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Lok Sabha polls | Modi’s Chennai roadshow – yet another reflection of the BJP’s ‘southern push’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigning for BJP candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls at T. Nagar in Chennai on April 9, 2024

Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigning for BJP candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls at T. Nagar in Chennai on April 9, 2024
| Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Tamil Nadu on April 9 and April 10 to drum up support for his party in the Lok Sabha election has only reinforced the perception that the BJP is devoting greater amount of time and energy this time to make inroads into the southern State than in the past.

Since February 27, the present visit by Mr. Modi marks his seventh trip to the State. Following the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Mr. Modi has been demonstrating his particular attention to Tamil Nadu. This could be evident from the choice of Mamallapuram as the venue of his informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his frequent adoring references to great Tamil literary works including ‘Tirukkural’, the conduct of Kashi Tamil Sangamam in his Varanasi constituency and the Saurashtra Tamil Sangamam in his home State of Gujarat, and his carrying, in a procession, Sengol (sceptre) that is said to have a deep Tamil Nadu connection before installing it beside the Lok Sabha Speaker’s chair in the new Parliament.

The way two younger leaders – State president K. Annamalai and Union Minister of State L. Murugan – are being promoted gives the impression that the party is viewing Tamil Nadu with an enormous potential for growth at least in the next three to four years.

Even though, in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly elections there was nothing that the BJP could boast of despite contesting as part of the AIADMK-led front, the party’s ‘southern push’ is being pursued vigorously in the State. In 2019, the party netted 3.6% votes with nil seats and two years later, 2.6% with four Assembly seats.

One reason is that certain sections of the AIADMK, the principal Opposition party, have left the organisation, the process of which, the BJP senses, is giving it a chance to grow. The manner in which Mr. Annamalai came down heavily on icons of the AIADMK in the last one year or so irked the party to such an extent that it snapped ties with the BJP last September.

Besides, the State president has been relentlessly projecting the national party as ‘the alternative’ to the ruling DMK. Over and above these factors, the party is conscious that there has always been some space in Tamil Nadu politics for non-DMK and non-AIADMK formation, the vote share of which, on an average, is around 15%.

It is against this backdrop that Mr. Modi’s roadshow in the central part of Chennai on Tuesday evening has to be seen. Though die-hard members of the party and admirers of the Prime Minister know well that the day’s event per se would not be sufficient for the BJP’s nominees to make it to the Parliament, it would certainly invigorate the cadre with about 10 days to go for polling (April 19).

Moreover, after a gap of 28 years, the party has fielded nominees in all the three Chennai constituencies – R.C. Paul Kanagaraj (North), Vinoj P. Selvam (Central) and Tamilisai Soundararajan (South). Regardless of the eventual outcome of the current exercise, the party’s volunteers attribute the BJP’s relatively better performance in Bengaluru during the 2023 Karnataka Assembly election and in the 2020 Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation’s poll to roadshows by Mr. Modi in Bengaluru and by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Hyderabad.

Notwithstanding the efficacy of the Prime Minister’s roadshow, it was clear that the event became the talking point of the day in the State where his party has only been a marginal player.

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