2019 Elections – Is Tamil Nadu becoming the next Kashmir?

The results of the 2019 general elections came as a surprise to no one. But what really surprised many was the scale of Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) victory. The BJP won 303 seats, while its allies took another 50 seats giving it a commanding majority to form the government on its own. The key factors for the victory have been a scam-free five years where the government had single-mindedly focused on executing numerous poverty alleviation and infrastructure developmental programs. The benefits that flowed were there for all to see and there was no going back.

The 2019 general election has thrown up some key facets of an emerging political ecosystem in India. This is refreshing as well as disturbing. It is refreshing because the mandate points to the yearning of the people for a strong central government.

It is also simultaneously disturbing because this election witnessed an unprecedented political violence that resulted in the death of many political workers. The violence has continued in some states even after the elections.

In his victory speech Prime Minister Modi talked about the decimation of fake political ideologies and the emergence of a fresh mindset in the people of India. The yearning for a strong and stable federal government was too loud and clear. In India’s context, that was antithetical to most political parties who for decades believed in dividing to conquer and by definition a weak central government.

The defeat, as expected, has resulted in the disarray of the opposition parties. But the spike in political violence and secessionist rhetoric in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu is worrisome. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s open defiance of the Central government and the scuttling of local political freedom by arresting supporters of the BJP in the state is a case in point.

Given the known proclivity of many of these political parties to fringe and extremist entities that are inimical to the Indian union, it is not difficult to see how easily the 2019 election drubbing could transmogrifying into violence against the party workers of the BJP.

As Prime Minister Modi settles down in his second term in office, this emerging threat to internal stability stemming from the country’s political opposition will undoubtedly be dominating his attention.

It is true that the Kashmir and Maoists problems have already been dealt with firmly by the Modi government in the last five years. The security forces have gradually but surely gained the upper hand and it is only a matter of time before these terrorists will be wiped out and peace restored.

However, for the security establishment, it appears to be a game of whack-a-mole. Just as terror is wiped out in one area, it springs its ugly head elsewhere. But this time the concoction may be deadlier since it is the enemy within.

Kerala is the other southern state that is expected to keep PM Modi’s team busy. The surge of radicalization in this state as seen by increasing numbers of ISIS recruits as well as political killings in the recent past show that the state may already be on a slippery slope. The communist government’s opposition to traditional Hindu beliefs in the customs of Ayyappa Temple was after all not a surprise. That the massive protests, mainly by women, may have settled the issue for the time being is beside the point.

The rise of jihadi and extremist elements in Tamil Nadu has not truly attracted the media scrutiny it deserves.  For many years now, the security establishment both at the center and state have been aware of the presence of extremist’s cells all over the state.

From radical Muslim groups to groups owing allegiance to the banned LTTE, the state is witness to a wide spectrum of terror groups that are openly espousing their poisonous ideology. That elements from Tamil Nadu had a link to the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka is no surprise. The political ecosystem that evolved over the decades in Tamil Nadu is probably responsible for the birth, growth and sustenance of these anti-national groups.

For too long the major political parties of the state – the AIADMK and the DMK have openly supported these groups in return for electoral gains. Even during the 2019 general elections, many politicians were seen sharing the stage at political rallies with these groups.

The state governments in these states seem to be either inept or unwilling to enforce the law. Hence all eyes are on the Central government to restore order. PM Modi, as would be expected, appears to be fully aware of the grave internal security situation.

In this context the appointment of Amit Shah as the union home minister is seen as the right man for the right job. Given his no-nonsense attitude, pundits expect him to clean up the mess with an iron hand before it is too late.

That these three states will be closely watched by Amit Shahs is a given.  One option that will definitely not be on the table is the dismissal of the state governments in West Bengal and Kerala under section 356 of the Indian constitution. The unintended consequence would be a sympathy wave in favor of the dismissed governments.

A wholescale scrutiny and review of center – state relationship as well as reforming the civil and police machinery will be an urgent task. Senior retired civil servants have revealed in private discussions that Modi has already prepared a masterplan for a largescale revamp of the ‘steel-frame’ and civilian administrative structure. These retired bureaucrats believe Modi was waiting for his return to office to execute on the plan. Given Modi’s penchant for working on a strictly ‘need-to-know’ basis, his team is expected to swiftly implement many of the recommended reforms without any publicity.

There is an urgent need to tone up the internal security of the country, particularly in these three states. The bridge to violence and extremism and hence chaos is not far away and the central government must step in quickly.

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