Signs from the South

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Growing disenchantment with Dravidian politics, acceptance for PM Modi’s persona and his development politics, prominent personalities choosing the saffron party indicate the shifting sands of Tamil Nadu politics

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Actor-turned-politician Khushbu Sundar joining
BJP at party headquarters in New Delhi, on October 12, 2020

Cinestar Khusbu Sundar's entry into the BJP is a big indicator, if not a proof, that 2021 would see the 'mother of all elections' in Tamil Nadu.
The reason for this is not as much Khusbu herself, but it is the ground reality in a state that comes across as rigid or 'unbending' in ideological politics.
To put it mildly, the basket is full, as they put it. Tamil Nadu polity is certainly gearing up for the battle of the ballot or EVMs in next summer.
All sorts of permutations and combinations are thus on the table. Analysts and some of them are identified as 'liberals' are already talking about the identity war! And they name it - Hindutva, Dravidian politics, social justice, ethno-religion tensions, Brahmanism, development, corruption and so on.
Adding to the entire drama came a surprise move from the BJP; it won over 'popular actress' Khusbu Sundar, a former Congress spokesperson, getting a marketable face! Others are also joining.
Khusbu will be a leader for the Lotus party with a mass following of her own and that way directly or indirectly, the BJP's dependence on other film stars like Rajinikanth would be much less.
Liberals and some of those experts - who every time get things on their nose -- in ivory towers of Delhi and adjoining Noida -- are having heartburns and turning rather helpless onlookers. There is no denying the fact that the BJP's 'acceptance' is on rise in the southern state - which fashionably dubbed Narendra Modi's party as a pro-Hindi and also a pro-upper caste Hindu party. In other words, there is a strong Hindutva undercurrent.
DMK is surprised at this as for long it thought politics is all about Dravidian hegemony or otherwise. Now issues in debates are the Tamil identity, the Bharatiyata or Nationalism and these are laced with the Hindutva ideologies.
In 2016, then BJP chief Amit Shah had told an election rally at Pattukottai that the DMK, the AIADMK and the Congress are not only “corrupt”, but they do not "know anything other than corruption"
Interestingly, it was Rajinikanth, who first toyed with the phrase 'spiritual politics' to counter DMK's 'rationalists' narrative.
If the analysis so far has been one-sided from a non-Tamilian perspective in Delhi, this is what state's veteran politician Dr Subramanian Swamy had said in 2019 - "Tamil Nadu is ready for Hindutva driven politics and Tamilians are fed up with Dravidian bogus history and CBI fear-driven politics. Cinema acrobats are stale. .....Needs an overhaul to fill the vacuum.”
There are onground analyses within BJP and also through independent sources. A Kolkata-born Bengali medical professional in Chennai sums it up well with his lucid argument. "Dravidian plus votes, including traditional Left supporters and a section who feels LTTE was wronged in Sri Lanka and who believe in 'Dravidian pride' cannot match the total vote-share of the 'Nationalist plus Hindutva vote bank'; and here is the opportunity for the BJP,” he said.
Let us still not trust him either. Let us talk about others.
A source in the Communist Party of India - on the condition of anonymity - says, perhaps after a long time the battleground in Tamil Nadu is preparing for an ideological war – Hindutva plus Nationalism on one side versus others.
In the last six months or so, the BJP leaders have been getting feelers from across Tamil Nadu, including from office-bearers in DMK and AIADMK and a few MLAs and former MLAs who want to join the BJP. 
Of course, the trend is definitely encouraging for Hindutva politics and the BJP and the RSS leaders at various levels have been able to read the message well.
But there are hiccups and challenges. This is principally because Tamil Nadu politics has been over the years grounded on different yardsticks. One trend has been change of voters' favourites every five years and during elections, a large section of voters including the middle class in Chennai or other major metro hubs are assured of television sets - to say the least.
Narendra Modi's entry as a powerful 'nationalist Hindu' leader and well packaged with the commitment for the poor and as a development catalyst has of course come late in terms of Tamil people's realisation. But the message has started getting 'dawned' on people's minds. Politics is no longer linked to freebies!
The perceived 'disillusion' with two Dravidian parties is vital to BJP's campaign strategy for next year's polls. BJP is likely to have an alliance with AIADMK and yet try to woo voters by cashing in on their 'disillusionment and dissatisfaction' with the two parties
For her part, Khusbu has sensed some of these 'changing' ground realities and hence her response on the first day as a BJP lady has been quite articulate and her views were waxed eloquently.
“I have changed parties but never changed or disowned my ideology and commitment. In the BJP, there is no corruption allegation,” she said rather tongue-in-cheek fashion as she was long associated with DMK and Congress.
Both these parties have more often hit headlines for corruption. Likes of sitting MPs A Raja and M Kanimozhi, powerful DMK leaders, were behind bars once and later acquitted. And of course, for Congress the corruption tag has traveled with it almost as a synonym. Top leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul are on bail and noted 'former FM' P Chidambaram, too, has been to Tihar jail.
In other words, one can appreciate the fact that given a choice, the faceless voter of Tamil Nadu may prefer a party that believes firmly about 'clean politics' and fighting the corruption menace.
In 2016, then BJP chief Amit Shah had told an election rally at Pattukottai that the DMK, the AIADMK and the Congress are not only “corrupt”, but they do not "know anything other than corruption".
In recent times, E V Ramaswamy Naicker aka Periyar’s grandson joined BJP. The DMK also sacked its sitting MLA, Ku Ka Selvam who also met Prime Minister Modi.
Disillusion with DMK-AIADMK
The perceived 'disillusion' with two Dravidian parties is vital to BJP's campaign strategy for next year's polls. In all likelihood, the BJP will have an alliance with AIADMK and yet try to woo voters by cashing in on their 'disillusionment and dissatisfaction' with the two prominent parties.
But all these are also easier said than done. Here comes the role of consummate politicians like C T Ravi, a former Karnataka Minister and newly inducted national general secretary of the party. In fact, Khusboo's entry into the BJP on October 12 along with Madan Ravichandran (senior journalist) and Saravana Kumar (a former Indian Revenue Service officer) are part of the first major shots by Ravi in his new role.
"Well begun is half done...," said one Karnataka BJP leader - known for being close to both Ravi and BJP's organisational general secretary B L Santhosh, who also hails from Karnataka.
Future Tense
More leaders are likely to BJP from other parties. Khusbu's exit from Congress shows potential leaders are finding things uncomfortable in the country's oldest political outfit.
Khusbu joins the club of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Himanta Biswa Sarma, S S Ahluwalia and Jagdambika Pal and many others. Likes of Jitin Prasada and Sachin Pilot almost quit the Congress.
After putting a commendable performance in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, DMK was confident of making it easily in 2021. But this may not work according to their plans.
Roles of parties like AMMK, MNM, PMK and MDMK of Vaiko and VCK would be important.
In the ultimate analysis, how things would turn up still remains hidden in the womb of time.