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The recently concluded urban local body polls in Tamil Nadu had the BJP going alone for the first time since 2011.
Elections in TN often generate much attention. Regional identities, welfare politics and Dravidian ideology rule the narrative in them. Every election comes with a distinctive feature. This time it was the BJP’s move.
The party was roundly criticized and made fun of for not aligning with the AIADMK. The BJP has won two consecutive terms at the Center but here the narrative has been that Tamil Nadu voters have rejected the party for its anti-minority stance.
For long, BJP cadres have been demanding that the party should face elections alone in Tamil Nadu to test the pulse of the people and build strong local networks. This demand makes sense especially now since the AIADMK is on the verge of losing its voter base due to leadership issues.
Further, for decades, it has been the unquestioned dictum that national parties cannot dare to dream of facing elections in the state without an alliance with regional parties. The classical example is the Congress with a declining voter base. Yet, the state leadership surprised many by announcing it will go alone.
Must state presidents of the BJP had age factors working against them and they had other baggage. They could never take the risk. The current state president, K Annamalai is younger and can plan for the foreseeable future.
The BJP’s campaign themes included NEET, Hindu girl suicide, inferior quality produce in the Pongal hamper, coal scam, arrest of social commentator Maridhas and so on.
Since Annamalai became BJP TN president, the narratives it has created in the state are bold and don’t hesitate to expound the party’s ideology. Young people are seeking for clarity and like a clear stance that is based on facts, not vested interests. It must be acknowledged that five decades of Dravidian welfarist politics needs to be countered and it would take some time.
The BJP was taking on the entire DMK front across the state in most places in the urban local body polls. Its campaign themes included NEET, Hindu girl suicide, inferior quality produce in the Pongal hamper, coal scam, arrest of social commentator Maridhas and so on. The BJP was able to turn voter attention to some of these issues. The elections have proved that the BJP has bright prospects if it can move forward in creating a positive narrative with local support for the policies and development and welfare programmes of the Union government.
The Congress has been crowing that it is the third largest party but its performance comes from riding piggyback on the DMK. A section of the media has backed the Congress narrative while the facts speak otherwise.
Compared to 2011, the BJP has doubled its vote share and got more seats. The BJP tally of 308 is spread across several districts including in northern Tamil Nadu. With dynamic leadership, the BJP has come to be a dominating force in Kanniyakumari district.
Though the contests were multi-polar, the results in these elections have been largely uni-polar. The Congress is in historical decline across the country. It lost the plot more than five decades ago and has been unable to reclaim it.
In the last seven years, Tamil media has confused the people and hidden the facts about the schemes of the Union government. The impact of schemes such as Mudra loans, tap water for individual households, housing for all, Rs 5 lakh medical insurance for a family of five, free cooking gas scheme, girl child scheme, income support to small farmers, direct cash transfer scheme and so on have helped BJP gain a foothold in the state.
Future local body elections should be fought on relevant issues. Effective decentralization should be on the agenda.
Sections of the media have been pandering to the vested interests of the two main parties. They have helped to indoctrinate young people in Dravidianist ideology. Negative sentiments are being created against the BJP, the Union government and its leaders.
In a functional democracy like India, elections need to be fought on improving the governance structure so services and facilities are delivered to the people without bias. In the recent polls, however, national issues were made talking points.
Future local body elections should be fought on relevant issues. Effective decentralization should be on the agenda. Only then the common people were get their due from the government apparatus without having to pay bribes. Otherwise elections will be dominated by cash bribes and irrelevant issues. There is a danger that the state’s expanding educated class will be highly knowledgeable without feeling responsibility towards society. This should be averted.
(The author is an economist and public policy expert)
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