The Meteoric Rise of L. Murugan, the new BJP Chief of Tamil Nadu


Keerthi Nathan

keerthi nathanThe past week, BJP unit of Tamil Nadu was suddenly brimming with a lot of activity after being dormant for a few months. Mr. L. Murugan had been appointed the President of the BJP State unit of TN much to everyone’s surprise. Mr. L. Murugan is also the Vice Chairman of the National SC/ST Commission. The post of State President of BJP TN unit had been lying vacant since September 2019 when Mrs. Tamilisai Soundararajan (former BJP TN President) was appointed the Governor of Telangana.

History of BJP in Tamil Nadu

Let us first analyze by tracing the current scenario of BJP in Tamil Nadu and how they have come a long way since the premiership of Mr. Narendra Modi. Before 2014, the BJP in Tamil Nadu was virtually an non-existent force barring a few instances such as winning four assembly seats in the 2001 TN Assembly Election thanks to its alliance with the DMK. But since then the party had been on a wane and used to consistently poll around 2% - 3% of the vote share. Cut short to 2014, the country was witnessing a phenomenal wave in the form of Mr. Narendra Modi and anti-Congress sentiment was running high primarily due to the anti-incumbency and corruption scandals.

After the Congress party was voted out of power in the 2014 Indian General Elections, BJP was now on a rejuvenating mode especially in the states where the party had little or no presence. The spotlight was now on Tamil Nadu where the past presidents hadn’t tasted much electoral success and was looking to revamp its image in a state where the politics is usually dominated by the Dravidian parties. The high command of BJP decided to appoint Mrs. Tamilisai after she fit the category of serving the party as a dedicated and a loyal worker and also having a political lineage as her father Mr. Kumari Anandan is a senior most Congress leader in the state. And from then on, the onus of lifting the party was solely in the hands of Mrs. Tamilisai. She managed to grab the attention of the people by becoming the head of the state unit of a National Party and her catchy slogans like “Thamarai malarndhe theerum” i.e., (Lotus will definitely bloom in TN) had resonating effects in the political circles of Tamil Nadu and opposition parties suddenly began to take a note of the National Party and its ambitions in the state. But after her departure as the State Chief, the BJP was again back to square one in finding a replacement matching her caliber.

Present leadership of BJP in TN

The BJP in Tamil Nadu has had its ups and downs and has had its fair share of bickering views. Be its support to the controversial NEET exam and its recent approval of the abrogation of Article 370 which is contrary to that of the stance in TN. Leaders like H. Raja (TN BJP leader and one of the National Secretary) is known to give out statements which have sometimes not gone down well with the public (comments on Periyar Statue, Madras HC). So the candidature of H. Raja was very risky for BJP. Next in the list was Pon. Radhakrishnan who was also a former president of BJP State Unit. But then his recent debacle and not holding onto his LS seat of Kanyakumari did not find much support with the top brass in spite of its alliance with the AIADMK. Mr. Nainar Nagendran’s name was also doing the rounds but then again his entry to the party was only in 2017 (he was earlier with AIADMK) and the BJP’s top brass in Delhi was also reluctant to give the post to a new comer. L. Ganesan’s candidature was also ruled out due to the stand of the party in not giving tickets or party posts to leaders who were above 75 years. So the scenario continued to linger on and then the issue became silent and then there were protests for and against CAA, NRC and NPR in the State which further hampered the selection process.

Mr. Murugan’s elevation as party chief

The elevation of Mr. L. Murugan as the party chief in TN was a big surprise especially to those who were closely observing the politics of TN. One is that Mr. Murugan comes from the Arunthathiyar community which is one of the three major Dalit communities, the other being the Adi Dravidar and the Devendra Kula Velalar. It is an open secret that the BJP was once hobnobbing with the leaders of the Devendra Kula Velalar (DKV) and were trying to woo its vote bank by promising them a slew of reformist measures (like removing them from the SC list and clubbing various other sub-castes of DKV under it). But this did not hold ground as one of the major Dalit parties which banks on the DKV support in the state (Puthiya Tamilagam) and its own leader failed to win a seat in the LS election of 2019 in alliance with the NDA.

The question of getting the support of the other major community of Adi Dravidars or Paraiyars was far beyond as the community is steadfastly committed to its support to the VCK party and its leader Thol. Thirumavalavan. He also enjoys a strong backing from not only his community but also from the minorities thanks to his opposition to CAA and his recent mammoth rally which all bear testimony to this. So now the question shifts back to the post of BJP leadership and this is where the candidature of L. Murugan gains prominence. One is that the BJP has now shifted its focus to the other major Dalit community i.e., the Arunthathiyars and two, the young dynamic leadership which the BJP is trying to create has further boosted the image of BJP (Mr. Murugan is in his early 40’s).

It is to be noted that there were no charismatic leaders from the Arunthathiyar community and Mr. Murugan filling that void is an added bonus for BJP. And also BJP is gaining some political mileage as they appointed a Dalit as a President for TN BJP unit for the second time (Mr. Kirubanithi being the first). This was a major victory for the BJP since both the Dravidian parties have failed to create Dalit leadership in spite of them championing the cause of the depressed classes for long. And also Mr. Murugan’s recent summoning of the MD of Murasoli newspaper over the Panchami land issue of Murasoli (DMK’s party newspaper) office has earned him a place in the good books of the BJP leadership. But the question here remains on how efficient this strategy of BJP will work in Tamil Nadu or will it merely create a split in the already truncated Dalit vote bank. Mr. Murugan in his recent presser after his elevation as the Chief claimed that BJP will send members in the next Assembly elections has already set off speculation regarding his strategy in the political circles of TN.

But only time can tell if the strategy of BJP will pay off in next year’s Assembly Election.

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Keerthi Nathan is currently pursuing his Masters in Social Entrepreneurship at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He is an avid Tennis player and takes a keen interest in analysis of political events in the country.