In Tamil Nadu, a clash of visions

In Tamil Nadu, a clash of visions

Tamil Nadu, the only large state to vote in a single day on April 19, the opening phase of the 2024 general elections, is significant for multiple reasons. One, it is the largest South Indian state in terms of Lok Sabha seats (39). Two, it is a state where regional parties hold sway even in the general elections. Three, it has resisted the advance of the BJP, even as the party has successfully expanded its footprint across India. Four, the BJP has invested heavily in its campaign, hoping to win a few seats (and a substantial share of the vote) and emerge as a major force in the state. Five, this is one of the two states that the Opposition almost swept in 2019 and where it hopes to repeat the performance in the upcoming polls as well. A decent tally from Tamil Nadu is necessary for the BJP to meet its target of 370 seats.

Coimbatore, Mar 18 (ANI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a roadshow in Coimbatore on Monday. Tamil Nadu BJP chief K. Annamalai and Union Minister L. Murugan are seen. (ANI Photo)(Narendra Modi Twitter)

Tamil Nadu has been an outlier in national politics for more than half a century due to the presence of a substantive strand of linguistic subnationalism that also defined itself in opposition to all centralising tendencies. The Dravidian movement, which mobilised around Tamil subnationalism and promoted its values of anti-caste social justice politics, continues to influence the discourse in Tamil Nadu through the two main poles of state politics, the DMK and AIADMK. Not surprisingly, the BJP, which promotes unitarian politics, has found it difficult to find a foothold in Tamil Nadu.

The big question of this election is whether India’s ruling party can break the Dravidian consensus and win Tamils over. In the decline of the AIADMK, the BJP spots an opportunity and has crafted an alliance that it believes can challenge the formidable DMK-led INDIA bloc. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been frequently visiting the state to sell his party to the electorate in Tamil Nadu. Over many years, the BJP has tried to evolve a political language and imagery that it hopes will appeal to Tamil political, cultural, and religious sentiments. The controversy over the Katchatheevu islands was one such pitch. In his campaigns, Modi has targeted alleged corruption in the DMK and the dynastic tendencies within the party.

Tamil Nadu will test the BJP’s resolve to become a pan-Indian hegemon. Mandate 2024 in the state is not merely a contest between the BJP and the Dravidian parties, but also a clash of distinct political visions regarding India — including federalism and linguistic identity. Its implications will resonate beyond the outcome on June 4, and both parties are aware that if the BJP manages to get its vote share close to 20%, it may well mean the end of the business-as-usual politics Tamil Nadu has seen since the late 1960s.

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