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LS polls: Can BJP emerge as an alternative to DMK, AIADMK in TN?

April 18, 2024 20:07 IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party's ambition to emerge as a force challenging Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu and determination to retain its strongholds across the country will be put to a stern test on Friday when the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections kick off.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a roadshow with Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai (right) in support of party South Chennai candidate Tamilisai Soundararajan (left) ahead of Lok Sabha polls, in Chennai, April 9, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

If a lot is at stake for the ruling party in the 102 constituencies going to the polls as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a stronger majority, the challenge is even bigger for the Opposition INDIA bloc, whose several constituents are in a battle of survival and hope for a rebound after facing reverses in the 2014 and 2019 elections.


Among the 21 states and Union Territories where these seats are spread, Tamil Nadu has emerged as a riveting battleground thanks to the BJP's high-octane push to open up its traditionally bipolar polity amid the main opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's continued struggle since J Jayalalithaa's death.

Elections in all the 39 seats in the state, where the BJP drew a blank in 2019, will be held on Friday.

Modi has led the saffron charge, frequenting the state for long before the polls were announced and holding several rallies and road shows since then.

The BJP, which has allied with a few smaller parties, has sought to upend the state's conventional politics, which has so far been indifferent to Hindutva politics, by taking the ruling DMK head-on for its alleged insult of Sanatan Dharma besides involvement in corruption.

The prime minister has visited many temples in the run-up to the elections, especially in the days ahead of the Ram temple consecration ceremony in January.

He has deftly mixed this with his championing of Tamil culture and pride to counter the Dravidian criticism of the BJP as a party pushing north Indian values in the state.

Chief Minister MK Stalin has dismissed all the buzz around the BJP as propaganda, while terming the fight against the national party as a battle for democracy's survival in the country.

Political strategist Prashant Kishor has, however, predicted a big rise in the BJP's vote share in the state, while the party's state president K Annamalai, who quit the IPS to join politics and has energised its campaign, has claimed that its seats will be in double digits.

It is also one state where the BJP has invested heavily in its regional leadership represented by Annamalai, who is himself contesting from Coimbatore.

The poll outcome in the state on June 4, when the nationwide counting of all seats will be done, will have wide repercussions.

If Tamil Nadu is a test of BJP's ambitions and appeal in newer territories, more conventional calculations are in play in other regions in the first phase.

The BJP had won 39 of these 102 seats in 2019, with the ruling alliance bagging all 12, five and three of them in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and West Bengal respectively. Its existing allies hold seven of them.

Among other major states, eight seats in Uttar Pradesh, six in Madhya Pradesh, five each in Maharashtra and Assam, and four in Bihar will face the election on Friday.

Disaffection among a section of Jats in Rajasthan combined with rebellion by some leaders who were either in the BJP or its ally, have made the NDA's task of retaining the state's all 25 seats challenging, political watchers said.

Among the 12 seats in the fray in Rajasthan on Friday, the saffron party is facing a tough fight in seats like Churu, where incumbent MP Rahul Kaswan is the Congress candidate after the BJP dropped him, and Nagaur, where its former ally and current MP Hanuman Beniwal has joined hands with the Congress.

Union minister Bhupender Yadav is making his Lok Sabha election debut from Alwar.

In Maharashtra, Union minister Nitin Gadkari's Nagpur seat goes to the polls in the first phase.

The Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi's constituents Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party have faced splits with the recognised official versions of the two parties now being BJP's allies, even though their main faces Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar respectively remain in the rival camp.

Poll watchers will be looking at how the changed equations play out in the western state where assembly polls are due later this year.

Union minister Jitendra Singh's Udhampur constituency, Kiren Rijiju's Arunachal West, and Congress leader Kamal Nath's pocket borough Chhindwara, where his son Nakul Nath in again in fray, are among the seats in the first phase.

One Lok Sabha seat and some parts of another seat in the ethnic violence-hit Manipur, besides several seats across the North East states are also in the fray.

Though the BJP has inflicted a crushing defeat on its rivals in Uttar Pradesh in 2019, five of its eight seats facing polls in the first phase were won by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, who were then allies and are fighting separately now.

The BJP is looking to make gains this time round in these western Uttar Pradesh seats following its alliance with the Jayant Singh-led RLD while the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have joined hands to take on them.

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