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Mersal controversy: BJP is making political faux pas a habit in Tamil Nadu

The BJP has big ambitions for Tamil Nadu and rightly so. But it repeatedly misreading the cards: From Jallikattu, to Neduvasal to NEET, and now an unnecessary controversy on Vijay’s Mersal. The party must overhaul its approach to become a relevant force in the state

opinion Updated: Oct 24, 2017 11:19 IST
Viju Cherian
Vijay’s character in the Tamil movie Mersal, while criticising GST, gets his facts wrong. But was the demand for deleting the scene warranted?
Vijay’s character in the Tamil movie Mersal, while criticising GST, gets his facts wrong. But was the demand for deleting the scene warranted?

I have not seen Mersal, the Tamil movie starring Vijay in three roles. I also do not intend to watch it anytime soon, because honestly, I have seldom found his movies worth the trouble of going to a theatre to watch. I’d rather wait for it on a satellite TV channel, maybe as a Pongal special blockbuster.

But thanks to the misadventures of the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP, I know much of the plot and a sequence of dialogues critical of recent events in India, such as the GST, Digital India and the poor state of healthcare in India.

The BJP TN unit’s cry is that facts have been misrepresented, allegedly to tarnish the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is a kernel of truth in it: Vijay’s character, while criticising GST, gets his facts wrong. But was the demand for deletion of scenes called for? And then the BJP state unit went into overdrive, with a leader going a step further and claiming that Vijay was critical of the central government because he is a Christian! Really?

Why is the party overreacting? There could be several reasons.

The political arena in Tamil Nadu has not been this unstable since the state’s formation, i.e. it does not have a towering leader or a dominant political party at the helm. The death of former chief minister J Jayalaltihaa and the deteriorating health of M Karunanidhi, both within a short period of time, have left the field open for the politically ambitious, politically indecisive and politically laidback forces to try their luck.

The ties between Kollywood and Tamil Nadu politics are an old one and while they still exist their strength has reduced. The failure of many ‘star’ politicians is proof of this. However, a power vacuum at Fort St George has prompted the likes of Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan to warm up on the political sidelines. Rajinikanth is notorious for his political indecisiveness right from the nineties, but desperate times have seemingly opened a window of opportunity.

The BJP is ambitious and rightly so — the party has made phenomenal progress across the country, especially in the Hindi heartland, and under Amit Shah it is prioritising south India.

The most glaring reason is that the BJP is misreading the cards in Tamil Nadu. It misread the popular mood during the Jallikattu protests, the Neduvasal protests, and most importantly the party’s stand on NEET was diametrically opposed to what popular sentiment was in the state. Add to this the wide speculation that much of the unrest within the AIADMK ranks is choreographed from Delhi and efforts by party leaders to communalise issues.

The BJP needs to change — nay, overhaul — its approach in Tamil Nadu if it wants to become a politically relevant force in 2019 and thereafter. One approach could be to relook at a not-so-old promise on which the party rode to power at the Centre in 2014 — Development. For the moment, it appears to be missing from the party’s agenda in Tamil Nadu.

@VijuCherian