Can BJP give Tamil Nadu's Dravidian parties a jolt in 2016? Possibly

If the BJP wants to be the natural party of power at the centre, a lot depends on how it develops strong roots in states where it has never been a force to reckon with: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, and Assam.

The party may go slow in spreading its wings in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh for the time being, since the ruling parties in these states are either in an alliance with it or friendly to the BJP at the centre. On the other hand, it has no reason to go easy against rivals in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Telangana. So these are clear focus area for party President Amit Shah.

In Tamil Nadu, the party will be in two minds: on the one hand, Modi has an equation with J Jayalalithaa; on the other, she has been convicted in a corruption case, and her future is uncertain. State assembly elections are due in 2016 when Jaya may well be in jail – unless her appeal against her conviction succeeds.

What will tilt the balance is whether the party thinks it is in with a chance to be king-maker, if not a potential king.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Can the BJP, with or without allies, really hope to challenge the hegemony of the two main Dravidian parties that have ruled the state by turn for nearly 48 years since 1967?

In Tamil Nadu, where the NDA alliance won two seats and the AIADMK swept 37 of 39 seats in May, the answer may seem to be a clear no, but the subterranean trends suggest that the state may be looking for a non-Dravidian alternative.

According to an analysis by Praveen Chakravarty of IndiaSpend, the collective vote share of the Dravidian parties has been in decline over the last decade. He writes in The Indian Express: “The average combined contested vote share of the AIADMK and DMK held steady from 1991 to 2004, and started to decline steadily since the 2004 election, to hit an all-time low in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. From a 45 percent average combined contested vote share in 1991 to the peak of 47 percent in 2004 for the two major Dravidian parties, it slid to 42 percent in 2009 and to 35 percent in 2014. This drop of 10 percentage points in vote share would be enough to swing any election, if all of it were captured by one entity.”

Put another way, if the BJP can grab 10 percent of the vote (it got 5 percent in the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the DMDK, MDMK, PMK and smaller parties), it will be the tilting factor in Tamil Nadu in 2016.

In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP got 5.56 percent of the votes cast, third behind the AIADMK and DMK, and ahead of the next Dravidian party (DMDK), which got 5.19 percent and Congress (4.37 percent).

The AIADMK scored 37 out of 39 because the field was fragmented. It won despite a fall in its vote share. Chakravarty notes: “There were 165 assembly constituencies with an AIADMK candidate in both the 2011 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The AIADMK lost vote share in 148 of these in 2014. That the party still managed to win 37 of the state’s 39 seats in the 2014 parliamentary election, despite a 9 percent drop in vote share from 2011, is a manifestation of India’s first-past-the-post electoral system. In fact, all Dravidian outfits, including the MDMK and DMDK, lost significant vote share in the 2014 election vis-à-vis the 2011 election.”

Clearly, the BJP can be a force for change if it can spruce up its party organisation in Tamil Nadu and/or get a few other vote-pullers to join the party or align with it.

One such leader the party is said to be wooing is GK Vasan, who broke away from the Congress party a few months ago. Vasan is the son of the late Congress stalwart, GK Moopanar, who too broke away to form the Tamil Maanila Congress in 1996. In the last election it fought in 2001, the TMC got 23 seats in the state assembly. The party was wound up soon after Moopanar’s death in 2001, and it merged back with Congress.

A combination of BJP and Vasan could conceivably cross the 10 percent mark on its own; alliances with other, smaller Dravidian parties, could take the combo even higher.

Is Tamil Nadu ready for a non-Dravidian party to emerge centre-stage? At a rally addressed on 20 December in Maraimalainagar in Chennai, party boss Amit Shah, who spoke in Hindi, drew a “resounding yes from the crowd to questions like whether the people would want 24 hours power supply; end family rule; jobs for the youth and Tamils to live with dignity and respect,” reports The Times of India.

The BJP, provided it keeps down its Hindi and Hindutva rhetoric down, is bound to improve its chances in Tamil Nadu in 2016. The only question is whether it will do it without any Dravidian parties in tow, or with some of them, as it did in May 2014.

Updated Date: Dec 30, 2014 17:32 PM

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