Who will be next BJP State president?

Pon Radhakrishnan says the new president for the TN unit will be announced by the end of this year.

Chennai: The appointment of Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan as Telangana Governor has popped up the inevitable question: Who will succeed her as the Tamil Nadu BJP president? There are some half-a-dozen names doing the rounds, from the old guard and the younger crop.

While former Union Minister and ex-Chief of the state BJP, Pon Radhakrishnan says the new president for the TN unit will be announced by the end of this year - perhaps he is giving time for himself to negotiate his 'rehab' after the disastrous defeat in the Lok Sabha election at Kanyakumari - reliable saffron sources say the announcement of Tamilisai's successor could come “in a week or two”.

BJP sources say the party's state secretary KT Raghavan is the front runner for the coveted post. An advocate by profession, the young man has been actively involved in party work on an almost full-time basis and also been an effective BJP voice on the various Tamil TV channels in their hot debates. And it's not easy to put up such stout saffron defence on these surcharged TV debates when pitted against high-decibel Dravidian stalwarts.

Plus Raghavan has a positive image among the party top brass, said one BJP senior. “Don't quote me because all are my friends and I cannot be seen pushing the case of just one of them. But the fact remains Raghavan could emerge as the ultimate choice given his deep commitment towards the leadership's mission to register growth in Tamil Nadu and his scorecard when it comes to organising party events and membership drive campaigns in his region (Chengalpattu) and beyond”, he said.

Another state BJP leader pointed out that Raghavan has a “very good equation” with the party's national general secretary BL Santosh, who is almost at the second slot in terms of importance in the BJP after President Amit Shah. A highly respected RSS leader, Santosh is likely to back Raghavan if he is called to advise by Shah, given that he has been involved in TN affairs for some time now.

“Santoshji has been pretty active in carrying out the high command strategy to get the BJP deepen its roots and spread its wings in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. He is expected to push Raghavan's case if only to ensure cooperation and commitment to make the south bid successful”, said the BJP senior.

He said Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman is also favourably disposed towards Raghavan and has been in touch with him often for party and media interactions in Tamil Nadu. But then, there is one big problem - neither would Raghavan seek help from friends in Delhi nor would Nirmala take up his case with Modi-Shah unless she is asked for her assessment. The other problem about Raghavan's candidature is that he is a Brahmin and that might attract derisive and hostile comments from the Dravidian political platforms and the social media. However, the BJP high command is not too bothered about this factor, say sources.

“I have no comment to offer, except saying it's all up to the party high command”, replied Raghavan when asked to comment on reports that he is the front-runner for the position.

Another young BJPian vying for the post is Vanathi Srinivasan, presently the state general secretary. “She has a good image in the party, is close to Nirmala Sitaraman and belongs to the influential Gounder community in Coimbatore”, said a BJP senior. “Besides, the RSS likes her”.

“But her candidature has an inherent flaw, though not of her making. It is unlikely that the high command will choose a woman to succeed another woman”, he added.

Among the other names doing the rounds are national secretary - H Raja, Coimbatore strongman C P Radhakrishnan, state secretary Professor Srinivasan, state intellectual wing president P Kanagasabapathy and 'Karuppu' Muruganandam, a well-known Thevar down south, who is said to be close to Pon Radhakrishnan.

“Ponnar (Radhakrishnan) also is trying to get the post but the high command is unhappy with him after his terrible drubbing at Kanyakumari in the Lok Sabha election”, said a party source, adding, “But his camp has been going around saying that the fact that the high command chose to send his junior Dr Tamilisai as Governor to Telangana only meant Ponnar has been promised state president's post”.

Pon Radhakrishnan was the predecessor to Tamilisai in the state president position, so it might be a bit too much for him to expect the post again now, said a party senior.

Some say RSS ideologue and Tughlak editor S Gurumurthy is backing Prof Srinivasan and Kanagasabapathy as they came from his 'Swadeshi Jagran Manch'. The former is said to be performing well down south, particularly in getting new members to the party and could be a 'probable' should the BJP want to strengthen its southern presence that showed a huge hollow in Ponnar's defeat by two lakh votes in the LS poll.

“We do not expect any pressure and recommendations to succeed with Amit Shah and PM Modi. They will have their own sources to find out the best candidate. And they will make their own choice. This could happen soon”, said a state BJP leader.

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