After BJP’s robust performance in Bihar that saw the party emerge as the senior partner in the NDA alliance with JD(U) and powered the coalition to another term in office, it is now targeting Bengal and Tamil Nadu that go to polls next year. While BJP has been taking the fight to the governing TMC dispensation in Bengal for some time now – its stellar performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls picking up 18 Bengal seats has certainly put the Mamata Banerjee government on notice – TN presents a different challenge for the saffron outfit. Plus, it remains to be seen if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s immense popularity in north Indian states can have similar traction in non-Hindi speaking bastions.
There are also state specific factors at play. BJP will point to its winning performance in Assam in 2016. Assam’s long-simmering demographic tensions over perceived or real Bangladeshi migration provided BJP an opening there. No doubt BJP is looking to replicate this formula in Bengal, where it has already accused Mamata of playing appeasement politics. Additionally, it has been attacking the Trinamool government on its failure to create jobs, continuing with syndicate raj and perpetrating a reign of political violence.
But what’s really aiding BJP in Bengal is the near-total collapse of the Left and Congress. As a result, a vacuum has been created in the opposition space in the state which BJP is now filling. With anti-incumbency gaining ground in Bengal, BJP has a target of opportunity there.
In TN, however, there is no such opposition vacuum to aid BJP. The latter can only expand its Hindutva base at the expense of its ally and governing party, AIADMK. These tensions were exposed in recent weeks with BJP’s Vetrivel Yatra dedicated to Lord Muruga not receiving permission from the AIADMK government. Plus, unlike neighbouring Karnataka where BJP has been able to build on the Lingayat vote base, the party is still largely seen as a north Indian, Aryan outfit in TN where Dravidianist ideology is strong. While Modi’s personal popularity can’t be underestimated, BJP’s lack of a strong, charismatic Tamil leader is a handicap. It remains to be seen if BJP’s rumoured outreach to M Karunanidhi’s elder son MK Alagiri can fill this void.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.