Tamil Nadu goes to polls in 2016. The state politics have been dominated by the Dravidian parties Karunanidhi's DMK, Jayalalitha's AIADMK and various offshoots of these two parties namely Vijaykanth's DMDK, Vaiko's MDMK, Ramadoss's PMK etc. The two national parties Congress and BJP have played second fiddle to these parties in the state. Both these parties have been treated as representing Hindi speaking population and have not be enable to make much headway into the state. Congress and BJP have both allied with either DMK or AIADMK at different points of time in various elections. Since Tamil Nadu sends 39 MPs to Parliament, these parties have become important more so in coalition era which has emerged in Indian politics in the last 30 years with weakening of Congress.
Aiadmk was part of NDA in 1998 and 2004 while DMK was part of NDA in 1999 Lok Sabha elections. BJP's best performance in Lok Sabha in the state was in 1999 when it won 4 seats in alliance with DMK, garnering its best vote share of 7.1%. In state polls too, its best performance has been 4 seats in 2001 in alliance with DMK with 3% vote share. In 2014 DMK broke away from UPA, BJP tried to form a pre poll alliance with Aiadmk but Jaya had PM ambitions. BJP crafted a social coalition of 7 parties DMDK, MDMK. PMK, KMDK, IJK and PNK. The alliance won 2 / 39 seats while Aiadmk swept the state with 37 seats. This was a great performance for BJP led NDA as it emerged second in the state ahead of DMK and Congress. In terms of vote share Aiadmk got 44%, DMK 27%, NDA 19% and Congress 4%. Post Lok Sabha Vaiko has left NDA due to Sri Lanka issue.
BJP bolstered by its Lok Sabha performance sees an opportunity to improve its performance in state polls and become a force to reckon with in the state. A few factors could help BJP increase its influence in the state:
1. Jayalalitha, Aiadmk chief, has been convicted in disproportionate asset case. She is currently out on bail, but had to resign as CM. She is barred from contesting next assembly polls. If her bail is denied and she goes in jail again, its seats may reduce as there is no second rung strong leadership in the party.
2. Congress has been decimated nationally. It secured 9% vote share in 2011 assembly elections. This will be up for grabs in next polls.
3. Congress has suffered a split with GK Vasan, son of Moopnar, leaving the party with his supporters. He is likely to re-start his father's party Tamila Manila Congress. In hey days, party won 23 seats in 2001 state polls with 9% vote share. He could be a potential ally of BJP in the state.
4. DMK has become weaker in the state after many of its leaders were embroiled in corruption scams during UPA tenure. The open tussle between Stalin and Alagiri, Karunanidhi's two sons, has cost the party some votes in 2014. Alagiri was eventually fired from DMK and he did meet Modi before elections. BJP will keen to have him and his supporters in his fold.
BJP has made a detailed strategy to improve its performance in Tamil Nadu in 2016. This includes:
1. Membership Drive: An ambitious membership drive to induct new cadre into the party. Amit Shah was in Chennai in December 2014 to oversee the program and discuss with state leaders the preparations for next polls. It has set a target for 1 crore new members from the current strength of 10 lakhs.
2. Recruitment of top leaders from other parties: Due to the strong position of BJP nationally many top leaders of other parties have been in touch to join BJP. DMK's Napolean, said to be close to Alagiri, joined the party recently. He was a union minister in UPA govt. That's a big catch for BJP. Also an ex AIADMK MP and ex DMK MLA joined party a few days back. A party is like a company. Its members are like employees. They also take a call on the prospects of their parties like ordinary employees, with Congress prospects bleak, many would be ready to jump the ship.
3. Keep current alliance intact and look to broaden the alliance: BJP formed a grand alliance with smaller parties in Lok Sabha. It was a great achievement to bring top leaders like Vijaykanth, Vaiko and Ramadoss, all egotists, under one roof. Vaiko has left. The biggest challenge is to hold this coalition together and rope in newer parties like TMC.
4. Rope in cine stars: Tamil Nadu politics is very personality driven. Both Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi have had association with the film industry. They are worshipped like gods. BJP needs to try to rope in Rajanikanth. Earlier attempts have failed. But they should keep trying. In these efforts music director Gangarai Amaran joined BJP recently.
5. Corruption will be the key issue: BJP aims to make the corruption of DMK ministers and conviction of Jayalalitha, a big issue in next polls. It will exhort people to vote for the same govt. in the state as in the Center.
The challenges which BJP will face is absence of top charismatic leader who can take on Karunanidhi / Jayalalitha, still being seen as a North Indian political party and its stand on Sri Lanka which people are very touchy about. Plus even though corruption and dynastic rule is a big issue, the state has witnessed good development both under Amma and Karunanidhi. It is amongst the most developed states in India.
One interesting thing is that Tamil Nadu has been installing a new govt. every five years. Since 1984 Tamil Nadu has followed a very predictable pattern of voting out the current incumbent govt. in state polls. AIADMK and DMK have taken turns to rule the state for 5 years each. Going by this trend, it is the chance of DMK in 2016. But DMK is weakened. Here is what BJP sees an opportunity.
Will BJP riding on its national popularity, Modi factor and development plank be a serious contender in 2016 state polls? Can it break the hold of Dravidian parties? Will Tamil Nadu continue with its trend in state politics? Only time will tell.
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