing with 66 seats, the BJP’s gains, despite small, has come as a shot in the arm for party leaders and workers, who now aim to build on these results for the 2026 state polls. “The wins have laid a solid foundation for the growth of our party,” said BJP’s Tamil Nadu election in-charge C T Ravi.

The last time the BJP made gains in Tamil Nadu was in 2001, when it was in alliance with the DMK and had won four seats. To counter its image as a north-Indian Hindi party, the BJP revamped its state unit, which is headed by a Dalit, L Murugan. The party also held the Vetrivel yatra of Tamil deity Lord Muruga, who is worshipped widely by locals, in November 2020 in its attempt to consolidate Hindu votes. However, the yatra did not garner the expected response. During the election campaigns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would start his address to the public by throwing up his hands and saying, “vetrivel” (victorious sear), to which the crowd would respond by saying “veeravel” (courageous spear). On the ground, the BJP also strengthened its booth committees, activating more than 48,000 of them.

“Their pro-Hindu rhetoric worked to some extent,” political analyst Raveendran Duraisamy said, adding, “But it was the AIADMK that overall contributed to their wins, especially in Modakkurichi for C Saraswathi.”

Saraswathi defeated former DMK minister Subbulakshmi Jegadeesan. On the specific wins, Duraisamy said BJP’s M R Gandhi surprised three-time DMK MLA N Suresh Rajan because of a Hindu consolidation while in Tirunelveli, former AIADMK leader Nainar Nagendran gave the BJP a win with the caste support of Mukkalathurs and Devendrakula Vellalars. These caste groups supported Modi after he accepted their long-standing demand to group seven sub-castes together to be known by their heritage name.

Coimbatore South witnessed a seesaw battle with actor and Makkal Needhi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan leading through the day only to get defeated by Vanathi Srinivasan, who is the BJP’s national women’s wing president, by 1,540 votes. “It was her individual work. She has been working in the constituency for more than three years, which helped her reach the masses,” said Duraisamy.

In Puducherry, which is currently under Governor’s rule, the National Democratic Alliance led by N Rangasamy’s AINRC is set to form the government in the 30-seat assembly. While the AINRC won 10, BJP six, their ally AIADMK drew a blank in the UT. The Congress, which had failed to prove a majority in the assembly resulting in the fall of the elected government in Puducherry in February, could only win two seats while its ally DMK secured six seats.

From just one MLA in 2001 and three nominated members between 2016 and 2021, the BJP has come a long way in the UT. Besides anti-incumbency and Rangasamy’s enjoying a support base as former chief minister, the results also reflected the significance of the exodus of heavyweights like former minister A Namassivayam and A John Kumar from the Congress to the BJP. “BJP poached powerful individuals in Puducherry who helped them win,” said Duraisamy.

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