BJP’s Tamil Nadu poll debacle is as much on Narendra Modi as it is on Annamalai

Neither Sengol nor Sanatana or Katchatheevu, neither Modi’s multiple visits nor Annamalai’s statewide Yatra helped BJP in Tamil Nadu.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Jun 12, 2024 | 2:30 PM Updated Jun 12, 2024 | 2:38 PM

Modi

Party knives are out for Tamil Nadu unit president K Annamalai after BJP’s debacle in the Sabha elections 2024. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a peep about Narendra Modi’s big push in the state yielding zero results, literally in terms of seats.

The BJP’s big ‘South push’ drew a blank in Tamil Nadu — one among the largest states in India with 39 Lok Sabha seats.

From the Sengol (sceptre) in new the Parliament building to Kashi Tamil Sangamam, from Sanatana dharma to raking up Katchatheevu, from mainstream media and social media hype to a statewide yatra, the BJP went out of its way to woo the voters of Tamil Nadu.

Ever since the Lok Sabha poll results popped the carefully pumped narrative balloon, aided by media over BJP in Tamil Nadu, fissures in the party became visible.

The BJP seems deeply divided between ardent supporters of Annamalai and those holding him responsible for the poll debacle and want a change of leadership.

Related: EPS says leaders like Annamalai responsible for BJP losing majority

Baying for Annamalai’s blood

Several BJP leaders, including devoted RSS workers — some indirectly and others directly — are holding Annamalai responsible for the party’s whitewash in the state.

Related: Annamalai responsible for BJP-AIADMK split

The hero who delivered a flop

Among those who blamed Annamalai’s decision making skills a key factor in BJP drawing a blank in Tamil Nadu was former state unit chief and ex-Governor Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan.

In several television soundbites and through a now-deleted tweet, Tamilisai not only disagreed with Annamalai’s decision to part ways with the AIADMK but even warned BJP’s own cadres against abusing party leaders over their disagreement with Annamalai.

At the crux of this irritation with Annamalai is his style of functioning, handling of media, and unpredictable temperament.

In Annamalai, BJP saw a quintessential Tamil cinema hero for its Hindutva project. The party gave him a freehand and spun an aspirational story around him — a farmer’s son who beat the odds to achieve his dreams but also an angry young man fighting the ‘corrupt’.

Unfortunately for the party, the project tanked.

Related: BJP filling Hindutva void created by Jayalalithaa’s demise, says Annamalai

AIADMK, BJP’s former ally, held Annamalai single-handedly responsible for the alliance’s breakdown. Instead of wooing them back, Annamalai convinced the BJP leadership to soldier on solo.

Closer to the election, it became evident that the BJP can do little by itself. The saffron party scrambled for allies, even brining on board ‘letter-head’ parties and fielding independents on the Lotus symbol.

The PMK proved to be the only worthwhile ally for BJP, which raced the AIADMK to seal the deal with Ramdoss’s party. 

With an IT cell that worked 24/7 to keep Annamalai’s name trending, highlighting only his statements, actions and media management that fuelled the perception of him being a ‘one-man army’, the only battle Annamalai won was in Delhi television studios.

Deliberate plants in the media that Annamalai would be accommodated in the Narendra Modi cabinet even after the disastrous performance in Tamil Nadu only aggravated the situation.

It is this relentless perception building with no ground resonance, burning bridges with allies who could have helped win seats that has left leaders in Tamil Nadu fuming.

But they seem to forget a key factor: Annamalai’s confidence stems from the unbridled backing from the top, Narendra Modi himself.

Related: PM Modi interacts with BJP workers in Tamil Nadu

Why Modi is equally responsible

In his first television interview ahead of Lok Sabha elections 2024 with a Tamil channel, Narendra Modi identified Annamalai as a ‘caste leader’.

Never before had Modi referred to any BJP leader as having caste backing. This is only one among the several courtesies and endorsements Modi has given Annamalai. Annamalai is perhaps the only leaders in BJP handpicked by National General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santhosh and backed by Modi without question.

Whether it was to back Annamalai’s decision to sever ties with AIADMK or give him a fillip by gracing his statewide yatra’s conclusion ceremony, Annamalai has received absolute and unadulterated support from Modi.

Other than the unquestioned support Modi has given to Annamalai — much to the consternation of leaders like Amit Shah, JP Nadda and Nirmala Sitharaman — the prime minister himself shouldered the responsibility for BJP’s Tamil Nadu push.

Modi visited Tamil Nadu at least twice every month since January before the Lok Sabha polls were notified. In April alone, he campaigned for four long days, marked with roadshows, rallies, and thunderous speeches. All of it got the BJP zero seats in the Dravidian state. 

From walking with a Sengol in Parliament like a king of yore in an attempt to “reclaim” Tamil culture or rake up Katchatheevu row in a bid to rile up Tamil sentiments, Narendra Modi went above and beyond — speech and antics — to woo the Tamil voter.

Also Read: Separating facts from fiction on the Sengol

Whipping up Tamil sentiments

From accusing DMK for being anti-Hindu over its leaders’ comments on Sanatana Dharma to praising the rich cultural legacy of the Tamil language, Modi left no stone unturned to project the Tamil identity and Hindutva as similar, if not same.

While many argue that the BJP increased its vote share in Tamil Nadu, the reasons for the increase are conveniently left out.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP got a 3.6 percent vote share and in 2024 its vote share stood at 11.24 percent. However, in 2019, BJP in alliance with AIADMK had contested only five seats.

In contrast, in 2024, the BJP contested in 24 seats, including the independents it fielded on its symbol — nearly five times the number of seats contested but less than four times the vote share.

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections were expected to be a do or be doomed test for Annamalai. As the BJP president in Tamil Nadu, Annamalai and as the tallest leader of BJP in the country, Modi, – failed to deliver Tamil Nadu to BJP.

The blame, however, seems to be burdening Annamalai alone.