Despite the perception that it’s the binding force behind the ruling AIADMK after its chief Jayalalithaa died more than two years ago, the BJP is caught in an eluding game.Forty Lok Sabha seats — 39 in Tamil Nadu and one in Puducherry — are at stake.
It is an open secret that the BJP is keen on an alliance with the AIADMK to match the one sewed up by the Congress with the DMK. But, unlike the Congress-DMK alliance, which has got off to an early start with DMK chief MK Stalin even declaring Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate, the BJP’s problems with the AIADMK are beyond the issue of number of seats to be contested by each of them.
Caught in their own internal strife, senior AIADMK leaders are unsure of the winning prospects of a formal handshake with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A post-poll support to the BJP to form government at the Centre seems a better option.
The BJP is, however, not willing to accept ‘no’ for an answer.
The saffron party believes that it is ‘pay-back’ time for the AIADMK. Local BJP leaders do not mince words in saying that Modi has done a lot for the AIADMK in memory of his good friend, the late Jayalalithaa.
Since her death, the AIADMK has split thrice, united once and faced questions of uncertainty over its government’s legitimacy because of changing numerical strength in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
Did the BJP not help the warring factions led by Edappadi K Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam unite to thwart the threat posed by a third rebel AIADMK faction led by TTV Dinakaran, the nephew of Sasikala?
Have numerous raids and a plethora of Income Tax and other cases against many AIADMK ministers not kept everyone on tenterhooks and ensured that the status quo is not disturbed?
These are the questions on the minds of BJP leaders and even among the opposition leaders in the state.
In fact, RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy, who has been Modi’s eyes and ears when it comes to dealing with Tamil Nadu, has openly advocated an alliance between the BJP and the AIADMK. However, the latter feels that it is in better position to fight the polls separately than in alliance with the BJP.
Chief Minister Palaniswami is seen as not openly to opposed to a pact with the BJP, unlike party colleague and Lok Sabha deputy speaker M Thambidurai. Panneerselvam has chosen silence. On the other hand, Dinakaran is more worried about keeping his faction together in the absence of a quick resolution of the fate of MLAs who are still with him.
The reason: a piquant situation persists in the Tamil Nadu Assembly after 18 AIADMK MLAs were disqualified by the Speaker whose decision was upheld by the Madras High Court in a split verdict. Elections are due to be held to fill their seats. Till then, the floor strength is still in favour of Palaniswami.
Be that as it may, sources in both parties insist that several informal rounds of alliance talks between the BJP and the AIADMK are stuck over basic understanding of sharing 50 percent of Lok Sabha seats. Of the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu, 20 could be reserved for AIADMK alone, while the BJP will share its 20 seats with the PMK (founded by S Ramadoss) and the DMDK (led by Captain Vijayakanth).
Recently, Modi addressed booth workers in Tamil Nadu via video conferencing, saying his party cherished its old allies and doors were always open for “old friends”.
This time, the dissenting voices in the AIADMK, like that of Thambidurai, do not make things easy for the BJP for a tie-up. “The friendship between Jayalalithaa and Modi had nothing to do with their political decisions. After her death too, we refused to agree with many policies of the Centre,” he says.
AIADMK leaders like Thambidurai do not mince words in asserting that the mood of the people in Tamil Nadu is anti-BJP. This is more so after the BJP’s defeat in the elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan against the backdrop of five years of Modi’s rule at the Centre. The BJP’s vote-catching power remains stagnant. Modi is not enough for the BJP, certainly not in Tamil Nadu.
But Modi cannot forget that in 2014, an alliance had shaped as a third front with the common theme of making him the PM. It is another story that the alliance crumpled soon after Vaiko led his MDMK out to swear allegiance to M Karunanidhi, burying his enmity with Stalin. Jayalalithaa ensured the AIADMK won 37 of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu. The BJP won a lone seat in Kanyakumari and its ally PMK won the other seat.
Tamil Nadu remains elusive even though Modi announced a number of projects for the state, including a massive defence manufacturing corridor after the one in Uttar Pradesh. Gratitude is hardly a factor that is counted in politics. (Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)