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OPINION | PM Narendra Modi Dodges Cauvery Protests in Chennai, But Can BJP Dodge the Angry Tamizhan?

The problem is with the radio silence by the BJP leadership even when it knows Tamil Nadu is agitated over the manner in which the Centre is seeking not to implement the Supreme Court verdict on Cauvery.

TS Sudhir |

Updated:April 12, 2018, 11:25 AM IST
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OPINION | PM Narendra Modi Dodges Cauvery Protests in Chennai, But Can BJP Dodge the Angry Tamizhan?
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AP Photo)
“India has not seen such a scared Prime Minister like you. Narendra Modi, you are a coward,” thundered the theatrical Vaiko, lambasting the decision to have the PM fly from Chennai airport to the locations of two events — the Defence Expo and at IIT Madras — in the city on Thursday.

The MDMK leader dared Modi to travel by road and face the black flags that the opposition parties plan to wave during the visit.

It is easy to dismiss Vaiko as a paper tiger. His party accounts for next to nothing in the electoral landscape of Tamil Nadu, coming a cropper in the last elections. But the manner in which Modi is accused of lack of sincerity on the Cauvery issue is a pointer to the direction in which the narrative is being spun. More so when the man on the street, too, is convinced that given its political interests in Karnataka, Modi has reasons to support the cause of the upper riparian state and delay the formation of the Cauvery Management Board.

It is also easy to dismiss the black flag protests at different locations across Chennai as politically motivated. You may also ignore the black balloons released in the sky just when Modi landed at Chennai airport, as the handiwork of fringe groups. But what they do is to underline the sentiment that the Centre has been less than fair to Tamil Nadu.

The presence of a few Tamil Nadu flags that bear the image of a tiger, fish and bow and arrow, signifying the rule of the Chola, Pandyan and Chera kings, emphasise the Thamizhan identity.

It would not please the BJP that lays great store by what is being spoken of on social media that #GoBackModi is one of the top trends on Twitter on Thursday.

The question, therefore, to ask is whether the BJP has lost the plot in Tamil Nadu.

When Jayalalithaa passed away and it was obvious that the second rung leadership of the AIADMK was a political pygmy, the BJP saw an opportunity to increase its footprint in Tamil Nadu. Since December 2016, the party has been accused of remote-controlling the AIADMK government.

With Income Tax and CBI raids putting pressure on movers and shakers within the AIADMK and a split in the party, the alleged skeletons in the ruling party's cupboard helped the BJP wrest control even though it did not have a single MLA in the Tamil Nadu assembly.

If this back-seat driving, even though an immoral arrangement, had helped Tamil Nadu's cause, the people would not have minded. But in a little over one year, the feeling of victimhood has only gained root in the state.

Be it Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam's public admission that he returned to the AIADMK fold because of Modi's nudge or the party's overenthusiasm in disrupting Lok Sabha, thereby ensuring the no-trust vote was not taken up, that the BJP-AIADMK is a combo pack is obvious to all.

The BJP recorded less than 3 percent vote share in the 2016 Assembly elections. But in a post-Jayalalithaa order, the BJP saw an opportunity to forge an alliance with a weakened AIADMK and increase its political strength in the state. Given that it had peaked in the cow belt in 2014, it needed to pick up Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and this friendship would have been a perfect fit.

Except that while trying to gain control over the AIADMK, the BJP destroyed whatever little credibility the party had. Its leaders were reduced to being seen as BJP's B team in Tamil Nadu, kowtowing to Modi just the way they would prostrate before Jayalalithaa.

No one is disputing security concerns for the PM if he takes the road route especially when agitations are planned. The problem is with the radio silence by the BJP leadership even when it knows Tamil Nadu is agitated over the manner in which the Centre is seeking not to implement the Supreme Court verdict on Cauvery.

Despite being a fantastic communicator, Modi has made no effort to explain to Tamil Nadu why his government is dragging its feet. He has not even granted an audience to an all-party delegation from Tamil Nadu to represent its cause. That sent the message that Modi did not care. The BJP has left it to the AIADMK government to face the heat, with protests erupting over IPL matches in Chennai.

To make matters worse, its Tamil Nadu leaders like H Raja point out that the state will get Cauvery water only if the BJP comes to power in Karnataka. That confirms that the BJP accords lesser priority to a Tamizhan's thirst when compared to its electoral prospects in Karnataka.

In the RK Nagar by-elections in December, the BJP polled lesser votes than NOTA. If the current mood in Tamil Nadu is anything to go by, there is a serious danger of a repeat in 2019.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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