Tamil Nadu has always been a hard task for the BJP, not just in occupying a position but also playing a key role in TN politics. TN is a very different state whose politics is completely different from other states. The people of TN have always preferred a local party than a National party when it came to elections.
Even before independence, Madras had greater influence on the politics of the country and many of its leaders mainly belonged to Congress party. After India achieved independence, the Congress party leaders won the elections with majority and came to power in TN. For over 20 years, the Congress party had dominated the politics of Tamil Nadu, however post 1965 the Dravidan parties became powerful and a new narrative of Aryans and Dravidians was built. During the later stages of the Congress rule, the TN saw huge corruption in which Congress leaders were found to be involved in scams. This was also one reason the people of Tamil Nadu started losing hope in the oldest party and demanded change in guard.
At the same time, the two Dravidian party’s DMK and AIADMK gained momentum and Karunanidhi had become very popular. Tamil Nadu which was also very well known for its film industry, had very popular actors who were mostly treated like Gods. It was a very common procedure in Tamil Nadu for many movie stars to join politics. MG Ramachandranan or MGR as he was popularly known was one politician who started the AIADMK party in the year 1972. MGR won the elections contesting against DMK and became the CM in the year 1980. This changed the politics of Tamil Nadu completely and the state became a bipartisan system with the Dravida parties completely dominating the political system of Tamil Nadu.
The Congress which lost its ground completely tied with DMK and formed collision government few times in Tamil Nadu.
However the BJP had not much existence. The main reason was because the Dravida parties mostly projected BJP as an outsider with no connection to the Tamil Nadu. It was often criticized as the Hindi speaking and Northern party which doesn’t value Tamil’s sentiment and mainly BJP did not have a strong candidate in TN. But in reality BJP was better in understanding the sentiments of Tamil’s culture than Congress. But the apprehensions and fake propaganda which was built by Congress and DMK against BJP cost the party huge.
But now the scenario has changed completely. Since 3 years the political calculations of BJP in Tamil Nadu seems to be working, especially after Narendra Modi assumed the office of Prime Minister. His way of engaging with Tamils and providing every support to Tamil Nadu in times of crisis has made people of TN trust PM Modi and BJP like never before. BJP which is considered a Hindutva party took up many fights against illegal conversion in Tamil Nadu and fought for the rights of Dalits and OBC many times which gave them big push. A state in which there were no considerable BJP supporters started seeing huge support to the party and RSS, especially in the Hindu dominated areas. In fact the support was quite evident after the 2016 Assembly elections in which BJP gained huge voter percentage as compared to last 5 years.
Ground reports suggested that Hindus and youths in large came in support of PM Modi and his initiatives for the country. The biggest boost also came when PM Modi cleared ordinance supporting the Jallikattu which was banned by the Supreme Court. His continuous interaction with people of Tamil Nadu in various occasions, addressing people of TN in Tamil took him more closer to the state. Jayalalitha also had a very good friendship with Modi since the time Modi was the Gujarat CM. So it was not difficult for her to get many benefits to the state.
But after the death of Jayalalitha, BJP has been finding new routes into Tamil Nadu. Many people believe that BJP can play a crucial role in TN politics. Given the fact that TN has highest number of Brahmin, chettiar, reddiar, Vanniyar, Mutharaiyar and Mukkulothor, dalits and OBCs which constitutes over 80% may turn possible supporters of BJP, it is not very difficult for BJP to build a base for the party. With Muslims and Christians being 5-6% each, the party only needs a strong candidate to project.
There were many rumors that BJP was trying to rope in Rajnikanth as its face in TN. However there has been no clarity till now from Rajnikanth. Pannerselvam who is much close to BJP and Modi may play a crucial role in deciding the future of Tamil politics.