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BJP Muddies Its Hands In Tamil Nadu

IT is eight months since J Jayalalithaa died but her party the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) has not come out of the crisis her departure triggered in Tamil Nadu politics. She had run the party for years as an organization devoted to her. She was a cult figure. She could swing votes single-handedly. In such a party, there is no number two. The number one is all. Her party was a democratic monarchy. As she had not named any successor, it was natural that a bitter fight would take place for the throne. Sasikala, the woman without any political credentials who had been a shadow, assistant and constant companion to Jayalalithaa, claimed the inheritance. However, there were a few others in the party who thought they had a more reasonable claim. By an accident of political history, a court sent Sasikala to jail for four years on corruption charges. Sasikala named E K Palaniswami as chief minister against the claim of O Panneerselvam.  AIADMK thus clearly split up in two sections, one led by Sasikala and another led by Panneerselvam.

However, early this month Palaniswami decided to walk out of the Sasikala camp and make friends with Panneerselvam. Both of them decided to bring about a merger of their factions – without consulting Sasikala – and claim it as the true AIADMK.  The merger of the two factions had the blessing of the top leadership of the BJP including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. The BJP has been trying desperately to expand in South India after its remarkable successes in North India. However, the BJP has no big base in Tamil Nadu, which has for decades been a battlefield of regional and cast-based parties. The national parties like the Congress and BJP do not have mass appeal here. The BJP’s intention in bringing the two factions of AIADMK together was to present a serious challenge to the opposition camp which has DMK, Congress and other parties. The Modi-Shah party wanted to ride into the palace through the backdoor on AIADMK horse. And when the two factions merged and O Pannerselvam took oath as deputy chief minister under Chief Minister Palaniswami, it looked as if they had succeeded.

However, the Modi-Shah duo had not taken into account the power of cult in Tamil Nadu politics. Sasikala still enjoyed support of at least 19 MLAs of AIADMK. These MLAs were led by Sasikala’s nephew and sacked AIADMK deputy general secretary T T V Dinakaran. The AIADMK had 134 MLAs in the 233-member House – a seat is lying vacant after the death of Jayalalithaa. For a majority in the House, a party needs 117 MLAs. With Dinakaran’s 19 MLAs revolting against merger, the strength of the coalesced factions came down to 115, two short of the majority. In order to prevent the Palaniswami and Pannerselvam factions from poaching his MLAs Dinakaran sent his MLAs to a sea-side resort in neighbouring Puducherry, which is ruled by the Congress. In the coming days, two more AIADMK MLAs joined the Dinakaran camp, taking their number to 21.  The Palaniswami-Pannerselvam AIADMK called a meeting of MLAs on August 29 to decide on action against Sasikala and Dinakaran. However, they were further jolted by the absence of 27 MLAs who they thought were in their camp. If you add this number to the 21 Dinakaran already has, the Palaniswami-Pannerselvam AIADMK has lost majority.

It is clear that the BJP leadership has burnt its hands in Tamil Nadu. The bitter infighting for the throne in the AIADMK has many social and political intricacies that the BJP leadership has clearly failed to fathom. The Palaniswami-Pannerselvam AIADMK does not seem to enjoy even a simple majority in the Assembly. Under the circumstances, Governor Vidyasagar Rao has no option but to ask Palaniswami to prove his majority on the floor of the House. The BJP leadership would be hurting their image if Rao delays floor test. The BJP is not earning support or electoral points by muddying its hands in other ways. The party is encouraging men from the Palaniswami-Pannerselvam AIADMK to join it. Former AIADMK minister Nainar Nagenthran joined the BJP in the presence of party chief Amit Shah in Delhi. There is a reaction in the ‘united’ AIADMK of Palaniswami and Pannerselvam to the BJP poaching and that could be one of the reasons why some in the party have not liked the party seeking patronage from the BJP. There is no running away from a floor test for the Palaniswami-Pannerselvam AIADMK now. Under these circumstances the Election Commission might decide not to grant the original AIADMK election symbol of  ‘two leaves’ to any of the party factions and  keep it frozen. That would further spoil the BJP’s game.

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