After Jayalalithaa’s Death, BJP May Do an Arunachal in Tamil Nadu
As far back as February 1999, a razor-sharp J Jayalalithaa had counselled her MPs to stay away from BJP ministers and leaders. Convening a pre-budget meeting of her parliamentary party in Chennai, the AIADMK czarina told them to guard against the BJP’s plans to split the party. She told her MPs not to approach the BJP ministers for any favour.
The AIADMK, a constituent of the AB Vajpayee-led NDA government, had 18 members in the Lok Sabha, two of them cabinet ministers.
She believed that Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress leader and the then petroleum minister Vazhapaddi Ramamurthy was working in league with some BJP leaders and a big business house to split her party. Yet, the astute politician that she was, Jayalalithaa later established cordial ties with Narendra Modi as Gujarat chief minister and as prime minister without compromising her core political philosophy.
Seventeen years down the line, will her fears come true? Just six months into her sixth term as chief minister, her untimely death has left the AIADMK open to poaching and disintegration. Post Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu’s political ecosystem is unravelling and may see a paradigm shift.
Political Advantage to BJP
The BJP is unlikely to upset the applecart till July when the presidential elections are due. In the absence of Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK is expected to back the saffron party’s candidate with no pre-conditions, and that would be much to the BJP's delight.
Political observers in Chennai do not rule out the possibility of the BJP enacting an Arunachal Pradesh-like operation in Tamil Nadu. In September, the BJP surreptitiously stage-managed an unprecedented wholesale defection of 43 of 44 Congress MLAs, including the chief minister, to the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), a fringe party, which is part of the BJP-led NEDA (North-Eastern Development Alliance).
Tamil Nadu is no Arunachal, yet it may not be difficult to lure away 45 AIADMK MLAs to effect a legal split. The AIADMK does not have a second-rung leadership and Amma’s untimely death has rendered the party vulnerable to political predators. There are also fears that vested interests could trigger low intensity communal violence. Any serious political crisis could also invite President's rule in the state to the BJP’s advantage.
Ties with BJP
In 1999, the BJP managed to split the AIADMK alliance, weaning away smaller parties such as the MDMK, the PMK and a few others. In 2014, it formed a third front with the PMK, the MDMK, the DMDK, the PNK and the KMDK. The alliance came a cropper with the BJP and the PMK winning just one seat each.
Soon after the BJP attempted to split the AIADMK alliance in 1999, a stung Jayalalithaa hit back. In April, her 18 MPs pulled out of the Vajpayee government which subsequently fell, losing a vote of confidence. Vajpayee had refused to bail her out in the graft cases investigated by central agencies and rejected her demand to sack the DMK government.
Crudely put, as of now, the BJP stands to benefit the most from her unexpected departure. The party, sources said, has short and long-term strategies to grab the political space created as a result of Amma’s death. The next assembly election is in 2021 and hence the DMK can but only wait for another four years.
Even as she maintained cordial ties with Modi, Jayalalithaa was a tough cookie when it came to supporting legislative business. In the Lok Sabha, the AIADMK, with 37 MPs and the third largest party, did not support the government on all issues. Jayalalithaa had reservations on the Centre’s education and food policies, GST and the electricity bill, to name a few.
Blow for the Third Front
Both O Panneerselvam, who has succeeded her as CM, and Sasikala Natarajan, her alter ego who may control the party, are political lightweights and vulnerable to BJP manoeuvres. Post Jayalalithaa, the BJP’s number crunch in the Rajya Sabha could ease a bit with the 13 AIADMK MPs expected to play ball.
The BJP had tried to facilitate the anointment of an amiable M Thambidurai (senior AIADMK Lok Sabha MP) as CM but the attempt was in vain. The party has been cultivating Thambidurai since 2014 and it was instrumental in his selection as deputy speaker, overlooking the Congress, which has more MPs than the AIADMK in the lower house.
Even as she offered issue-based support, Jayalalithaa kept the BJP at arm’s length for various reasons. She feared that the BJP may eat into her Hindu support base. She also declined to join the NDA, fearing the move would alienate the Congress and other secular parties, hampering her prime ministerial ambitions.
While the so-called Third Front has lost a potential PM candidate, the BJP, which has been on the prowl for quite some time to cleanse the state of Dravidian politics may sense an opportunity now. Tamil Nadu could once again see the preeminence of national parties.
The DMK may also benefit from a weakened AIADMK. In the long run, Dravidian politics may not sustain. DMK patriarch Karunanidhi is 93 and the party is plagued by sibling rivalry – his son M K Stalin, successor to the throne, and his elder brother MK Alagiri are engaged in turf wars. The Congress, which was uprooted by the Dravidian parties half a century ago, does not have a strong state leader or cadre leaving the field open for the BJP.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached @benedict18. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)