By A Shankar
It has been two and a half months since the incumbent president of the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP, Dr Tamilisai Soundarrajan was appointed as Governor of Telangana. Ever since, the BJP that has more leaders than cadre, is struggling to find a leader to head its Tamil Nadu wing.
While names of several leaders are doing the rounds, there is much opposition to the names from within the BJP itself.
Dr Soundararajan who began her political career in the BJP as South Chennai Medical Wing secretary in 1999 was an important campaigner for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Impressed by her campaign, the party high command appointed her as state BJP president in August 2014 and her tenure was subsequently extended till she was asked to take the flight to Hyderabad Raj Bhavan. Incidentally, Tamilisai was the first woman president of the Tamil Nadu BJP.
With all the constraints of operating in a state where two prominent regional parties have been in power for decades, Tamilisai did a reasonably good job of ensuring the spotlight also stayed on the Tamil Nadu BJP. She was in the forefront to defend both the party and the various gaffes committed by BJP leaders from the state. Be it H Raja’s comment insulting Dravidian icon Periyar or any other anti-Tamil barb by colleagues. Tamilisai was very popular in social media and she was the subject of many memes which she herself mentioned on several occasions. However, her popularity on social media did not help her win from Thoothukudi in the Lok Sabha elections in May 2019. She lost to DMK candidate Kanimozhi by a huge margin.
The hurry in moving Tamilisai out of Chennai seemed to suggest that New Delhi had a replacement in mind. On the contrary, the BJP high command has been finding it hard to find a replacement for her. With local body elections round the corner and the BJP planning to make it big in Tamil Nadu, the absence of a chief for its Tamil Nadu wing is jarring.
The names of leaders like CP Radhakrishnan, Vanathi Srinivasan, Karuppu Muruganandam, H Raja, KP Muruganandam, Pon Radhakrishnan, Thirupathy Narayanan, KT Raghavan have been spoken of as possible contenders. But the party high command does not seem to be satisfied with any of the names and is looking for a new face.
“The party high command is dissatisfied with almost all leaders in the state. It is of the opinion that in spite of a friendly government in the state, the party is not able to grow in the state in the past three years. The party’s dismal performance in the Lok Sabha polls has also irked the high command. Since Tamilisai is from the Nadar community, another leader from Nadar community is ruled out. That means Pon Radhakrishnan does not have a chance to become President,” said a BJP leader who did not want to be identified.
He is right. Caste equations of course, are important in Indian politics. Tamil Nadu being a state with strong anti-Brahmin and Dravidian roots, a Brahmin leader to head the party in the state may prove counter-productive.
Sources in the BJP say the party’s national leadership is also aware that Pon Radhakrishnan during his meeting with Rajinikanth on 6 November 2019, lobbied with him for the top job in the party unit and reportedly asked Rajini to put in a word with Amit Shah for him. Radhakrishnan also told the high command that he had extended invitation to Rajinikanth to join the BJP. A couple of days later, a peeved Rajinikanth distanced himself with BJP, saying “Attempts to saffronise both Thiruvalluvar and me will not be successful.” Rajinikanth’s statement put the BJP leaders in an embarrassing position because they all along treated Rajini as a fellow traveller.
Post Tamilisai Soundararajan’s exit, the entire party seems to have hijacked by social media trolls.
“90% of Tamil Nadu BJP’s effort is now to discredit MK Stalin and DMK and in the process the party’s social media is feeding the trolls,” says a political commentator.
This approach by the BJP social media team shows that there is no one to control the party. In an attempt to malign Stalin, the BJP is only ending up creating sympathy for the DMK president. Recently the Twitter handle not only made personal attacks on Stalin but also on his wife. Such personal attacks on a political leader’s family from an official party twitter handle shows the Tamil Nadu BJP unit in poor light.
“Recently the tenure of a state president in BJP has been extended from two years to three years. Amendments have also been made to allow a leader to continue for two consecutive terms. After Pon Radhakrishnan was made a Minister, Tamilisai was made adhoc President in August 2014. Her tenure was subsequently extended and her tenure technically ends only in December 2019. Since she has been made Telengana governor, the post lies vacant. Party election for district president posts in Tamil Nadu is commencing this week and in December, the state president will be appointed,” says Thirupathy Narayanan, BJP spokesperson.
(Shankar is a political commentator based in Chennai. He tweets at @Savukku. The views expressed in this guest column are solely those of the author)