Battle for AIADMK not over yet

| | in Oped

With the merger of the two factions of the AIADMK, the political turmoil in Tamil Nadu seems to have subsided for the time being. But it may take some time for the State to reach political stability. Governance should be the first priority for the new Government

Tamil Nadu is witnessing fast moving political developments and realignment of political forces. At last, the two warring factions of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) merged on Monday, sidelining the VK Sasikala faction and holding on to what it calls the aatchi (Government) and katchi (party) after a negotiated power sharing arrangement. With four more years to go for the next Assembly poll, no Member of the Legislative Assembly wants election at this point of time. They have also decided to get rid of the current general secretary, VK Sasikala, who is in jail.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is looking for expansion in the south, the larger implication of the political realignment is linked with its poll strategy to build a State-specific coalition to take on the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front. Getting the right arithmetic, paid in previous poll, particularly in Tamil Nadu.

Both, the AIADMK and the DMK, which have, for decades, dominated Tamil Nadu politics, are passing through a leadership vacuum. AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa passed away in December last year and DMK chief, M Karunanidhi, retired from active politics this January, leaving the reins to his son, MK Stalin. The party is all set to strengthen its base in Tamil Nadu and fight for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll as BJP chief, Amit Shah, has called its ‘mission 350.’ As a part of this game plan, the BJP wants to ride piggy-back on the ruling AIADMK.

Jayalalithaa left behind a mess.  She had not named her successor and her party split into three factions in the past eight months — one led by the incumbent Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS), the second by his predecessor, O Pannerselvam (OPS) and the third by deputy general secretary of the party TTV Dhinakaran (read as Sasikala).  Monday’s merger of the OPS and the EPS factions has resolved the AIADMK crisis to some extent, leaving the Sasikala faction gasping for breath.

The BJP, despite making attempts for decades, had not been able to find its foothold in the State. P Muralidhar Rao, BJP national general secretary  and the party’s Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in-charge, has admitted in a recent interview, that the biggest challenge for the BJP would be finding space for different social, linguistic, religious and communal identities of the people.

The BJP and the Congress had an alliance with various Dravidian parties like the DMK, AIADMK, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, Paattali Makkall Katchi (PMK) and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. All of them have found a place in the Union Government as a part of the United Progressive Alliance or the National Democratic Alliance  (NDA) coalition in the past two decades and more. BJP strategists point out that the AIADMK is key for the BJP’s 2019 plans. As the party has already peaked in the north, every seat from the south is significant. The saffron party has finalised a plan to gain foothold in the southern State through an alliance with the AIADMK.

State BJP chief, Tamilisai Soundararajan claims, “We have identified 120 constituencies in the State where the party has improved its fortunes over the years. Full-time members have been deputed for the outreach programmes to strengthen our base”.

Monday’s merger was the result of the peace-making efforts of the BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After Jayalalithaa’s death, her close aide, Sasikala, took control of the party and soon angled for the Chief Minister’s post, forcing the then Chief Minister OPS to revolt in February. The BJP played its cards smartly nipping in the bud Sasikala’s ambitious plan. Governor C Vidyasagar Rao took his time about her elevation as Chief Minister by which time, the Supreme Court pronounced jail term for Sasikala.

It should be noted here that the BJP has been active since the last days of Jayalalithaa’s hospitalisation. OPS enjoyed visible patronage of the Centre on the Jallikattu and other issues in the two months he ruled. When Sasikala had to go to jail, she installed her nephew, TTV Dhinakaran, as the party’s deputy general secretary and EPS as the Chief Minister.

After several slips, the rival factions of the AIADMK finally merged on Monday and a new Cabinet, headed by EPS, was sworn-in with OPS as Deputy Chief Minister. Irrespective of the posturing by the two factions, the bone of contention, which has stalled merger, was who would be the Chief Minister. Though the OPS faction had just 10 MLAs, the workers are said to be with him. EPS, with 122 MLAs, naturally did not want to give up his chair. Dhinakaran claims to have the support of 25 MLAs.

While all this is happening, Tamil superstar, Rajinikanth, who has good equations with Prime Minister Modi, is planning to launch his own outfit supported by the BJP. The DMK is wooing another Tamil super star Kamal Hasan, as it needs a crowd puller. For now, the BJP’s strategy is to build a grand alliance with the AIADMK; the caste based PMK, which is already an NDA ally and also Rajinikanth’s new outfit for the right arithmetic.

While the curtain seems to have rung down for the time being, it may take some time for political stability to come in the State. First, the two factions must settle down to work, as there is no governance at present. Second, the alliance with the BJP should work at ground level because of the inherent contradictions between the two parties. Third, will the new regime provide corruption free administration? Finally, what would be Sasikala’s strategy to deal with what she calls betrayal? The jury is out.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)

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