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Will PM Modi’s Outreach Work For BJP In Tamil Nadu?

The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategic moves in Tamil Nadu are making headlines ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. These include marathon rallies, an advertisement blitz, and the Prime Minister’s personal appeal. PM Modi has visited the state seven times in the last two months. This concerted effort by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) signifies a bold attempt to penetrate the traditionally challenging southern territory for the party.

Under the leadership of K Annamalai, the BJP is flexing its muscles in Tamil Nadu, a state dominated by established Dravidian parties. Annamalai’s dynamic approach has invigorated the BJP’s presence, propelling it beyond its historical limitations. The party’s ambitious agenda is clear: to secure a foothold in the Dravidian heartland.

The BJP is spearheading a non-DMK, non-AIADMK alliance, directly contesting 19 seats, including Coimbatore, where Annamalai himself is a candidate. Tamil Nadu sends 39 seats to the Lok Sabha.
A pivotal moment in the BJP’s outreach was Annamalai’s ‘En Mann, En Makkal’, which translates to’ My Land, My People’ padayatra. This seven-month-long political journey elevated Annamalai’s profile.

The yatra ended with Prime Minister Modi making an appearance and backing Annamalai. The Tamil Nadu BJP chief’s recent 2.5 km roadshow drew fervent support, with supporters thronging the streets, chanting slogans and showering flower petals on the Prime Minister’s convoy.

In the roadshow, Prime Minister Modi was joined by key BJP figures, including Tamil Nadu unit president and Coimbatore candidate K Annamalai, Chennai South candidate Tamilisai Soundararajan, Chennai North candidate RC Paul Kanagaraj, and Chennai Central nominee Vinoj P Selvam.

Amidst all this, PM Modi seized the opportunity to bring up an old yet contentious issue of Katchatheevu Island, criticizing the previous Congress administration for what he termed ‘giving away’ the island to Sri Lanka. Before that, PM Modi announced development projects exceeding Rs 20,000 crore in Tiruchirappalli in January, serving as a precursor. During that announcement, PM Modi emphasized his government’s unwavering focus on Tamil Nadu, highlighting the staggering statistic of over 400 visits by more than 40 Union Ministers to the state in the past year alone.

Furthermore, the BJP’s outreach strategy extends to digital platforms, particularly WhatsApp groups, where they are actively promoting their content. One such message circulated among these groups listed 43 YouTube channels, including official channels of the BJP, the Hindu Munnani Katchi, and TN BJP chief Annamalai. Notably, a subset of these channels, five in total, is dedicated to promoting Annamalai and his speeches, with a specific focus on countering the DMK’s influence.

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But the BJP is up against a strong regional party in the form of DMK. Chief Minister MK Stalin has emphasized the ideological rivalry between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led INDIA bloc and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He said the saffron party was the enemy of the people.

Stalin criticized the BJP’s attempts to establish a political foothold in Tamil Nadu. “The BJP is still not able to understand the political climate of Tamil Nadu. It is trying to build an image by virtue of being in power in the union government and through its strength in media propaganda. I need not give them any personal advice. The people of Tamil Nadu will record their advice to the BJP on April 19 (polling day),” he said.
Despite the loss of the AIADMK from its alliance, the BJP remains optimistic about increasing its vote share in Tamil Nadu due to its perceived growth in recent years.

Vanniyars have a significant presence in north Tamil Nadu’s parliamentary constituencies, such as Vellore, Arakkonam, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, and Tiruvannamalai. The cementing of caste identity with religious identity and riding two horses at the same time is viewed as a key BJP strategy in Tamil Nadu. Not doing so risks the BJP being captive to its image of being a ‘pro-Brahmin’, upper caste-dominated party.
However, it is difficult to answer whether this outreach to the middle castes will help or be counterproductive, given the distinct social reform movement in the state.

The BJP has been trying to find space in Tamil Nadu ever since the demise of AIADMK’s star leader, J Jayalalitha, who eventually inherited the political legacy of MG Ramachandran.
Now, the saffron party is pinning its hopes on its candidates – including former Tamilisai Soundarajan, C Shanmugam. Even poll strategist Prashant Kishor made headlines recently after he said the BJP could have a double-digit vote share in Tamil Nadu

In 2014, the BJP won just 1 seat, and in 2019, zero. The party’s vote share was in the single digits in both instances. The election also saw the reversal of the AIADMK’s political fortunes. The party managed to win only the Theni seat under the leadership of Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Pannerselvam, who was expelled from the party later. On the other hand, the DMK won 24 seats alone, while its allies secured 14 seats, totalling 38 out of 39 seats in the state. BJP’s brand of nationalism doesn’t echo as intensely in Tamil ears as it does in Uttar Pradesh. At least, it hasn’t so far.

The 2024 Indian general election in Tamil Nadu will be held on 19 April during the first phase to elect the 39 members of the upcoming 18th Lok Sabha. The result will be announced on 4 June 2024.

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