BJP Faces Tough Electoral Challenge In South Indian State Of Tamil Nadu – Analysis


The challenges are cultural, ideological and historical 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is considered the winning house in the elections to the Indian parliament beginning on Friday, is facing tough cultural, ideological and historical challenges in the Southern State of Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu sends 39 members to the 543-member Lower House of  parliament called the Lok Sabha.

It is in Tamil Nadu that a washout is on the cards for the BJP. Barring hard core BJP supporters, most observers predict 37 or 38 out of 39 seats for the DMK-Congress alliance, one or two for the AIADMK and nil for the BJP. 

Tall claims are being made by the BJP and its mouthpieces in the national media about the party increasing its vote share from 3% to 12 or 15%, even if it does not bag any seat. 

It is also said that the BJP is looking beyond the 2024 elections into the future when it hopes to displace the AIADMK as the second largest party in the State.

But none of these hopes are likely to be fulfilled given the political history and the culture of the State, which are different and antithetical to the history and culture of the North Indian States or even the other South Indian States like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala. 

Tamil Nadu has a unique linguistic, cultural and political identity. To begin with, its language, Tamil, is unique in as much as it has the least number of Sanskrit words. Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam have a much greater admixture of Sanskrit.

Tamil Hinduism is different from the Hinduism practiced in other parts of India. It has a distinct religious literature in which the language used is not Sanskrit but Tamil. 

The most popular God in Tamil Nadu is Murugan. Murugan or Karthikeya is not a well-known deity in the North Indian Hindu pantheon. Rama and Krishna are not as important as Murugan or Siva in Tamil Nadu.

The caste divisions in Tamil Hindu are different in character from those in the North. The four-fold division in the Sanskritized Hindu society of the North comprises the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and the Shudras. This division does not exist in the South, where the society is divided into Brahmins, Non-Brahmins and Dalits. 

The Dravidian movement to which the Dravida Kazhagam and its offshoots, the DMK and the AIADMK, belong, stands for a caste-less society. The DMK and AIADMK have been pioneers of the social justice movement in South India which has been fighting against caste. 

These parties pioneered the policy of giving reservation for backward castes in government jobs and educational institutions. 69 % of government jobs and seats in educational institutions are reserved for the Backward Castes in Tamil Nadu. This is apart from 15% reservation for Dalits. 

The Dravidian movement does not consider Brahmins as Tamils at all, but as immigrants from the North acting as agents of the Sanskritized North. 

The Dravidian movement began as an anti-Brahmin, anti-North, anti-Sanskrit, anti-Hindu and anti-caste movement. But its virulence has subsided markedly. However, whenever there is a perception of North Indian domination, as is the case under the present BJP government, old antagonisms come to the fore. 

The controversy over Sanatan Dharma raised by the DMK represents opposition to the kind of militant Hinduism (Hindutva) which Modi’s BJP is now trying to foist on the country. 

The Dravidian movement is also explicitly secular and believes in embracing all religious communities. The movement has no antagonism towards the Muslims, as Muslims came to Tamil Nadu as peaceful traders and not as conquerors as was the case in the North. Christian missions are appreciated as they had helped marginalized communities like fishermen, Nadars and Thevars to acquire an education and move up the social and economic ladder. 

The attitude to the minorities in Tamil Nadu is in sharp contrast to the North where Muslims and Christians are seen as aliens owing allegiance to a foreign land. 

While there are Hindu-Muslim conflicts in some areas of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh because of the presence of a large number of Muslims, there are virtually no communal conflicts in Tamil Nadu. Therefore, the BJP, which believes in building itself up by  exploiting communal feelings, has no scope in Tamil Nadu.

This does not mean that a non-Tamil party based in North India cannot find a foothold in Tamil Nadu among the Tamils. But that party has to be secular and a votary of social justice and equality. It should not try to impose any culture or language. The Congress of Nehru and Indira Gandhi met this requirement and therefore the Congress has been having a consistent 20% vote share in Tamil Nadu. 

The BJP is seen as a party which is trying to impose the Hindu culture and values peculiar to the North on the Tamils. This is a unacceptable. 

An overwhelming majority of Tamils are Hindus and very religious in their personal life. But they detest the imposition of Hinduism or Hindu values on others. 

The BJP does have its supporters in Tamil Nadu but these are mostly Brahmins. However, Brahmins are only 2% of the population. Though Brahmin have a strong presence in the media, they are politically inactive.

The BJP’s other supporters are a section of people who seek a place in the power structure at the Centre. Some of these are businessmen and politicians who hope to be co-opted by the powers-that-be at the Centre. This group also includes corrupt people who fear raids by the Central agencies.

In the April 19 elections in Tamil Nadu, the main issue is whether Modi should continue to be PM or he should be replaced by a more moderate leader. It is generally granted that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will emerge as a single largest group. But the expectation is that Modi will be replaced if he fails to get the promised 370 for the BJP and 400 plus for the NDA.

In Tamil Nadu the election is not Modi vs Rahul as the mainstream North-based media portrays. It is Modi vs the Tamil people. Tamil journalists who had toured various parts of India say that despite Modi’s claim that he has done wonderful work, including building a grand temple for Lord Rama, disillusionment with his regime is palpable even in North India. Their expectation is that the BJP will not cross 250 seats in the Lok Sabha of 543 seats.

There is much hype about the BJP’s State President K.Annamalai. He is hardworking and has sewed up an alliance with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) after the AIADMK walked out of the NDA complaining of Annamalai’s abrasiveness. 

But the PMK is a single caste-based party with some influence only in North Tamil Nadu. Furthermore, it has no agenda as on date. Its  caste-related demands had already been met by previous State governments. All that the PMK is seeking now is a ministership in the NDA government or a Rajya Sabha seat for one its leaders. 

Annamalai is a candidate in Coimbatore, but he is not expected to win. So long as Annamalai and the BJP do not recognize the unique cultural, social and political psyche of the Tamils and adjust their policies suitably, the BJP cannot make headway in Tamil Nadu either now or in the foreseeable future.

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *