Modi’s BJP is set to gain a foothold in Tamil Nadu

MYSURU, INDIA – APRIL 14: Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses an election campaign rally on April 14, 2024 in Mysuru, India. 

Abhishek Chinnappa | Getty Images News | Getty Images

CHENNAI, India — Polling stations in India’s Tamil Nadu state opened on Friday as the country kicked off its massive national election process, with all 39 constituencies of the key southern state going to polls in the first phase.

Politics in India’s sixth-largest state by parliament seats has been dominated by regional players that have relied on ethno-nationalist ideologies rooted in the Tamil language and culture to build their support base.

More than 62.2 million voters will choose among 950 contestants in Tamil Nadu. Nationwide, 102 constituencies will go to polls across 21 states in the first phase.

For decades in Tamil Nadu, both the national parties — the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — have played second fiddle to the two main regional parties, namely the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

The DMK won the Tamil Nadu state elections in 2021, defeating the incumbent AIADMK.

While Congress has been out of office in the state since the late 1960s, the BJP, which was formed only in 1980, has not been able to build a substantial voter base so far in Tamil Nadu.

But winds of change appear to be afoot — though, not strong enough to change the state’s big picture.

Pundits, politicians and people on the ground told CNBC that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP is set to post remarkable growth in Tamil Nadu, which has so far been a bulwark against what has often been characterized as the BJP’s Hindu nationalist politics.

India elections: BJP's Tamil Nadu secretary discusses how it expects to perform in the state

Following the demise of J. Jayalalithaa, the leader of the AIADMK, and M. Karunanidhi, patriarch of DMK, there has been a vacuum of charismatic local leaders, and people are now looking toward the BJP and Modi, said BJP Tamil Nadu Vice President Narayanan Thirupathy.

“There’s a silent revolution going on in the state,” Thirupathy told CNBC.

Political observers and psephologists have predicted that the BJP will make significant inroads into the state in terms of vote share. This may, however, not translate into parliamentary seats.

Prominent poll strategist Prashant Kishor reportedly said he expects the BJP to get “double digit” vote share in Tamil Nadu.

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Kishor, who has helped manage election campaigns for several parties including the BJP’s in 2014, said that the BJP “will either be first or second party in Telangana [another southern state] which is a big thing.” The party had won four of the 17 seats in Telangana in the 2019 elections.

BJP, along with its allies, could reach a vote share of 20% in Tamil Nadu, Sanjay Kumar, co-director of Lokniti, a research program at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS),…

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