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Bittery and Buttery: BJP’s AIADMK Conundrum

VVP Sharma @vvemuri

Updated: September 1, 2017, 4:37 PM IST
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Bittery and Buttery: BJP’s AIADMK Conundrum
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami (R) and O Panneerselvam exchange greetings following merger of their factions in Chennai (File photo/ PTI)
The BJP would have loved nothing more than for the AIADMK to join the NDA just in time for the intended reshuffle of the Union council of ministers. A couple of berths to the Dravidian party along with an equal number of places for Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) would have been the icing on the cake as the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine set the course for Mission 2019. But that is not to be.

In Chennai, the political grapevine is that the BJP is already running the state government in absentia. Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy and his deputy O Paneerselvam are seen as mere props. The names of two senior BJP leaders have been doing the rounds in the state as the emissaries from Delhi. Without any substantiation, they remain rumours.

Nevertheless, the point being made is why is the BJP finding it difficult to get a foothold in the state by hitching itself with the AIADMK. It is not for lack of trying on the BJP’s part. Several other factors are coming in the way.

Let’s start with the obvious question: What precisely does the BJP want and what is its strategy? The BJP, since 1998, has been trying to have a meaningful alliance with the AIADMK. Even today, it prefers the alliance for the 2019 (or 2018?) general elections. Top sources confide the BJP would like the AIADMK to be part of the NDA, with both parties having a 50:50 share of the Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu.

Here is the first bottleneck. Even if the EPS-OPS duo is okay with it, which is the “real” AIADMK that will enter the NDA? There’s the ruling AIADMK. There’s the dissenting AIADMK of TTV Dinakaran. There’s jailed would-have-been matriarch Sasikala herself. The election symbol of the AIADMK is under question (the Election Commission is taking its own time settling it). So, who will write a letter on the AIADMK letterhead saying they are okay with being part of the NDA? Normally, it is the party president – in this case the general secretary – who signs the letter.

Will Sasikala write that letter? Hardly. The ruling AIADMK is in the process of evicting her from the post. It has called a meeting of the General Council on September 12. Dinakaran, who has the support of 19 party MLAs, is readying for a battle. Only Sasikala can convene the council and if not she, he, he has asserted. Observers do not rule out violence on that day, if the council actually meets.

This is the second bottleneck. There are nearly 3,000 members in the general council. The ruling AIADMK would feel relieved if it manages to evict Sasikala; it would thus have gained control of the party.

On the other hand, the Dinakaran faction, which is fast losing a grip over the government, is intent on not eroding its hold over the party. Majority of the council members were nominated by the late Jayalalithaa. It is said that after her death, the loyalty of most of the members has passed over to Sasikala.
That is probably the reason why the ruling AIADMK is being flayed by its rivals for fudging invitations for the council meeting. Apparently, the official party records show that invites have been mailed to all members whereas in reality mostly the anti-Sasikala members happened to actually receive them. Nobody knows the truth, anyway. If the council actually meets and decides on a course of action about the post of general secretary, the BJP’s hopes will receive a boost.

The third bottleneck is the fate of the EPS government. As of now, things seem to not stress the BJP leadership. The state still does not have its own governor. The acting governor is busy with the goings-on in Maharashtra, from rains to manhole deaths and the Ganesh immersion.

On his last, rare, visit to Chennai, the governor made it clear to the Dinakaran faction that the political crisis continues to be an internal affair of the AIADMK and therefore does not require his attention.

Why did he say that? The 19 legislators with Dinakaran met him but told him they were unhappy with the Chief Minister, not the government. They perhaps will be happy if EPS is replaced. Only, the faction doesn’t know how to go about it.

It tried to prop up the Assembly speaker, P Dhanapal. He is a Dalit, the first from that caste to be appointed to that post. There are nearly 20 Dalit MLAs in the AIADMK. The Dinakaran faction’s thinking is to get the support of these legislators by pushing Dhanapal’s name. They assumed their strength would then cross 40 and that would seal the fate of EPS. Unfortunately, things have not progressed like they wanted.

The anti-defection law, and therefore disqualification, also looms large in front of them. The chief whip of the ruling faction S. Rajendran has already asked Dhanapal to disqualify the 19 MLAs. If at all EPS takes a floor test today or tomorrow, these issues will certainly come up and get bogged down in court cases.

Such a scenario is hardly welcome for Dinakaran. As on date, the faction believes, without any basis, that eventually the fence sitting MLAs in the ruling camp will shift over to Dinakaran; and that such a shift will become imminent if the Sasikala faction prevails in the general council meeting. Too many linkages. Complicated.

Even the DMK has asked for a floor test in the Assembly. As the legitimate opposition party, it has the right to move a no-confidence motion. The governor really cannot deny them their right. But the issue is about the timing of convening of the Tamil Nadu Assembly. The last session ended in July, 2017. Which means, except for emergencies, it normally has to convene again within six months, that is, in the year-end or early next year. If the governor does not see the political situation good enough to convene a session before that date, what will the Dinakaran faction do?

The last bottleneck is the BJP’s tryst with alliances. Its need for an alliance with a robust political partner in Tamil Nadu has over the years become the Holy Grail. The BJP has had a regrettable experience with its electoral alliance with the AIADMK. That’s saying it mildly.

In 1998, Jayalalithaa and Vajpayee fought the elections in alliance and cornered 30 out of 39 seats in the state. But she was unhappy that Vajpayee would not agree to withdraw corruption cases against her or dismiss the DMK government. She withdrew support. Remember how Vajpayee lost his government for want of a single vote in the Lok Sabha.

A chastened BJP aligned with the DMK in 1999, and rightly so, because they bagged 31 out of 39 seats. Vajpayee formed the government again. However, in the run-up to the 2004 elections, the BJP started flirting with the AIADMK. An angered Karunanidhi pulled out the DMK from the NDA.

At that time, even the RSS was of the view that the AIADMK was more ideologically suited to the BJP than DMK. And so, the alliance was firmed up. The DMK went with the Congress. The results shocked the BJP: 35 seats went to the DMK-Congress alliance, while its own alliance drew a blank. An insider analysis surmised later that had the BJP managed to align with the DMK, it may even have formed the government for the second time. Who knows!

The Narendra Modi era saw a fresh attempt to woo Jayalalithaa. Even though the BJP formed an anti-AIADMK and anti-DMK front with DMDK, PMK, IJK, MDMK, KMDK and PNK, a link with the AIADMK was always at the back of the mind of the BJP leadership. Modi and Jayalalithaa always maintained a cordial relationship. He attended her 2011 swearing-in. She attended his swearing-in in 2014. In 2015, when a Karnataka court acquitted her in the disproportionate assets case, Modi called on her.

Their relationship could not convert their parties into allies. Why? Two reasons. The shrewd Jayalalithaa realised giving a foothold to the BJP in Tamil Nadu would mean erosion of her Hindu support base. Even if it did not erode, she would end up sharing the Hindu vote with the BJP. Why should she do that?

Secondly, as far as her relations with the Centre were concerned, she always maintained equal distance from both the BJP and the Congress, to maintain her independent, and therefore, influential, posture. Also, she had concerted with the Congress in the past, hadn’t she?

So, the BJP – who political pundits say controls the political game in the state – is now in a wait and watch mode.
First Published: September 1, 2017, 4:37 PM IST

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