What do the people of Tamil Nadu think of the Bharatiya Janata Party?

That was the question with which this reporter headed towards Hosur on Friday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was addressing a rally at this small Tamil Nadu town, close to the state’s boundary with Karnataka, ahead of state elections on May 16. .

It looked like a good question to ask. For decades, Tamil Nadu has had two party rule, toggling between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But that seems to be changing. Political observers have been detecting the first stirrings of support for the BJP.

This is a surprise. Tamil Nadu has long looked askance at northern India, as is evident in the vociferous criticism of attempts to push for the use of Hindi across the country. Could such a state be warming up to the saffron party?

Credit: M Rajshekhar
Credit: M Rajshekhar

At Hosur, the turnout was low ‒ there were no more than 10,000 people. The high number of parked buses suggested that many attendees had been brought in from elsewhere. Many people were not even making the effort to go past the security into the grounds of the stadium where Modi was to speak. They were just sitting outside on dried, dusty fields.

Inside, a man in his thirties said he was too busy supplying “bisleri” to homes in the town to care about politics. Why was he here then? To see Modi. A youngster from Hosur, who had done his BTech and now had a job that paid him Rs 15,000 a month, said Modi would bring development. What is development? Jobs, he said.

Tamil Nadu, like the rest of India, is failing to create jobs. What it offers its demographic dividend is, as one sees in Coimbatore and elsewhere, is casual labour.

Credit: M Rajshekhar
Credit: M Rajshekhar

On that evening, as Modi spoke, it was not clear if the BJP had any answers either. The speech focused on what the prime minister had on his mind ‒ AgustaWestland, his government’s successes, and less on what people are struggling with. Some of what he said completely clashed with the realities of people’s lives, like the contention that banks were not turning away anyone who wanted credit.

Credit: M Rajshekhar
Credit: M Rajshekhar

In all, audience participation stayed low. There wasn't much enthusiasm as some changed slogans like “Bharat Mata ki jai” and “Modi Modi Modi”. All this took place as dark skies prepared to rain down. Five minutes into Modi’s talk, the winds were gusting. Another five minutes, and thick raindrops were plopping onto the parched earth.

People began heading for the exit.