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WHILE THE BJP awaits the merger of the two factions of ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, with speculation that the step is a precursor to the party joining the NDA fold, the saffron party has finalised a plan to go local in order to gain a foothold in the southern states. To begin with, a senior BJP leader said, the party will try and appropriate Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar to endear itself to the Tamil electorate. Besides, both the party and the Central government are soon expected to launch programmes to promote Tamil language.
“There will be installation of Thiruvalluvar statues, programmes to celebrate him, and institutions will be named after him. He will be the first southern hero the BJP will celebrate in a big way,” the party leader said. This effort comes after BJP’s attempts to make electoral inroads with pre-election alliance with a clutch of regional parties and social groups in 2014 came unstuck after the polls. This, party leaders believe, resulted in its dismal performance in the 2016 Assembly elections — therefore the eagerness to get the AIADMK join the NDA.
BJP leaders said the party has “sensed” that it will be difficult to emerge as a strong alternative in Tamil Nadu without the backing of a party identified with the state. “The AIADMK is key for the BJP’s 2019 plans,” a source in the party said. “As the party could lose some seats in northern bastions — especially where it had almost swept the Lok Sabha polls — every seat from the South is significant.”
According to the party leader, there is a vacuum in Tamil Nadu, “and we do not want to leave it to anyone else”. As of now, the leader said, an alliance with AIADMK seems to be the “only way for the party to win seats in Parliament from the state in 2019”. But the perception battle the party is set to fight goes beyond Tamil Nadu — as seen in the recent controversy over linguistic identity in Karnataka, where BJP leaders, faced with a dilemma, found it difficult to take a stand on the charge of “imposition of Hindi”.
At The Indian Express Idea Exchange programme recently, P Muralidhar Rao, BJP general secretary and the party’s Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in-charge, admitted that the biggest challenge for BJP would be finding space for different social, linguistic, religious and communal identities of the people. “…how different identities — social, linguistic and other kinds of identities — how they get the space they deserve. That we have to prove, the government has to perform and show it,” he said.
According to BJP leaders, the party has to “seize” the situation at a time the Congress has failed to address and incorporate different identities. “The party has prepared its strategy in such a way that we will argue that there is no contradiction in the BJP’s approach to (different) issues,” the senior BJP leader said.