In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is clearly perceived as a North Indian Hindu party, and there is a groundswell of opposition to it. The party needs a strong force with mass appeal and that comes in the form of Rajinikanth. But will the actor join forces with the saffron party? Both have a lot to lose, but a lot to gain
Union home minister and BJP's man of the moment Amit Shah was in Chennai 10 days ago for the launch of Vice President Venkaiah Naidu's book.
At the venue, the BJP's local unit was in full attendance. So were the leaders of the AIADMK, including Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswamy and his deputy O Panneerselvam. The BJP and the AIADMK equation, it was quite obvious to see, was functional.
Both the BJP and the AIADMK are in a marriage of convenience in Tamil Nadu. The two are holding on to each other because the other options for them are not all that attractive or acceptable at the present. So, they are stuck with each other. But for how long?
Tamil Nadu is proving to be a tough political jigsaw puzzle for the BJP. The BJP even if it can summon up all the right pieces is still unable to get to the point of finding the right slot for the right piece.
The BJP's trusted Amit Shah gambit will not work in the state. Shah's plan in most states is to beef up grassroots structure of the local party unit, cherry pick some local leaders and back them to the hilt, and then bombard the state with his own and Modi’s meetings. Otherwise, look for local alliances and build on its collective strength.
But in Tamil Nadu, the BJP is clearly perceived as a North Indian Hindu party, and there is a groundswell of opposition to it.
The problem for the BJP is that its state unit in Tamil Nadu is in no great shape. Its state president, Tamilisai Soundararajan, who lost the general election (from Thoothukudi), is earnest and enthusiastic. But that alone won't work for the BJP in its current situation.
The alliance methodology, which has helped the BJP gain traction in states like Punjab, Bihar, has also hit a wall in the Tamil Nadu.
The tie-up with the AIADMK (along with PMK and DMDK) was a fiasco with the entire alliance block managing to win only one seat out of the 38 seats that went to polls in April.
There was a rumoured suggestion, too, that the BJP should somehow link up with the DMK and ride piggyback on it. After all, the BJP and the DMK were together for most of the Vajpayee government, and DMK leaders were ministers in his team.
But now the situation has changed, also an alliance with the DMK, even in the unlikely scenario of it happening, is no guarantee that it would fetch the votes for the DMK.
In the Vellore Lok Sabha election early this month, where polls were cancelled in April after the seizure of huge amounts of cash, the DMK huffed and puffed to victory with a margin of just over 8000 votes- this, in a constituency which has around 3 lakh Muslim voters. The BJP was not directly in the fray, but its alliance partner the New Justice Party stood under the AIADMK’s Two Leaves symbol.
So, the DMK itself is not having it easy with the voters.
In the event, it is clear that the BJP needs to find a leader who has oodles of charisma and plenty of mass support.
Such leaders are not made to order. They have to happen. With none in sight, the BJP is looking interestedly at Rajinikanth.
The actor has promised that he will launch his political outfit in time for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections (technically due in the summer of 2021.) But people are sceptical of whether Rajini will actually back his words.
Also, Rajinikanth the star cannot hope to recreate his magic as Rajinikanth the politician. Actors these days are unable to transform their star power from cinema to politics.
But the BJP cannot nit-pick now, and would be happy to receive any kind of support for it to grow in the state.
And as it happens, Rajini has been making noises that the BJP would like to hear.
Rajini, speaking at that Venkaiah Naidu book release function, likened Shah and Modi to Krishna and Arjuna.
A few days later, he congratulated the BJP for handling the Kashmir issue adroitly.
Already, the allegation in Tamil Nadu is that Rajnikanth is a closet BJP man.
Rajini's Hindu and spiritual inclinations are well known.
But over his career, Rajni has also tended to side with the establishment. For instance, he has blown hot against Jayalalithaa, but when she was in power, he has also spoken adulatory things about her.
So, whether his words now are from a BJP sympathiser or just his own establishment streak is speaking is hard to tell.
But it doesn't matter much to the BJP. It would take Rajini's backing any day, provided he offers it.
Rajini, however, may be in a quandary. If he launches his political party (a big if that) and immediately ties up with the BJP, it may not go well with his fans who may want him to stay independent.
But running a political party needs lots of finance, and at this moment, the BJP is the one who can help Rajini on that count.
So, Rajini also needs the BJP in a sense.
That begs the question: will the two join forces soon? Will that help the BJP make inroads the south state.
There are no easy answers at the moment.
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Last Updated Aug 19, 2019, 8:12 PM IST