Is BJP filling the political vacuum in Tamil Nadu and Kerala?

Chennai: In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the late J Jayalalithaa asked Tamilians whether they would vote for the `Lady’ or for Modi. `Lady’ was the reply at the hustings. In 2016, she went on to win another famous victory in the state elections against the redoubtable K Karunanidhi, when everyone had predicted defeat.
In Kerala, last May’s elections brought the Left CPI(M) to power following the Congress government of Oommen Chandy.
Jayalalithaa’s death at the end of last year has weakened her party in Tamil Nadu, pushed the state into a seemingly endless political crisis as well as created a vacuum in the leadership. The Left in Kerala has seen critics of the CPI(M) escalate their attack on Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, calling him a “Modi in Dhoti.”
Tamil Nadu: After her victory in the 2016 assembly elections, Jayalalithaa held the CM’s office for just four months before a period of prolonged hospitalization, from the last week of September 2016 to her death in December 2016.
In the last one year, Tamil Nadu has also seen the retirement of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, whose 94th birthday celebrations on June 3 will bring together anti-BJP forces in the country. The absence of both towering figures in the political arena has left a huge vacuum and the only party to step in at the right time to exploit the situation is, not the Congress or the Left parties, but the BJP at the Centre.
The party had little interest in Tamil Nadu while the two veteran politicians bestrode the state. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to favour Jayalalithaa and attacked the AIADMK during the poll campaign last year, his party had little stake in the state.
The party faced considerable flak over various Centre-sponsored projects including in Neduvasal in Tamil Nadu, where people are protesting for several months against a proposed hydro carbon project, which strengthened the ‘victim narrative’ in Tamil minds. The stand taken by the Centre in the Cauvery dispute with Karnataka and the Jallikattu controversy did not help the party in TN.
However, with the revolt of Jayalalithaa’s successor O Panneerselvam against the new party chief and Jayalalithaa’s aide V K Sasikala in February 2017, the BJP seized its chance. As a senior AIADMK minister told The Indian Express a month ago, “(BJP) first made us vulnerable (to Income Tax raids and threat of possible arrests). Now, there are no choices left before OPS or EPS (Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami).’’
He said mining baron Sekhar Reddy, who was raided by I-T sleuths after Jayalalithaa’s death, had been in ‘business’ for at least the last three years. `Why did the I-T sleuths wait till Amma’s death to target him” he asked.
The BJP is blamed for using a series of raids by investigating authorities and its alleged role in orchestrating the OPS revolt to weaken the party. The possible impact of this current political uncertainty could result in the crisis within the ruling party leading to early polls in the state – irrespective of whether the merger of rival AIADMK factions happen or not or superstar Rajinikanth enters the political fray.
The state BJP leadership is aware of the fact that the national party continues to have little chance on its own in TN. Fielding a proxy with strong regional roots is therefore the preferred option in the next polls
Kerala: Before a much celebrated first Communist government in Kerala was dismissed amidst chaos and massive agitations from workers and opposition groups, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who visited the state had reportedly asked the serving chief minister EMS Namboothirippadu: “How did you manage to turn people against in you in such a short span of time?”
A year after another Left government led by Vijayan came to power, the same question is being asked. The Vijayan government has taken several missteps in the last year including the controversial illegal arrests of activists, the alleged fake encounter of two Maoists in Kerala’s forests and the failure to deal with the law academy agitation. Also, Pinarayi is being blamed for wielding too much power within the party unlike in the past when the party state secretary and the party headquarters at Thiruvananthapuram, AKG Centre, were alternative power centres.
The BJP’s longstanding presence in Kerala’s electoral politics finally saw the party open its account in the state assembly in last May’s elections with the veteran leader O Rajagopal winning a seat for the first time. However, since then he has been conspicuous by his absence in the state assembly and the BJP is still searching for a leader with mass appeal.
Despite this, the last one year of the Pinarayi Vijayan government has seen BJP emerge as the main opposition party, thanks to an inactive Congress, lacking ideas and burdened with wars within. The BJP continues to make inroads into the state with its powerful organisation the RSS, which claims to have over 4,000 daily sakhas in Kerala.

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