In early November 2014, khaki shorts-clad men all over Tamil Nadu who had gathered in an unprecedented force, were rounded up by the state police, and their Founder’s Day celebrations disrupted. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has minuscule presence in Tamil Nadu, was expectedly furious at what they claimed, was an oppressive move by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government.

"Jayalalithaa is scared of the RSS," Sadagopan Narayanan, the RSS Spokesperson in Tamil Nadu, told reporters at the time. "Since 1940, we have been conducting our route marches peacefully across the state. But since she came to power in 2011, the police have not allowed us to hold even a small procession citing law and order problems," he stated.

Vehement criticism

The RSS in Tamil Nadu has been vehement in its criticism of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa since 2011. Trouble began with route marches and drills of the right wing organisation being denied police permission since the Jayalalithaa government came to power.

Then came a string of murders of leaders of pro-Hindutva organisations like the RSS itself as well as the Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. A Bharatiya Janata Party functionary too was murdered in 2012. These murders of more than eight right wing leaders remain unsolved.

In 2013, an upset RSS leadership made attempts to meet Chief Minister Jayalalithaa along with other Hindutva groups to demand protection for Hindu leaders in the state. No appointment was given.

“Jayalalithaa has met Imams and priests of the Christian sects,” argued Narayanan. “Why could she not have met Hindu leaders?”

The Tamil Nadu RSS had strongly impressed upon the Nagpur leadership that there was a firm need to hit out against the AIADMK government in the state. In 2014, when the BJP decided to contest the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with smaller parties, the RSS was relieved.

“We were still angry about the way the BJP was refusing to criticise the Jayalalithaa government,” said a source within the Tamil Nadu RSS on condition of anonymity. “No Swayamsevak would have campaigned for the BJP if they had allied with the AIADMK,” he added.

The insider added that this message was passed on to the top leadership of the BJP, following a series of meetings of the RSS top leadership with the Tamil Nadu unit over the past three months.

Inaccessible and unavailable

On March 26, a short video clip began to do the rounds of messaging service WhatsApp. The video was a speech given by BJP’s Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal on March 25. In the video, shot at a conference in Delhi, Goyal is heard speaking of how inaccessible the Tamil Nadu government, chief minister and ministers are.


“It is a part of the country where I can’t even reach out to the Chief Minister,” said Goyal animatedly. “In Parliament they can’t open their mouth, any of the members of that party, unless they have a script which has been sanitised and vetted in Chennai,” he said.

The AIADMK’s main rival in the state, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam instantly picked on the video which had gone viral. “Journalists are unable to meet Jayalalithaa,” wrote DMK chief Karunanidhi in a statement issued on March 27.

“Central ministers are unable to meet her. Voters too are given no opportunity to submit their grievances in person. Even senior bureaucrats are not given appointments to meet the Chief Minister and brief her about happenings,” he stated.

The state BJP leadership took its cue from Goyal. Tamil Nadu in-charge for the party Muralidhar Rao addressed reporters in Chennai on March 28, launching an attack on the Chief Minister for being “inaccessible” and “unavailable”.

“If you review the past five years of governance, Indian development and democracy is suffering and Tamil Nadu is heavily suffering,” said Rao. “(This is) due to the leader’s aspects – she is inaccessible and unavailable. Our Prime Minister has said he is not pradhan mantri but a pradhan sevak [not a prime minister but a prime server] Tamil Nadu needs a mukhya sevak, not a mukhya mantri [a chief server, not a chief minister]. A leader must move with the people, not be imperious and isolated,” he added.

Full throttle

An odd note, however, is evident. A party which has always been careful not to rile Jayalalithaa too much is suddenly prodding her. A party which, even after the Chennai deluge of December 2015, had been soft pedalling on state negligence, is suddenly on frontal attack mode.

The insistent message sent by the RSS, appears to have finally reached the ears of the party’s leadership.

“It is not that we have taken up with the AIADMK [joined issue with the party] now and neglected in the past,” said BJP leader Muralidhar Rao on being asked about the RSS’ role in this change of stance. “We are going full throttle into elections now and reaching out to people with the message of governance,” he said.

Political pundits though are sceptical of the BJP’s gameplan. “The BJP has always had a soft corner for Jayalalithaa,” said Aazhi Senthilnathan, political commentator. “Even in 2014, voters who wanted BJP in power at the centre voted for Jayalalithaa instead, thinking she will align with them. The pro-Hindutva votebank in Tamil Nadu will always support Jayalalithaa. I do not think we should take what Muralidhar Rao says too seriously," he said.

"Jaya and Modi are friends," Senthilnathan added. "I think BJP is trying to make use of anti-incumbency feeling which could be there. This is not any sort of deep rooted anger against Jayalalithaa. Centre has not been responsive or accessible to Tamil Nadu government’s concerns on major issues. This is strange coming from a BJP government which does not respect federalism in any sense,” he said.

The AIADMK has now come out with guns blazing against the BJP. In a statement issued by state Finance Minister O Panneerselvam, the party refuted all of Goyal’s charges. Listing out nine instances when Union ministers met Jayalalithaa, Panneerselvam questioned the Centre on various issues. “Honourable Chief Minister Amma has been putting pressure on the Centre repeatedly to get boats of Tamil Nadu fishermen released from Sri Lanka,” stated Panneerselvam. “No time was given to state government representatives to meet Prime Minister Modi regarding the GAIL pipeline issue either,” he said.

The game is on in Tamil Nadu with a multi-cornered fight brewing. As far as the opposition in the state is concerned, governance, or the lack of it, appears to be the single overarching theme to attack Jayalalithaa on, in an otherwise "issue-less election’.