CHENNAI:  His party performed poorly in the Assembly elections last year, and is perceived to be insensitive to the key issues that Tamil Nadu has been facing. However, that has not stopped the party’s national general secretary in-charge of Tamil Nadu, Muralidhar Rao, from dreaming of a ‘BJP-centric’ restructuring of State politics as tall leaders are withdrawing behind the curtains of time. In his interview with Express, Rao said the BJP should not be underestimated, pointing out how it emerged powerful in many states where it had no history or roots. Edited excerpts:

During his first visit in 2014, BJP president Amit Shah had exhorted party cadre and functionaries to make BJP the number one party in Tamil Nadu. Three years have gone by, but the party is far away from that goal.

It is true if we go by electoral victories, the MP seats, the MLA seats. We have to accept the fact that we have not been able to open our account in the State Assembly. But the way things are changing in Tamil Nadu… the old frameworks are getting altered. The issues, parties and the leaders who used to dominate the scene, are not there.

In my view, BJP-centric issues are going to dominate in the next two years in Tamil Nadu; the situation has come. For BJP, it has never happened in the way things are unfolding now. For the first time after 70 years, the situation is very, very conducive and positive, and the people are becoming receptive to BJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a good connect with the people here, who want a change in Tamil Nadu – governance sans corruption; development unaffected by family rule or personality cult.

So we are preparing ourselves, injecting confidence that we are capable of delivering these. We have done much in that direction like intensive membership drive, internal training etc. Now, we have come to the threshold where leaders from different parties feel that strengthening Modi is in the interest of Tamil Nadu. This is a new phenomenon, and it is going to give new shape to politics of Tamil Nadu.

Despite the high opinion about your party’s growth, the performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and in 2016 Assembly elections were not up to the mark.

Our alliance in the Lok Sabha elections was very strong, securing around 19.50 per cent votes – highest for the NDA alliance without aligning with DMK or AIADMK. But it was back to being a bipolar contest between DMK and AIADMK during the Assembly elections. That situation has changed. The parties and their alliance formations will be different in the coming years. So the calculations based on the past records will not stand. Now, without BJP, there will be no Tamil Nadu politics in future.

You said people here are receptive to Modi. Contrary to this, there is a general notion that the party had not fulfilled the demands of the people here on many issues – NEET exemption, Cauvery dispute, attack on fishermen by Lankan Navy etc.

Whether it is smart cities, AMRUT, infrastructure, highways, or any other development projects, the Centre has been contributing to the growth of the State. People started feeling that development of the State is being ensured without any corruption. On July 27, Chief Minister ‘Edappadi’ K Palaniswami appealed to the Prime Minister at Rameswaram for the release of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Lanka. Within 24 hours, it happened.

The 75 fishermen released were arrested over a period of many months, and the Chief Minister had been writing letter after letter to the PM.

It is not a problem between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, but between Tamils in the two countries. As we have our own people on both sides, we cannot ignore the fishermen of Sri Lanka while protecting our interest. It is a sensitive problem. Previously, the UPA government could not prevent the killing of fishermen or secure the release of arrested fishermen. Now, we are exploring options for resolving the issue. And even on deep sea fishing, we are creating alternatives.

The disconnect is felt on the Cauvery dispute and NEET issue as well. Farmers here have been agitating for months.

The problems of farmers here are genuine, and the BJP in Tamil Nadu is alive to it. But Modi has no unbridled powers as the Prime Minister. He is a constitutional functionary and he is working within a federal frame work. While doing something for Tamil Nadu, he cannot be seen as violating the Constitution. If we become powerful in Tamil Nadu and in Karnataka, definitely the ability of the Prime Minister to address the issue will increase.

There is a charge that the BJP is favouring Karnataka because you don’t have any stake in Tamil Nadu.

Don’t underestimate the BJP. We have become powerful in many states without having earlier record of performance. Suddenly, we have grown in many states. Tamil Nadu is a very, very fertile State for us… we will never ignore. For us, protecting the Cauvery delta farmers is as important as addressing the issues in Kashmir, no less. Tamil Nadu is not a neglected State for BJP.

What are you going to do for the State?

Here, the Tamil culture is at stake. The BJP is the only party that stands for it. All other parties ruled the State for 70 years.  If you want to have the glory of Cholas, Pandiyas and spritual saints of Tamil Nadu, the BJP is the party rooted in culture.Tamil culture is very much dear to the BJP. For us Tiruvalluvar is the icon – not for slogan shouting – but real icon.  Tirukkural is the guideline for  good governance. Modi is completely following Tirukkural. His good governance principles are taken from Tirukkural. And for us, Tiruvallur is like God. like a spiritual guide. Whatever Tiruvalluvar has said is the central commitment, conviction and guideline for all our workers and grassroots politics.

Ahead of the LS and Assembly elections, you spoke about socialcoalition – bringing in different communities that nurse disgruntlement of being underrepresented. But nothing has happened on that count.

During the last 30 years, corruption and family-centric politics dominated and caused a lot of damage. Sabka saat, Sabka vikas is the basis of our social coalition. The BJP is working and building on evolving new leaders from these sections. Next time we go for elections, you will see the BJP fielding powerful candidates from these sections of the society. Amit Shah will meet all leaders of all sections – BCs, MBCs, and OBCs etc – during his visit to Tamil Nadu next month.

All factions of the AIADMK are vying to support the BJP. With this growing closeness, will the BJP align with that party in the future elections?

Today, we are as close to the AIADMK as we always were. Nothing more, nothing less. It has not increased as compared to what it was in the past. They are not now in NDA. But you have to understand that we can never go with the DMK and Congress because both parties represent the same ideology. Both are together fighting against the BJP. DMK has been our adversary for a long time.

So, shall I conclude that you will align with the AIADMK in the future?

You are stretching it too far. On certain issues, they have supported us and on some other issues, we supported them. We have never taken the line that [DMK working president MK] Stalin has taken against the AIADMK.

Many opposition leaders including Stalin are predicting that there would be snap polls in Tamil Nadu. Do you agree ?

It is their wish. But the DMK will not be the beneficiary in future elections in Tamil Nadu.

What are your plans for the immediate future in TN?

The BJP is ready for the local body elections. We are also preparing ourselves for the 2019 Parliament elections and next Assembly elections, too, from now on.

http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2017/aug/01/bjp-to-dominate-scene-in-a-few-years-muralidhar-rao-1636439–3.html

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