From Tamilisai Soundararajan’s blind defence of the Centre’s policies against a growing anti-saffron sentiment in the State to L Murugan’s Vel Yatra against rationalists to K Annamalai’s recently announced Satyagraha campaign against the Tamil Nadu government’s anti-people policies, the State BJP appears to be still groping in the dark for a firm foothold in TN politics. However, the party leaders’ efforts have not gone unnoticed.
On Tuesday, TN BJP president and former IPS officer K Annamalai threatened to hold a one-day Satyagraha in Tiruchy on June 25 if, according to him, the State government continued its anti-people approach and did not bring down petrol and diesel prices. He also warned that the campaign would ‘mark the beginning of the end of DMK rule for TN.’
Earlier during the day, Annamalai led a massive protest at Rukhmani Lakshmipathy Salai urging the DMK government to fulfil its election promise of reducing petrol prices by Rs. 5/litre and diesel prices by Rs. 4/litre. According to media reports, a large number of BJP cadre gathered at the venue and began to march toward Fort St. George when they were prevented by the police. A stampede almost occurred on the road as most cadre followed their leaders despite police trying to stop them. In the melee, a chappal was allegedly hurled at the police too. However, the situation was brought under control soon and the crowd dispersed.
K Annamalai, a former IPS officer of the Karnataka cadre, was appointed President of the TN unit of BJP in July 2021 and is yet to complete a year in office. Since taking charge of the State wing of the national ruling party, Annamalai has spared no opportunity to attack the ruling DMK at every available opportunity more vociferously than the opposition AIADMK with 66 Assembly seats which has been largely subtle in attacking the ruling party.
Last week, Annamalai criticised Stalin for raking up ongoing local issues during the PM’s visit to Tamil Nadu. Taking to Twitter, K Annamalai wrote, "As an ordinary citizen of India and a proud Tamil, I am absolutely ashamed by the appalling conduct of TN CM @mkstalin. Hon PM @narendramodi had come as the PM, not for a BJP programme. Our CM was expected to show grace but he ended up disgracing himself."
Such direct attacks have been a regular feature of Annamalai’s speeches as well as his tweets. Since the BJP stormed to power in 2014 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its head, the saffron party heads in TN have been consistently making significant noise at every possible opportunity. The party top brass up north has also preferred new faces to seasoned hands in a bid to make inroads in the Dravidian land.
Tamilisai, BJP’s first firebrand female party president in Tamil Nadu
When Tamilisai Soundararajan replaced BJP veteran Pon Radhakrishnan in August 2014 after the latter became a Union Minister, she was chosen to ignore several contenders for the top party post, which had been traditionally held in Tamil Nadu by males with a strong Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) connection. Then, BJP president Amit Shah decided to hand over the post to the daughter of former TN Congress Committee President Kumari Anandan.
As State BJP president, Tamilisai could be credited for keeping the saffron party in the media limelight throughout her tenure with fiery speeches defending the Union government. Besides, she had also increased enrolment in the State BJP which the party claims increased by several lakhs. Despite a strong anti-BJP sentiment prevalent in the State, Tamilisai stood up against all the offline and online BJP-slamming and defended her party and its ideology. The angst against BJP and her, in particular, was so overriding back then that a young Canada-based scholar who happened to board the same flight as the gynaecologist raised slogans against the BJP and was booked by the police upon the latter’s complaint.
Despite Tamilisai’s best efforts, the BJP received a drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections losing all seats the party had contested. Soundararajan had also lost to DMK’s Kanimozhi in the Thoothukudi constituency. However, Tamilisai was rewarded for her loyalty and consistent efforts to promote the party and was made Governor of Telangana.
L Murugan’s Vel Yatra to Union Minister post
Even as several party veterans vied for the top party post following her exit, the BJP national headquarters preferred a relatively unknown lawyer L Murugan as her successor.
Not very popular among the local BJP leaders, Murugan took on the mantle from Tamilisai and continued to fiercely defend the central government and its policies even as NEET and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) controversies made the party hugely unpopular in the State. In the run-up to the 2021 Assembly elections, Murugan launched the Vel (spear) Yatra after a fringe group denigrated hymns sung in praise of Lord Muruga.
Trying to cash in on the anger of devotees of Lord Murugan, the BJP cadre led by Murugan defied police and the courts to proceed with their campaign across the State. Murugan’s religious symbolism might not have taken off electorally as the saffron party might have anticipated but again managed to make noise and also received widespread media coverage with several state BJP leaders courting arrest while taking out ‘Vel’ processions across the State.
Murugan’s actions bore fruit in the 2021 Assembly elections when the party managed to secure 4 Assembly seats as a part of the AIADMK alliance even though he lost the Dharapuram (reserved) seat to DMK’s Kayalvizhi by a little over a 1,000 votes. Rewarding his hard work, the party has made him the Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting and Fisheries despite the poll defeat.
Annamalai, who succeeded Murugan, has been more vocal against the DMK government than their ally and main Opposition party AIADMK over the past thirteen months since DMK came to power. He has now proposed a Satyagraha campaign to protest the state government’s anti-people policies exactly two years ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections.
Ground impact of BJP in Tamil Nadu
While all state BJP leaders since 2014 have been successful in keeping the party in the media limelight, little has changed on the ground when it comes to the party’s vote share in major elections. The BJP which secured a vote share of 5.48 % in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections lost significant ground in the 2019 polls when it secured just 3.62% of the total votes polled. Even in assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share dipped from 3.57% in 2016 to 2.62 % in 2021 although the party managed four wins. The BJP which contested alone in the most recent local body polls managed to increase its overall vote share to 5.41% with 7.17 % in corporations, 3.31% in municipal elections and 4.3% in town panchayats.
In a day and age when Gandhian principles are rarely understood and seldom put to use, the efficacy of the former police officer’s attempt at reviving a Satyagraha (a non-violent political protest with the truth as its soul force) remains to be seen. However, the shift in BJP rhetoric from triggering religious sentiments of Hindus to focusing more on taking up people’s problems could be seen as a constructive move as was evident in the crowd that thronged the protest venue on Tuesday.
Irrespective of the outcome of his Satyagraha campaign, Annamalai can be certain that his bosses up north are watching and his efforts on the ground could fetch him rewards like they did for his predecessors at the very least.