For BJP, the ongoing assembly elections in three of the four states – Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Assam, Kerala – and the Union territory of Puducherry are high stakes games. In Bengal, it is the challenger; in Assam, the defender; in Kerala, an ambitious third player; and in Puducherry, a strategic partner. The exception is TN where, though it is in partnership with the governing AIADMK, BJP cannot yet dream of lotuses blooming.
Congress’s predicament isn’t different. The party that lost power in TN in 1967 and never got better, has become a willing and subservient partner of DMK, which is confident of forming the next government after being in opposition for ten years. With a week to go for the single phase polling in the state on April 6, it is clear that the battle is a direct one, where the two Dravidian majors are facing off in 131 seats.
The seat shares show that the southern state remains an impenetrable fort of the two regional giants who have systematically refused to give the national parties anything more than a supporting role. Congress, though DMK’s ‘biggest’ ally, has got just 25 seats against 41 it got in the 2016 assembly election (the party won just eight of them). BJP, which contested alone last time and drew a blank, has to contend with 20 seats, which is three less than what PMK got in the AIADMK alliance.
The two national parties’ diminutive, dependent status in the state is comparable, yet the reasons are a study in contrast: Congress has had a stunted existence here for half a century, while BJP has not been able to strike enough roots to win seats even in two digits. After Kamaraj’s exit, Congress walked into the alliance trap from which it found no escape. Neither does the faction-ridden party have the resources to rebuild itself outside the shadow of the alliance leader. BJP, on the other hand, is in an alliance catalysed more by its domineering status at the Centre than any real strength in the Dravidian land. While TN, the land of temples, has so far celebrated inclusive Hinduism and eschewed polarising Hindutva, the dilution of the rationalist ideology of the regional satraps has made it tougher for BJP to find a toehold.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.