BJP national general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, who is in charge of party affairs in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, sees a political vacuum building up in Tamil Nadu. In Chennai last month, Rao told Shivani Gaurav Chaturvedi about the party’s formula for Tamil Nadu and how he planned to boost alliance possibilities for a stronger BJP in the state even as party chief Amit Shah paid a visit to Chennai. Excerpts from the interview:
Shivani Chaturvedi | January 26, 2015
How does the BJP propose to build its base in Tamil Nadu?
For the past four to five years the BJP has been consistently working in Tamil Nadu. And our mobilisation capacity has got demonstrated in the near past. It has increased exponentially. We have been taking up issues which are core to the state. For instance, the Tamil Nadu fishermen issue. We worked to mobilise fishermen all along the coast of the state. Their problem continues, but is being attended to. Further, we have been working for small-scale industry which is an important segment in the state. We have taken up the weavers’ cause. The party has identified core issues and strengthened the network and cadre over the last few years. In addition, Modi as the leader of the party has created good ground and as a result of this we could forge powerful alliances [with the DMDK, PMK, MDMK, KMDK, IJK and NJP], which helped us get 22.5 percent vote in Tamil Nadu in the parliamentary election. I believe this achievement will work as a takeoff ground for us and help strengthen the party further. In terms of seats we might not have succeeded but our vote share has made us the third pole in a triangular contest.
Nevertheless, the south, and in particular Tamil Nadu, has always been a challenge for the BJP. Peoples’ psychology and their attitude towards politics and issues that have been prevailing here and even ideological aspects of political movements here are altogether different from the north.
For example, the influence of film industry in Tamil Nadu is much more pronounced and decisive. We don’t find such kind of influence of film industry on politics in any other part of the country.
You speak of building a base, but the party does not even have a legislator in the assembly.
Correct. But when we go to polls, you will see we have MLAs. MLAs quit from other parties to join the BJP. It is a tectonic shift that I perceive.
State assembly elections are due in 2016. What would be your party’s strategy for it?
Strengthening alliance possibilities will strengthen the BJP in the state. We will also take the membership campaign very seriously in the coming two to three months. There will be visits of national leaders, including prime minister Narendra Modi, for consolidating our support base and converting them into members of the party. We will also focus on building leadership from the grassroots level. We will allow competent people from different streams to join the party. Symbolically, if I have to say, it will be the Haryana model. There are people from parties like the AIADMK, DMK and Congress who want to join the BJP, so we will allow the leaders at different levels to join the party which will help in consolidation work.
Does the BJP seek to replay the time-tested strategy in the state, of co-opting film personalities?
We have not excluded film industry from our strategy because we accept it has a decisive influence on political life of Tamil Nadu. We will definitely meet all important persons and there are people who are in touch with us. If you ask about Rajnikanth, it is ultimately up to him to take a call whether he wants to join the party. When we are appealing to everybody to join and strengthen the party I cannot say we have closed the doors for a particular person, including Rajnikanth who has been our well-wisher. The other point is when it comes to important persons, the party has got the timing aspect, that is the right time to join and be a part of the party. It’s a part of electoral strategy, a preparation strategy. Further, people from different political parties are in touch with me. I am in discussion with several district and state leaders.
How about your talks on alliance/s?
As of now there is no formal discussion about the new alliance or talking to parties regarding alliance
but dialogues are on to understand perspectives of the leaders of respective formations. We are taking alliance as a tool to strengthen our political formation.
How do you see the challenge to the Dravidian parties in the state?
We are seeing the crumbling of the DMK or the crumbling of the Dravidian movement altogether in the state. There are two important things that are changing the political landscape of the state – one is the DMK’s inability to function in a vibrant way, and this is happening for the first time in its life. The DMK has been the solid pole of Tamil Nadu politics from 1967 onwards. But now they are mired in corruption scandals and leadership issues. Appeal and attraction of the DMK has got completely distorted. This is resulting in a vacuum.
Second, though the AIADMK got a landslide victory in the parliamentary election by winning 37 out of 39 seats, there is lot of uncertainty within the party itself, let alone the state’s future. People are sceptical about the future of the AIADMK. There is no well laid out structure of the hierarchy of the party. The vulnerability has increased because of the conviction of the party’s chief J Jayalalithaa, especially because of the corruption charge than any other issue. In this entire situation, where the BJP has got the ambition of filling the vacuum and increasing the vote share by 10 percent, we are in the play. So it is not a very difficult target for the BJP.
In the Dravidian heartland do you see the BJP as an alternative?
Who had imagined that BJP will form the government completely on its own and getting 283 seats? So anything can happen. The BJP is bound to improve its chances in Tamil Nadu. It is interested in taking up all the political and developmental issues that have remained neglected till now or have been messed up with and deserve to be addressed. ‘Misgovernance’ and ‘bad governance’ are the core issues of Tamil Nadu. We will reach out to people with these issues. Good governance, transparency, probity in public life and development issues will remain our focus. I can see the BJP becoming the party of the people in Tamil Nadu.
Will the RSS cadre growth help the BJP in the state?
In Tamil Nadu, the RSS and its influence are certainly growing. But the BJP’s growth cannot necessarily be linked to the RSS’s growth. The BJP as a political party has grown in states where the RSS is not strong. The BJP’s growth many a time depends on the political vacuum and political possibilities. So here the appeal of Modi and that of the centre run by
the BJP government is helping the party grow.
(The interview appeared in January 16-31, 2015, issue)
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