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Will Tamil Nadu BJP's 'Vetrivel Yatra' achieve desired results?

The BJP has been trying one strategy after the other to make inroads into Tamil Nadu, especially since 2016 after it sensed a chance following J Jayalalithaa's death
Last Updated : 05 November 2020, 08:54 IST
Last Updated : 05 November 2020, 08:54 IST
Last Updated : 05 November 2020, 08:54 IST
Last Updated : 05 November 2020, 08:54 IST

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Never in the history of Tamil Nadu politics has a planned event of the BJP garnered attention like its 'Vetrivel Yatra.'

This Friday, the BJP will embark on a month-long tour – police permission for which has not been granted as yet – to "unmask" the people behind Karuppar Kootam, a YouTube channel that made derogatory remarks on Kandha Shashti Kavasam, a devotional song dedicated to Lord Murugan.

However, the month-long yatra that will cover all six abodes where Lord Murugan is believed to have lived has nothing to do with the song or the native God of Tamils, said political analysts, adding that it was part of the BJP's strategy to make itself heard in Tamil Nadu, a state where it lacks any base now.

The controversy over the song seems to be long forgotten by the people after the police arrested members of the YouTube channel but the BJP is making every attempt to use the row to gain maximum political mileage.

The BJP has been trying one strategy after the other to make inroads into Tamil Nadu, especially since 2016 after it sensed a chance following J Jayalalithaa's death. These strategies not just failed but some of them even backfired on the BJP, which has now resorted to its time-tested method of undertaking a yatra in the name of God, hoping that the strategy would result in consolidating the Hindu votes.

The party believes that there is anger among people against the Dravidian parties which it accuses of failing to stop such incidents. It hopes a yatra across the state in the name of Lord Murugan will help expand the base and the timing is also crucial.

If the yatra does attract crowds, the BJP can also use it to increase its bargaining power with the AIADMK during seat-sharing talks if the alliance continues for the 2021 polls.

Also, by going to town with the 'Hindus are hurt' narrative, the BJP is also trying to drag the DMK, which it always projects as “anti-Hindu.” The DMK, which had maintained a studied silence so far, opened up on Wednesday to ask whether the BJP was ready to announce Tamil as a national language if its love for the language and its people was “true".

But it is not easy for the BJP to bring about Hindu consolidation that it dreams of overnight in a state that has never voted on religious lines in the past. That the state has always kept national parties at bay for the past half-century only adds to the BJP's woes.

The biggest hurdle for the BJP in Tamil Nadu is the trust deficit that people seem to have with the saffron party. It became clear in August that politics over religion may not be welcomed in the state when BJP leaders were called out on social media for making a “mockery” out of Vel Pooja, an event that the party thought would help project itself as “saviour of Hindus".

"If someone thinks that the yatra is just aimed at the 2021 elections, they are wrong. This is part of the BJP's long-drawn strategy to bring about a Hindu consolidation in Tamil Nadu. The BJP believes there is a section within the Hindu community that is not too happy with the way the Dravidian parties deal with them. They feel BJP is the right choice for them and that ballot is the only weapon that they have," senior journalist R Bhagwan Singh told DH.

The BJP's agenda is to emerge as a political and ideological alternative to the Dravidian parties but the strategy of the party comes into question most times – the latest being the appropriation of AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran who has been made part of a propaganda video. The AIADMK has taken objection to the move, while it has led to criticism against the BJP with questions being posed on why it is “depending” on Dravidian leaders when its motive is to overthrow their ideology.

As the opposition to the yatra grows shriller and with the government yet to give its nod, the BJP seems to be changing the agenda of the “Vetrivel Yatra” from time to time.

In the beginning, the month-long yatra's agenda was to "unmask" people behind the YouTube channel but a few weeks later it was changed to "bring the BJP" to power in the 2021 elections. Last checked, it was to take the "good programmes" of the Narendra Modi government to the people and it may undergo another change before November 6.

The shifting goalposts may be to ensure that the government gives its nod for the yatra, but Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has shown the state BJP its place more than once. He refused to give the BJP permission to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi and now his administration is making the BJP wait for permission for the Vetrivel Yatra till the last minute.

Also, the party has been on the defensive over a controversy following Dalit leader Thol. Thirumavalavan's “derogatory comments” on women which he says were from Manu Smriti. While the BJP sought to put Thirumavalavan on the mat, the Lok Sabha MP is now organising meetings to “explain to people” the way the age-old scripture treated women thereby projecting the saffron party as “anti-women.”

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Published 05 November 2020, 05:00 IST

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