BJP cancels yatra, which was ‘unable to gather crowds’, citing Cyclone Nivar.

New Delhi: With the arrival of Union Home Minister Amit Shah to Chennai on 21 November, the alliance between the All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the BJP has been sealed and the parties are all set to contest the upcoming state Assembly elections together, scheduled for May 2021. As the alliance was sealed, the BJP’s Vetri Vel yatra has also been suspended.
According to the BJP, the yatra was cancelled due to Cyclone Nivar that made landfall in Chennai and the other coastal districts of Tamil Nadu on 25 November, but political observers say that the sealing of the alliance was to give an “honourable” exit from the embarrassing yatra.
“Vetri” means victorious and “Vel” is a weapon of Lord Murugan, who is a Tamil god.
Savukku Shankar, a BJP critic, told The Sunday Guardian, “It all started in July when the Karuppar Koottam, a rationalist YouTube channel, made derogatory remarks against Lord Murugan and a poem, Kandha Sasthi Kavacham, sung in his praise. The anchor of the channel, Surendra Natarajan, and other members of the channel were arrested by the state police.”
“Soon after it went viral, the BJP sensed an issue and decided to politicise it, considering that the elections were due for the next year. Later, the BJP led by L. Murugan, conducted the Vel pooja across the state. But the theatrics proved to be futile as it did not draw much attention either from the media or from the public,” Shankar said.
Just six months ahead of the elections, the BJP decided to conduct Vel yatra to Palani. Shankar told The Sunday Guardian, “The purpose of the yatra is to polarise and create ruckus in the state. The yatra route was from Muslim-dominated regions and in this route, there was not a single Murugan temple. After this yatra culminated at Palani, Murugan wanted to keep the Vel, which he was carrying, at the Murugan temple in Palani.”
However, the sealing of alliance with the ruling party AIADMK coupled with Cyclone Nivar brewing at the Bay of Bengal led to suspension of this yatra. Shankar said that Amit Shah came to Chennai to save the Tamil Nadu BJP unit from this embarrassing yatra as it was not able to gather crowds, adding that the AIADMK was hand in gloves with the BJP during this yatra.
He said, “One needs to understand the politics played by the AIADMK during this yatra. The ruling party allowed the BJP to organise the yatra to five km or till the district border. Then the police would arrest Murugan, BJP cadre and detain them till evening.”
However, senior journalist Kolahala Srenivaas does not agree with Shankar. He said that the yatra would have been successful if the government had given permission to conduct the yatra. Srenivaas told The Sunday Guardian, “The same AIADMK had given permission to the yatra across the state for the construction of Ram temple in March 2020, but they did not give permission for similar kind of yatra. This is because the government knows that if the yatra is successful, then it will help the BJP in the next election.”
Meanwhile, some political analysts said that politics based on religion and caste will not cut ice in Tamil Nadu. Referring to a past example, Tharasu Shyam, a senior journalist, told The Sunday Guardian, “In 1982, when M.G. Ramachandran was the chief minister, a Vel made of diamond was stolen from Tiruchendur Murugan temple. C. Subramaniam Pillai, the officer who was in-charge of the safekeeping of valuables, was found dead in his house. Demanding justice for Pillai, DMK leader and former chief minister M. Karunanidhi took out a rally to Tiruchendur. Later, the DMK could not win the by-election in Tiruchendur and also subsequent Assembly elections in 1984.”
Referring to another example, he said that Pattali Makkal Katchi, which was founded in 1989 as a political outfit for the Vanniyars, does not have district and panchayat functionaries in southern parts of the state. “So, if the BJP wants to become a major force in the state, the party needs to work with the people of the state and create their own cadre. By poaching other political parties or attracting civil servants, it won’t help to fetch votes in Tamil Nadu.”
So what is the major achievement with this yatra? Srenivaas told The Sunday Guardian, “As per the initial assessment by the top BJP leadership, the party has been able to increase its vote share by 4% in the last six months. The BJP had received 2.86% in the 2016 Assembly elections and the party is expecting to get 6% votes in the upcoming elections. Another important thing is that the BJP has more bargaining power compared to last time. The BJP will be asking for one seat per district and four seats in Kanniyakumari, where they stood second in the last election.”
Another important achievement, according to Shyam, is that the BJP received much-needed coverage from the media and prime time coverage. “This is also needed in politics,” Shyam told The Sunday Guardian.
“The BJP needs to do a lot of legwork in order to thrive in Tamil Nadu politics. The cadre have to work with the cyclone affected victims and have to take up local issues. The BJP cannot play national-level politics in Tamil Nadu. It will help them garner votes in other parts of the country, but not in Tamil Nadu,” Shyam said.
With Dravidan
stalwarts like M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa
missing from Tamil Nadu politics, a political vacuum has been formed in the state, it is a matter of time whether the BJP will fill the gap.