Ahead of the Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has chalked out an extensive plan to woo small backward castes in the Dravidian state as part of its efforts to counter its image of an upper caste- dominated party from the Hindi heartland.
The communities it is trying to woo are Gounders (in western Tamil Nadu), Thevars (Madurai and south Tamil Nadu) Vaniyars (north Tamil Nadu) and the Nadar community.
Conscious of the “limitations” it has in the state’s politics, BJP is focusing on “expansion, consolidation and penetration” as much as possible, said sources.
Top BJP leaders will soon be addressing rallies in the state, while the state unit will be working to consolidate Hindu supporters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Coimbatore for a rally on February 25 and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is to visit Salem Sunday. Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J P Nadda have already made trips to the state. Nadda, whose focus is to boost morale of party cadres in the state, may visit again soon.
Despite successes in the Hindi heartland, the BJP has struggled to make forays into states with a dominant regional culture like Tamil Nadu. Even in West Bengal, where it has made significant political gains in recent times, the ruling TMC has built its campaign around the insider-outsider plank. The move to play up and appropriate Tamil culture is an attempt by BJP to counter this.
Rajnath, known to enjoy acceptability in party circles in southern states, will address multiple rallies. Sources said Singh’s rally at Salem is expected to draw a large crowd.
The BJP is aware of the “huge challenges” in the southern state, said a party leader. It is in alliance with the ruling AIADMK and is seeking 30-35 seats out of the 234 seats in the Assembly under the seat-sharing arrangement. A party leader, however, said they may have to be content with 20-25 seats.
Although the BJP tries to project itself as a national party, the party is at a disadvantageous position in the North vs South or Hindi vs Tamil battle, which is deep-rooted in Tamil Nadu’s culture. “Tamilians think their language is on a par with Sanskrit and superior to Hindi in terms of richness as well as history. Any neglect to the language is treated as a humiliation,” said the leader. “The biggest challenge is to occupy the mind space of Tamilians,” said a leader working closely with the BJP’s state unit.
It is for this reason that leaders like Rajnath in their public addresses would use Tamil phrases to “make the crowd feel connected”, said BJP sources.
The party, they said, will be highlighting the Modi government’s initiatives for the fishermen community and the recent move to introduce a Bill in Lok Sabha to group seven Scheduled Caste groups in the state under a common nomenclature as Devendrakula Vellalars, a long-standing demand.
Senior BJP leader P Muralidhar Rao told The Indian Express, “The BJP is projecting itself as pro-Tamil Nadu and is working for its people. Be it fishermen community or Devendrakula Vellalars, our government is taking steps for their welfare. A new paradigm should emerge in Tamil Nadu in tune with the Indian emergence.”
“BJP is fighting hard to project itself as a Tamil-oriented party that wants to appreciate and promote the language,” Rao said, adding that the “outsider” image for a national party also led to the Congress’s decline in the state. “You have no relevance in Tamil Nadu politics as long as you are not projected as a Tamil-oriented party,” he added.
In a recent interaction with the BJP social media cell volunteers in Madurai, Nadda had insisted that they should give content of their campaign materials in English, Tamil and in local dialects.
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