Tamil Nadu politics found one piece of the puzzle on Saturday when two old allies, the Congress and DMK, finalised an alliance for the Assembly polls due in a few months. And that leaves the BJP, not a strong player in the state, with a difficult task of finding an ally.
With DMK allying with Congress, BJP's options have shrunk
With the DMK opting to go with the Congress, the BJP's hopes now lie with either the ruling AIADMK or Vijaykanth's DMDK, which is known to bag a consistent vote-share in elections in the southern state. The first possibility can be ruled out for if the BJP joins the contest under the leadership of the AIADMK, then the two NDA constituent parties, namely, the DMDK and PMK could opt for a different route, only to strengthen the DMK's side at the expense of the BJP.
If AIADMK goes with Vaiko & others in PWA, BJP will suffer another blow
AIADMK chief and state Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's recent act of suspending her party's Deputy Propaganda Secretary Nanjil Sampath for reportedly criticising MDMK chief Vaiko has also given birth to speculation that the former has set her eyes on the People's Welfare Alliance (PWA) comprising besides the MDMK, the Left parties and the VCK. If that is true, then it is certainly not a good news for the BJP, which will gain the most if succeeds in forming an alliance with the ruling party.
Vijaykanth, Ramadoss will be extra careful after DMK, AIADMK organise their plans
The BJP's only hope will then be Vijaykanth [Why everybody wants to go with DMDK]. But with the DMK opting for the Congress and the AIADMK giving hints of reaching out to the PWA, the two NDA constiutuents---DMDK and PMK, might feel more of an urge to go with a major Dravidian party (DMK to be more precise) than the BJP, which is still an insignificant player in the state.
The BJP's options for the Assembly polls have shrunk with DMK-Congress alliance
The issue of deciding on the chief ministerial candidate (both Vijaykanth and PMK chief Ambumani Ramadoss are aspiring for it) could be another major problem since the BJP, as the seniormost party of the NDA, could be unwilling to let its own chance go.
The BJP will have to finally depend on what the DMDK or PMK leadership decides, given they are stronger players in Tamil Nadu politics. But this dependence on other parties also reflect on the saffron party's poor position in the Dravidian politics. That the Modi wave of the 2014 Lok Sabha election when the BJP had focussed on a non-AIADMK, non-DMK alternative is a thing of past was proved during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Coimbatore.
The dissatisfying attendance at Modi's recent Coimbatore rally is an ominous sign
Although the NDA nominee from Coimbatore had garnered 3.89 lakh votes in the 2014 general elections to finish second after the AIADMK candidate by a margin of 42,000 votes, the attendance at Modi's rally in the same place this time was far lesser. Even leaders of parties allying with the BJP during the general election remained absent so that their preference for allies did not get exposed before the two big parties, the AIADMK and DMK, made their choices known. This speaks much about the BJP's stature in the state in comparison to the two big outfits.
BJP just can't bank on local players' help; it needs to work on its own base
The BJP makes its helplessness obvious before every election in the state, be it Assembly or national, by eyeing a favour from the local players. If the party wants to evolve into a player of influence in this state, it needs to shed its dependence on others and work on its own base with a long-term vision.
The NDA had garnered nearly 19 per cent vote share in Tamil Nadu in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls (with two seats), after the AIADMK (45% with 37 seats) and DMK (24% with no seat) but the BJP's own share was just below six per cent. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP's vote-share was just 2.3 per cent while in 2004, the year it fought the polls with the AIADMK (30%), its vote-share was 5.1 per cent, which meant the NDA had 35 per cent vote-share. In 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha polls too, the BJP had benefited by allying either with the DMK or the AIADMK.
This means that the party has made little progress in Tamil Nadu over the years in terms of its own social and political organisation and depends solely on the likes of Modi or an alliance partner like Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi to put up a show of any relevance. But as we have seen in the Delhi and Bihar elections last year, even Modi will not be enough to get them through in state elections and they need a local face apart from a strong organisation.
Poor organisation, lack of local face and ineffective ideology
The BJP's woes in Tamil Nadu have also been increased by the lack of a third arm of the triangle, which is ideology, besides organisation and local leadership. It is a herculean task for any third force today to make a space for itself in a state which the AIADMK and DMK have ruled since the collapse of the Congress in the late 1960s. Hindutva, the saffron camp's familiar ideology, will help it little in Tamil Nadu as will the routine appeal to development, since that state isn't really an underdeveloped state in the way some other states in northern or eastern India are.
BJP's wooing regional sentiments like backing Jallikattu; but others are also doing the same
The party of late has tried to appealed to the regional sentiments by backing the popular bull sport of Jallikattu to get some returns in the election. But even then, the big players are also doing the same, which might make the BJP look just another vote-seeker.
The BJP's electoral success in the state would ultimately depend on its ability to adjust to the state's political nature, which is influenced by cultural sub-nationalism and backward-caste assertion.