RAJINIKANTH’S decision to abort his political entry may have come as a setback for the BJP, which was looking to gain from division of votes in the upcoming state elections, but the national party’s plans to increase its visibility in Tamil Nadu is back on track, with high-profile visits and a grand statewide programme for Pongal celebrations.
Top party leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah will visit the state – for the second time in two months – on January 14, when the state celebrates Pongal. Besides this, sources said, BJP national president J P Nadda may attend a Jallikattu event near Madurai, possibly on January 15, a day after Shah’s visit to Chennai.
The week-long Pongal celebration programme – “Namma Ooru Pongal” – is the BJP’s latest move to shed its image in Tamil Nadu of being a north Indian party. In November last year, in an effort to be seen as relating to Tamil culture and symbols, the party had organised Vel Yatra, which was to celebrate Tamil deity Lord Muruga.
Confirming Shah’s visit, a senior BJP leader said, “Nadda also may be reaching Tamil Nadu to attend a Jallikattu event. Our national leaders from different states, including national general secretaries C T Ravi and B L Santhosh, are also scheduled to attend the Pongal celebrations. The list of other leaders are yet to be confirmed.”
BJP’s long-term plans
THE BJP's week-long programme for Pongal, a festival that celebrates Tamil culture and peasants, may be much more than a strategic move ahead of the Assembly elections in May. It appears to be part of the party's long-term plans to gain acceptance in a state that has been ruled largely by Dravidian parties. It is also significant since, as the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP was at the receiving end of the Jallikattu protests in the state during 2017 Pongal. The move, however, may come as a surprise for the Dravidian parties as Pongal is considered a people's festival, and there were no visible efforts in the past to capitalise on it politically.
Senior party leader Khushboo said it was important that a party such as BJP celebrates Pongal as it is not a mere festival but it is also about the culture and lifestyle of the people. “I am glad that we are celebrating it in a big way,” she said.
During his visit, Shah will attend the anniversary function of Tughlaq magazine of late Cho Ramaswamy, which is currently being run by RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy, who was accused of orchestrating a revolt and split in AIADMK after Jayalalithaa’s death and credited for influencing Rajinikanth in favour of BJP.
Multiple sources in the BJP said Shah may also be meeting Rajinikanth to seek his support in the election. People close to Rajinikanth, however, have ruled out any chance of the actor making political statements to favour the BJP in the upcoming polls.
Ahead of the visits of Shah and Nadda, the celebrations will be attended by senior leaders and celebrities such as H Raja, Pon Radhakrishnan, state president L Murugan, C P Radhakrishnan, Khushboo and Gayathri Raghuram.
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