Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that BJP is the alternative in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the two states going to polls on May 16. The statement may still hold some little significance in Kerala where the saffron party is gradually cementing its foothold, but it is completely off the point in Tamil Nadu.
It means little difference to the voters of Tamil Nadu when Modi says the BJP is the only alternative to the two Dravidian parties---the DMK and AIADMK. Even when Sonia and Rahul Gandhi attacks the ruling regime of Jayalalithaa on grounds of corruption or indifference to the common people, nothing changes much in the state's politics. In a nutshell, neither the BJP nor Congress succeed in hitting the Tamilian chord through what they say. [Understanding Tamil Nadu politics ahead of May 16 poll]
Speaking in Tamil in rallies in TN is very important
The very first reason of this failure is language. The national leaders of the two national parties must know that in Tamil Nadu, speaking in Tamil is the foremost condition to reach out to the people. Going via the translators' route in a land which had once put up the 'Self-Respect Movement' is certainly not the best thing to do.
Modi still utters a few vernacular terms while addressing rallies in different parts of the country (though that is never enough), the Congress leaders from New Delhi do not care to do even that much. It might seem to be a little thing, but this soft skill is a big stepping stone for both the BJP and Congress if they aspire to make any impact in the southern state. Till then, projecting the BJP or the Congress as alternatives is just a wishful thinking. [Why TN will remain a barren land for BJP]
Has the BJP taught itself the nuances of the Dravidian culture?
The second reason that makes Modi's claim hollow is the Dravidian political culture. As Periyar's Self-Respect Movement and the Justice Party before that had shown, anti-Brahminism and social justice have been the cornerstones of the Dravidian political culture. The BJP and Congress are parties that do not fit into that scheme of things.
Though the days of sharp conflict between North and Tamil identity politics no more exist, but yet the inherent culture of the two sides still prevails.
The BJP is the dominant party of the upper castes and baniyas, as was the Congress during the days of the Dravidian movement, and doesn't get a natural opening to make inroads in that state's politics.
The BJP needs to do a lot of hard work to make an impact in Tamil Nadu by aligning itself with the Dravidian way of life and thinking. Being a Manuvadi party, how far can it stretch itself to do so?
Only saleable local faces can do it for the two national parties
The only way for the national parties to make their presence felt in Tamil Nadu is by finding local leaders who can connect with the Dravidian sentiments through Tamil, the natural medium of expression.
But given the BJP's inherent pro-Sanskrit and Hindi/Hindutva ideology, the chances of the local leadership to beat the two major Dravidian parties in the state are also slim, unless they find a new variety of ideology that synthesises both Hindi and Dravidian cultures and produce something acceptable for the new-age Tamils.
NDA's 2014 show in TN was a one-off show
The BJP-led NDA's best chance in Tamil Nadu was in the 2014 Lok Sabha election when the Modi wave swept the country. But even in that situation, the AIADMK won 37 of the 39 seats in the state. The BJP found some allies in the DMDK and PMK in that election but it could not continue with the alliance for the next Assembly election, which is due on May 16.
It clearly suggests that the local Tamil parties are not ready to hold the BJP's hands in normal times because the latter's communal image doesn't help them much. And for the BJP, lacking a strong local ally amounts to a zero performance in the elections.
Neither pro-development slogans will work in TN
The BJP's other weapon, which is pro-development slogan, also means little in Tamil Nadu for it is already a developed and highly urbanised state. The AIADMK and DMK, despite their fierce rivalry, are not known to be anti-development and this makes Modi's Gujarat story redundant there.
Where there is no Congress, BJP is no alternative
The BJP has another serious limitation in Tamil Nadu and that is the lack of the presence of the Congress and Muslims, two vital necessities for it to flourish. Both the BJP and Congress try to construct imaginary enemies in Tamil Nadu by speaking on corruption (AgustaWestland chopper scam being the latest), the dynastic rules of the Gandhi family or the 'failures' of the Modi government, respectively---but for the voters in Tamil Nadu, these are of little significance.
The national issues make no difference in the state's election since both the national parties are no-entities there.
Does BJP have prominent backward-caste faces in TN?
The saffron party also lacks the skills in playing the caste politics, something which is significant in Tamil Nadu politics. Being a party of the upper-castes and skilled in issues that concern the homogenous educated, urban voters more, the BJP is not known to play the lower-caste or Dalit card the best (the same is seen in UP in the post-Kalyan Singh years).
Even when projecting Modi, its main face, the BJP is not seen propagating much about his OBC identity but his reputation as an administrator. Lacking saleable lower-caste faces in its ranks restricts the BJP in making inroads in Tamil Nadu as well.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won the Dalits' backing because of the Modi wave and now, after the wave has died down, it stands the risk of losing those votes to Mayawati in the nex year's UP Assembly poll.
TN also has a low Muslim population and even with it, Tamil identity comes before anything
The low Muslim population in Tamil Nadu also nullifies the BJP's polarisation strategy which it puts to use efficiently in the Hindi heartland. Even for the Muslims in Tamil Nadu, the Tamil identity comes before the religious one and that demands a more skilful nurturing of the Dravidian culture than the regular polarisation. It thus takes the entire equation to square one.