The Tamil Nadu BJP appears to be heading for a case of so near, yet so far. With warm vibes from Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, the party looked like it was bound to rise in the state after the passing of two Dravidian leaders, DMK’s M. Karunanidhi and AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa. Even if it may have meant the BJP playing minor partner to the impending Rajini outfit, the party was hoping for better times.

That seems to be now hinging on its leaders’ ability to withstand criticism from rank strangers, even if that criticism is out of a Stalinist pamphlet. In an incident right out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not…, the fascist tag levelled by the Pune Police in the Bhima Koregaon case has turned up to smack the BJP in Tamil Nadu in the face.

The arrest of 28-year-old Lois Sofia, a Canadian of Tamil origin, for shouting, “Down with the fascist BJP government”, at TN BJP chief Tamilisai Soundararajan on a flight to Tuticorin has rankled almost all parties, excluding the ruling AIADMK. Though Sofia was held for violating aviation rules that govern the onboard behaviour of passengers, the arrest was preceded by Soundararajan creating a scene at the airport demanding student’s arrest. But the TN government’s inability to think on its feet has left both it and the Central government with their backs to the wall. Tamil political Twitter is agog with #FascistBJP (a translation of #PasisaBaJaKa) trending since the arrest last night.

Newly-anointed DMK president MK Stalin condemned the detention and subsequent arrest of Lois Sofia for raising a slogan. Like in all cadre-based parties, raising slogans and writing graffiti is a basic democratic right, observers said. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution and Lois Sofia was not even violating it by exceeding reasonable limits — a caveat imposed on the application of the Article.

Political leaders, including Makkal Needhi Maiam leader Kamal Haasan, have expressed shock and anger at the arrest and have called it an attempt to crush dissent. Even AIADMK rival Amma Makkal Munetra Kazhagam (AMMK) czar TTV Dhinakaran has expressed outrage at the high-handed behaviour.

All this maelstrom of negative opinion could have been averted if the state BJP chief had just ignored the sloganeer but instead took offence and had her arrested. Though not a member of the Tamil Nadu Assembly, Tamilisai Soundararajan, the daughter of former TNCC chief Kumari Ananthan, is not a political novice and a popular gynaecologist.

More popular for having friends-turned-rivals  Karunanidhi and former CM MG Ramachandran attend her wedding, Soundararajan has yet to deliver a seat for the party. That possibility may remain a stillborn if the Lois Sofia arrest is not forgotten.