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The Southern Sojourn: BJP's 'Theatre of War' South of Vindhyas

The political developments in Tamil Nadu are part of the “war games” which may help the BJP secure seats it has never won in south India.

Sumit Pande |

Updated:August 20, 2017, 9:04 AM IST
The Southern Sojourn: BJP's 'Theatre of War' South of Vindhyas
In this August 12 photo, BJP chief Amit Shah is welcomed by party members after his arrival on a three-day visit to Karnataka. (PTI Photo)
News18 Sunday FeatureThe elusive southern states will be the next political “theatre of war” as the BJP prepares its blueprint for the next general election in 2019. And recent political developments in Tamil Nadu are part of the “war games” which may help the BJP notch its tally up by securing seats it has never won south of the Vindhyas.

This is how a senior BJP leader, speaking to on condition of anonymity, describes merger talks between warring AIADMK factions in Tamil Nadu.

“The marriage has been approved of by all the concerned parties. Only the nitty-gritty needs to be settled. It is an internal matter of the AIADMK and we will not interfere,” he says.

Irrespective of the posturing by the E Palaniswami (EPS) and O Panneerselvam (OPS) factions, the bone of contention which has stalled merger talks remains only one — who gets to be the chief minister.

“EPS, having shown his legislative strength and numbers, clearly has the upper hand. And there is no reason why he would budge,” says a source in the BJP.

Will OPS get to lead the party as general secretary? Well, who knows…. AIADMK might spring a surprise by electing a new leader!

For the BJP, however, the larger implication of the political realignment is linked with its strategy to build a state specific coalition to take on the DMK-led front. Both in 2004 and 2009, the Congress got alliances its right, especially in Tamil Nadu, and returned to power. The BJP, under Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, is not in the habit of leaving anything to chance.

Tamil Nadu has to be closed and settled before the next round of Cabinet expansion. The pressure is also on the AIAMDK to announce a merger before BJP chief Amit Shah’s visit to the state on Monday. The AIADMK may formally join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Two Cabinet berths and one MoS portfolio is the buzz in Delhi.

"In 2014, if a ragtag alliance could secure 19% votes, the one with AIADMK on board would be a formidable one," says a BJP leader.

Another factor to contend with here is actor Rajinikanth, who has dropped hints of joining politics and whose massive fan base makes him a protagonist in Tamil Nadu’s political potboiler. While his exact role in this drama is yet to be defined, this power play will also test his political acumen.

Another state integral to the BJP’s preparation for Mission-350 is Kerala. Underpinnings of what may appear to be an ideological battle between the Left and the RSS has huge electoral overtones. The BJP wants to come out of its traditional mould of being a north Indian, upper caste party. For that, the catchment area has to expand, both ideologically and otherwise.

In Karnataka, Siddaramaiah has shown that he will not be a pushover. Separate state flag, Kannada over Hindi, Lingayat demand being recognized as a separate religion — it’s a long list. The Chief Minister is experimenting with his own version of sub-nationalism to corner the BJP.

“He’s erred in his political judgement,” claims a BJP leader. But how will the BJP counter the Congress in Karnataka? Will the party pull a fast one to turn the tables on opponents?

Constantly on the lookout for new icons, the BJP can turn to “native nationalism” like no one else. It dovetails seamlessly with the party’s ideological moorings.

“We celebrate both Raja Raja Chola and Chandragutpa Maurya and their achievements. There is no contradiction between the two,” says a party leader.

In Tamil Nadu, it could turn to Thiruvalluvar for inspiration. In Andhra Pradesh, there is huge scope to expand; especially when dominant forces have reduced politics to a mere turf war between Kammas and Reddys.

The other large catchment area would be the East and the North East. For the areas east of Chota Nagpur plateau, there is a separate combat plan.

In Odisha, Paika rebellion has already been dusted out to create a new narrative.

(More Sunday Features)
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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