The BJP was the first party to prepare for the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, as early as 2014 in fact, a few months after its whopping Lok Sabha victory. With a vote share of 19 per cent, it dreamt of capturing power in Tamil Nadu. However, it seems that the fate of national parties is repeating itself in the BJP’s case too: with barely six weeks left before voting, the BJP has lost almost all its key NDA partners — Vijayakanth’s DMDK, Vaiko’s MDMK and S Ramadoss’s PMK.
Forget about established political parties; the support of smaller caste outfits with sizeable vote shares in Tamil Nadu’s powerful OBC-caste belt that once inspired BJP President Amit Shah to devise an OBC-Dalit axis, have deserted the party. Leaders such E R Eswaran, head of the Kongunadu Makkal Desia Katchi party (KMDK) have ridiculed the NDA leadership for being arrogant and indifferent to its allies in the state, after Modi’s victory.
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So what went wrong?
The BJP state chief Tamilisai Soundararajan knew that no national party can survive by being at the mercy of either of the two Dravidian majors, and therefore she devised a strategy of maintaining her distance from the DMK and AIADMK.
While national leaders of the Congress and CPI(M) played second fiddle to the two parties, Tamilisai, daughter of veteran Congress leader Kumari Ananthan from southern parts of the state, decided to take on both J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi.
When Jayalalithaa was convicted in the disproportionate assets case, Tamilisai, along with other opposition leaders in the state, stood firmly against Jayalalithaa.
This worked well enough until the national leadership embarrassed the state unit by appeasing Jayalalithaa. The day Finance Minister Arun Jaitley visited the residence of Jayalalithaa in early 2015 when she was a convict out on bail, that day the BJP lost the game. The entire opposition, including its NDA partners launched an attack on the BJP and questioned the logic of Jaitley visiting a convict in her home. Tamilisai was silent that day, “an embarrassing silence,” said a state leader who regrets the party’s soft stance towards Jayalalithaa.
The embarrassment did not end there as Jayalalithaa continued to be treated as a ‘special friend’ of the BJP national leadership. Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, a known rival of Tamilisai who allegedly tried to prevent her political elevation, and some senior leaders close to him, joined the national leadership in efforts to please ‘Amma,’ for reasons not known to anyone till today.
When Jayalalithaa’s returned as chief minister after her acquittal in the assets case, Radhakrishnan and BJP’s national leaders attended the swearing-in ceremony. Tamilisai was not invited to the swearing-in ceremony. When media asked about it, Radjakrishnan justified his presence there: “We do not treat our political adversaries as enemies and not inviting our president means it is not an invite to our party”.
However, the BJP national leadership continued to appease ‘Amma,’ without realising that they were losing their own alliance partners – Vaiko, a leader who had been praising Modi, Vijayakanth who always enjoyed being pampered by Modi, and Ramadoss who also respected Modi – all of them lost patience and attacked the government.
In the run up too elections now, Tamilisai is still running from pillar to post to win back old allies. None of her efforts seems to have succeeded as neither Vijayakanth nor Vaiko have returned while Ramadoss continues to keep her guessing.
“Neither Modi nor Jaitley had political reasons to appease Jayalalithaa, it must have been out of friendship, although it costs the party dearly now,” said a senior BJP leader.
According to a senior RSS leader, BJP cadres in the state feel that they have been let down by their national leaders. “We are now left with nobody,” he said. He added that like CPI(M) and CPI, BJP and RSS too have a powerful cadre base among working class in the trade unions. “They support our strikes and protests. But none of these sympathisers and cadres in trade unions or other organisations will vote for the BJP in the elections as they have seen how their national leadership pampered their main enemy in the state,” he said.
Tamilisai continues to try to heal the wounds. Two weeks after Vijayakanth sealed a poll alliance with Vaiko-led Third Front, she urged Vijayakanth today, to review his alliance plans reminding him that he was part of the NDA in 2014.