The urban local body elections in Tamil Nadu at the end of February sparked new debates about the political atmosphere of the state. As expected, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its 11-party alliance emerged victorious in all the municipal corporations and captured most of the municipalities and town panchayats in the state.

The other opposition political parties, including the Independents, won 4,120 out of 12,837 wards that had gone to the polls – around 32% of the total wards.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which contested alone, claimed that it has emerged as the “third-largest” party in the state after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

This claim was made on the basis of the total percentage of votes in the BJP’s favour – not the number of seats it won. Of the 17,082,624 votes polled, the party secured 924,755 votes or around 5.4 % of the vote. This made it the third-largest party in terms of vote share after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

Senior party leaders across the country, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman, congratulated the party’s state unit for its “unprecedented victory”. Party leaders said that the party had entered new areas and one of its MPs, Tejasvi Surya, even declared that “the future of TN is BJP”.

Is there any merit to their claims?

Tamil Nadu urban local poll party wise results

Name of party Corporations Corporations Town Panchayats Total
1,374 3,843 7,621 12,838
DMK 952 2,360 4,389 7,701
AIADMK 164 638 1,206 2,008
Congress 73 151 368 592
BJP 22 56 230 308
CPI (M) 24 41 101 166
PMK 5 48 73 126
AMMK 3 33 66 102
VCK 16 26 51 93
MDMK 21 34 34 89
CPI 13 19 26 58
Others 7 55 79 141
Independents 73 381 981 1435

BJP campaign, electoral victory

In parliamentary and assembly elections, broad policy are matters political parties usually campaign on. Local body elections, on the other hand, are fought on issues pertinent to that particular ward or town. However, Tamil Nadu’s urban local body elections were entirely different from this pattern.

In their campaign, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies put great emphasis on state-wide issues and policy matters, such as the National Eligibility Entrance Test for medical college admissions, state autonomy and the balance of the Goods and Services Tax that the state was owed by the Central government.

Similarly, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam focussed more on the failure of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led state government to implement its electoral promises and the low-quality products the state had provided in its Pongal gift scheme.

For the first time in the political history of the state, secularism became an electoral issue. After the alleged suicide of a student from Ariyalur, the BJP organised protests across the state to demand an ordinance on forcible religious conversions.

The BJP’s national leadership seized upon the incident as a potential plank to expand the organisation in Tamil Nadu and sent a three-member panel to enquire if the student had died by suicide because she was being “forced to convert to another religion”.

The breakdown

The BJP had fielded 5,594 candidates in 12,601 wards. This meant it contested elections in 1,134 corporation wards out of 1,369; 1,775 municipal wards out of 3,824; and 2,685 town panchayats of 7,408. In all, the BJP fought 44.4% of the total seats.

When the results were declared, as seen from the above table, the BJP won 22 wards in corporations, 56 wards in municipalities and 230 wards in town panchayats – a total of 308 wards.

In 2011, when the BJP was not in power at the Centre, it won four corporation wards, 37 municipality wards and 185 town panchayat wards. Between 2011 and 2022, the party’s presence has increased slightly from 226 wards to 308 wards in the urban local bodies.

The results show that the growth of the BJP is uneven and largely confined to the southern part of the state. Four corporators are from the northern part of Tamil Nadu, three from the western region (popularly known as the Kongu region), 14 from the southern region and one from the delta region.

Similarly, of its 56 municipal wards, three are from the north, nine from the west, 43 from the south and one from the delta.

A BJP supporter at the venue of an election campaign rally in Chennai, in this photograph from April 2014. Credit: Reuters

Lion’s share from Kanyakumari

Of the total wards won by the BJP, 200 (65%), came from Kanyakumari district, where the party has traditionally had a strong presence. The remaining 108 came from the state’s 37 other districts. Even in the 2011 local body elections, of the BJP’s 226 elected representatives, 175 came from Kanyakumari.

However, the recent local body elections show that the party’s popularity is actually declining in Kanyakumari district. In 2021, in the Nagercoil assembly constituency (much of which covers the area of the Nagercoil corporation), the party polled 88,804 votes.

But in the 2022 Nagercoil corporation elections, the BJP contested in 48 wards out of 52 and secured only 30, 271 votes. BJP candidates won 11 wards but lost their deposits in 23 wards.

Eight of the BJP’s corporators in Nagercoil are Hindu Nadars, two are Pillaimars and one is a Saliyar. This indicates that most of the party’s voters are Hindu Nadars and the party is thriving only on the hostility between Hindu and Christian Nadars.

Kongu, other districts

The BJP’s growth trajectory in Tamil Nadu drastically changed in 1998 after the Coimbatore bomb blasts. The Hindu-Muslim polarisation that followed helped the alliance of the BJP and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1998-99 and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-BJP alliance in 1999-2003 capture all seats in the western region and expand into new areas during the 1999 parliamentary elections.

However, unlike in Kanyakumari, the BJP was not able to repeat its success in Coimbatore when it contested alone. The party was not even a spoiler in Coimbatore. After renewing its ties with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the assembly elections of 2021, the BJP won two seats from the Kongu region (Coimbatore South and Aravakurichi).

However, the party failed to reproduce its success in the local body elections of 2022. Out of 100 wards in the Coimbatore corporation, the party contested in 97 wards and lost its deposit in 86 wards.

Other than Kanyakumari and the state’s western districts, the BJP’s performance is abysmal in other districts. The BJP fielded its candidate in Thirukattupalli town panchayat in Thanjavur district, where the student who allegedly committed suicide had studied.

It contested in six wards out of 15 and lost its deposit in five – winning none. The conversion angle and the attempt to turn Hindus against Christians did not yield the expected result.

In Chennai, the BJP’s supporters on Twitter used the hashtag “NaangaVanthutomnuSollu”, tell them we have come, to claim that the party is expanding. The party also mentioned that “the first BJP councilor in Chennai” had been voted to power. But the fact was that they already had one councilor, named Dhanushkodi, who won in the 2001 elections in the Chennai corporation.


The party’s growth in terms of vote share has been negligible (0.6 %), and its seats come only from one district and do not represent the state. So why is the BJP keen on projecting itself as an emerging party? The BJP’s compulsion to overstate its strength would seem to be a tactic to increase its bargaining capacity for the 2024 parliamentary elections.

As was clear from the party’s attempt to use the student’s alleged suicide as a campaign plank, the BJP is trying to make religion a defining issue, coupled with caste consciousness, to challenge the hegemony of the Dravidian parties. This strategy had worked in favour of the BJP in Kanyakumari, and the party is now trying to replicate the same across the state.

Arun Kumar is an assistant professor at the Deptartment of Political Science at GITAM University, Bengaluru.