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'Tamil voters don't like to be told what to do'

By Radhika Ramaseshan
April 16, 2024 08:37 IST
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'Modi is trying avenues to convince people why they should vote for the BJP.'

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi holds a roadshow with the BJP's Tamil Nadu president Kuppusamy Annamalai in support of the party's South Chennai candidate Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan, April 9, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In a cauldron of issues brewing and bubbling in Tamil Nadu before the Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party has thrown in a few main ingredients.

Using history, culture, and rhetoric in good measure -- from the Centre hosting the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in 2023 ostensibly to 'rediscover' the ancient links between Kashi (or Varanasi) and the state, to a concerted attack on a state government's minister pillorying the concept and practice of Sanatan Dharma to pursuing corruption charges against state ministers -- the BJP has never let its guard down.

The choice of Kashi was significant as Varanasi is Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha constituency, symbolising his personal endeavour to reach out to the voters of Tamil Nadu.

All these issues put the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and, to a degree, the two factions of the Opposition All India Anna DMK on the defensive -- particularly that on Sanatan Dharma because the adversarial remarks came from Udayanidhi Stalin, Chief Minister M K Stalin's son and his heir apparent.

As the BJP sought to make Tamil Nadu the centrepiece of its efforts to stamp its footprint more vigorously in the South, it brought up the issue of Katchatheevu, which has strategic and diplomatic implications for India-Sri Lanka ties.

Katchatheevu, located north east of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and southwest of Sri Lanka's Delft island, has been a subject of dispute between the two countries since 1921.

The first concrete moves towards a settlement birthed the 1974 and 1976 agreements -- the first being the Boundary in Historic Waters between the two Countries and Related Matters and then the Agreement on the Maritime Boundary between the Two Countries in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal and Related Matters in 1976.

The pacts granted Sri Lanka deviation around Katchatheevu and ensured that no third parties could enter the troubled waters as the Palk Straits were divided between India and Sri Lanka into their exclusive economic zones.

These agreements were clinched by the then PMs of India and Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

In return for the unpopulated Katchatheevu, Sri Lanka relinquished its claim over Wadge Bank, one of the world's 20 surviving wadge banks, which is fertile, richly biodiverse, and possibly contains an undersea oil and gas reserve.

The context for the BJP's ongoing campaign is based on the information procured by its Tamil Nadu President K Annamalai through the RTI Act.

Annamalai alleged that the then DMK government under M Karunanidhi was complicit in ceding Katchatheevu, although the information also revealed that the state government only belatedly learnt of Indira Gandhi's decision from the then foreign secretary Kewal Singh.

"The BJP is calling to mind something that happened 50 years ago. But what did its government do in 10 years? This matter is completely under the jurisdiction of the Centre," DMK Spokesperson Aandal Priyadarshini said.

C R Kesavan, a BJP national spokesperson and former Congress functionary from Tamil Nadu, retorted: "The revelations through the RTI documents underlined by the foreign minister have clearly exposed the Shakuni-like match-fixing by the Congress and the DMK."

"Hitherto, both the Congress and the DMK used to shed crocodile tears about Katchatheevu but now the people have realised these are the same people who were responsible for surrendering Katchatheevu," Kesavan added.

The DMK is a key constituent of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, with the Congress as a partner.

Can the dispute over a tiny island become an electorally defining issue?

Tamil Nadu political observer, Arun Kumar G, a professor at Bengaluru's Gitam University, said another dynamic worked in Katchatheevu.

"In 2014, shortly before the BJP was voted to power, its leaders organised a Sea Lotus Conference in Rameswaram where they promised to constitute a dedicated fishermen's welfare ministry.

"But even now attacks on Indian fishermen continue and they are arrested by Sri Lanka. After 10 years why is the PM talking about Katchatheevu?"

"The DMK and AIADMK factions are united in opposing the BJP on this, so it will no longer be electorally defining," he said.

S Janakarajan, a former professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies, was not dismissive of the BJP's attempted inroads into Tamil Nadu.

"Modi and the BJP are trying all the avenues and modalities to convince people why they should vote for the BJP. Katchatheevu is one of them.

"The question is: Have the BJP's issues caught voters' attention? Tamil Nadu voters have a strong cultural background, are believers in God, and are temple goers, but they don't like to be told what they should do.

"Among the matters being avidly discussed now is why didn't the Centre do enough during floods and cyclones?"

Kesavan countered such perceptions, saying, "The PM sees a new hope in the women and the youth of Tamil Nadu who will become the driving energy of a Viksit Bharat (Developed India)."

"The PM's politics of progress and development is the vaccine which will defeat the virus of the DMK's politics of division and corruption."

Southern bet

> 5 seats tje BJP contested in Tamil Nadu in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with AIADMK. It failed to win a seat but secured 3.66% votes

> 20 seats the BJP contested in the 2021 assembly polls in alliance with AIADMK; it won 4 seats and got 2.62% votes

> 23 seats the BJP is contesting in the state in the 2024 parliamentary polls; its ally Anbumani Ramadoss-led Pattali Makkal Katchi is contesting 10 seats

> Other constituents of the BJP-led alliance in TN are the T T V Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagham and the G K Vasan-led Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar); they are contesting six seats

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Radhika Ramaseshan
Source: source
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024