With Less than 3% Vote Share in TN, BJP is Commanding AIADMK
A unified AIADMK will ensure the vote share of around 35 percent does not get split.
When the warring factions of Edappadi Palanisamy and O Panneerselvam did not keep their appointed time of 12 noon at the AIADMK headquarters in Chennai to announce their merger, an MLA from the OPS faction sent me this message : “Lot of crossfire. Nothing decided as yet !”
The message summed up, in a nutshell, the acrimonious hard bargaining that has characterised this political marriage of convenience, coming at the end of six months of separation. The sudden flashpoint just before noon was over the expulsion of Sasikala.
EPS reportedly expressed his inability to expel Sasikala, since she had been elected as interim general secretary by the General Council in December. At best, the CM was willing to give a letter stating the General Council would soon meet to take the decision to distance the party from Sasikala. OPS was not willing to return, trusting Palanisamy 's letter.
Sasikala’s Expulsion: A Choice Between EC’s Decision and Gen Council Meeting
The cadre started melting from the party office and even the Chief Minister's convoy indicated EPS will not come. That's when an SOS went to a Chennai-based RSS ideologue, known to be very close to the BJP top leadership.
For the past couple of months, this magazine editor had also been working on a rapprochement plan, wherein OPS will be made party chief while getting into the cabinet as deputy CM. The task of getting the two factions of the AIADMK to bury the hatchet had been outsourced to him, and the phones were worked when this last-minute hiccup cropped up as well.
According to sources, he then stepped in to ask OPS to leave it to the Election Commission to decide on the legal validity of Sasikala’s election. EPS too preferred that option because it would mean he did not have to do the dirty job of throwing out the person who made him the CM.
The other option that is also likely to be exercised is to convene a General council meeting and expel Sasikala from the party. That intervention cleared the decks for the two warring partners to start a new innings after a six-month separation.
BJP Calls the Shots
This episode on Monday gives you a sense of the BJP's influence over the AIADMK. Though for the record, Prime minister Narendra Modi was keen that the two factions merge and nothing beyond that, in effect, the national party has pretty much called the shots as far as the AIADMK is concerned. That also explains the number of times Modi has met OPS and team in the last few months, even though he was just the leader of a rump group of 10-odd MLAs.
The visual manifestation of the BJP's influence over the AIADMK came when Venkaiah Naidu, then Urban Development minister held a review meeting in May, along with EPS at the state Secretariat, something that had never happened before. And going by the demeanor, it was very obvious who was in charge.
What’s more – 22 August was the deadline given to both camps to declare a merger. Not that it was an auspicious day for the almanac-obsessed AIADMK, it was just the day BJP president Amit Shah was to arrive in Tamil Nadu. Purpose served, he postponed his trip.
The BJP's keenness in seeing a unified AIADMK is not due to altruistic reasons. It sees in the regional party a vehicle for the BJP to travel in, given that the saffron party has no significant cadre or a pan-Tamil Nadu face to boast of.
A unified AIADMK will ensure the vote share of around 35 percent does not get split and by expelling the Mannargudi clan, it can boast of being a cleansed party.
The Income Tax raids during the RK Nagar election, where several AIADMK leaders were suspected of being involved in distribution of Rs 89 crore to voters to buy votes and the Golden Bay resort drama in February, would now be conveniently forgotten by both parties.
AIADMK Reduced to an Outpost of BJP in Tamil Nadu
The AIADMK + BJP alliance will also mean that in 2019, Amit Shah can look at Tamil Nadu as a territory to pick up Lok Sabha seats from. That is essentially the BJP's game plan as Tamil Nadu can compensate for the possible loss of seats in the cowbelt, where the BJP peaked in 2014 and anti-incumbency could be a factor.
The BJP-AIADMK equation is also not one of equals. New Delhi has demonstrated that with several skeletons in the AIADMK cupboard, backseat driving in Chennai is kid stuff. Expect the BJP to demand a lion’s share of seats in the 2019 election and the AIADMK, that under Jayalalithaa won 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, to acquiesce without a murmur.
For the past many months, both OPS and EPS have virtually kowtowed before the Delhi durbar, reducing the AIADMK to an outpost of the BJP in Tamil Nadu. This when the BJP has no MLA in Tamil Nadu, and got less than 3 percent vote share in the 2016 assembly elections.
The BJP would also hope to rope in superstar Rajinikanth into the NDA mix and gain from his popularity. Add to the rainbow coalition, smaller outfits like the DMDK of Vijaykanth and PMK of Ramadoss, and the NDA will start looking good, at least arithmetically.
As soon as Panneerselvam was sworn in as deputy CM, Modi put out a congratulatory tweet. The PM is rather quick when the BJP’s merger and acquisition team acquires a new state for the NDA. After Bihar, Tamil Nadu is in the NDA kitty, with a couple of AIADMK MPs likely to become ministers in New Delhi.
For long, Kollywood has wielded influence over Tamil Nadu, giving it three chief ministers in Karunanidhi, MGR and Jayalalithaa. But the manner in which the entire AIADMK story has been scripted and directed, with its surprising twists and turns, it would put many a Mani Ratnam and Shankar to shame.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. 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.)
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