For the better part of February, Tamil Nadu was on autopilot mode with an Acting Governor in Vidyasagar Rao and a caretaker chief minister in O Panneerselvam. Things have got a bit better with a full-fledged chief minister Edappadi Palaniswamy taking over though the public is not amused with the perception that instructions come from inside the barracks of the Bengaluru central prison. But Vidyasagar Rao continues to keep his feet in both the Raj Bhawans - Chennai and Mumbai, where he is a full time Governor.
The BJP high command has to zero in on a permanent Governor for Tamil Nadu given that most feel that the state is likely to see more political turmoil in the next few months. The Palaniswamy government is in power, with a razor thin majority and it will take just half a dozen legislators to upset the apple cart of the man from Salem.
The previous incumbent K Rosaiah's term ended just days before Jayalalithaa's hospitalisation. Though an UPA appointee and a Congressman all his life, Rosaiah got along well with both the Narendra Modi and Jayalalithaa regimes, ensuring he did not suffer the embarrassment of being shown the door when the NDA government came to power in 2014. But instead of appointing a full-time replacement, Delhi sent in another Telugu bidda Vidyasagar Rao to hold charge of the Chennai Raj Bhavan.
The gubernatorial office in Tamil Nadu seems to have a soft corner for Telugus. Earlier, Marri Chenna Reddy served as Governor from 1993 to 1996. It was a tumultuous innings, marked by frequent run-ins with then chief minister Jayalalithaa.
Two other Telugus, according to sources, were on the radar for Chennai. The first was Krishnam Raju, a popular veteran Telugu film actor who was given the epithet of 'Rebel Star' for the kind of roles he essayed on screen. To the younger generation, Raju's introduction is as the uncle of Prabhas of 'Bahubali' fame. Raju has been associated with the BJP for long and was also MP for two terms from Kakinada in 1998 and Narsapur in 1999. He also served as Minister of State for External Affairs and Defence in the Vajpayee regime. But with Tamil Nadu in complicated political turmoil, it was felt that someone with very little experience of realpolitik would not be able to handle the state.
The Telugu Desam, a coalition partner of the BJP at the Centre and in Andhra Pradesh, has been lobbying for one of its leaders to be accommodated at a Raj Bhavan for the past two years. Chandrababu Naidu had recommended the name of Mothkupalli Narasimhulu, a senior Dalit leader from Telangana from the TDP quota. But Narendra Modi is unlikely to entrust Tamil Nadu to an ally given the political sensitivities involved.
The name of DH Shankaramurthy, veteran BJP leader from Karnataka also has been doing the rounds ever since Rosaiah signed off. The 76-year-old in keeping with his age, had reportedly requested for a posting near his home state. But the BJP High command is not favorably disposed given the Tamil Nadu — Karnataka dispute over the Cauvery. The Raj Bhavan, it then feels, could be accused of partisan behaviour over just about any issue and the blame put at the Governor's Kannadiga roots. This, the thinking is, will only add to the already existing tense relationship between the two neighbouring states.
Given that senior BJP leaders reportedly monitored the February political crisis in Tamil Nadu very closely, it is obvious that Modi and team would want one of their own, who can be trusted to be New Delhi's person in every sense.
It is no surprise then that the name of former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel has been doing the rounds. She was the one Modi handpicked as his successor when he left Gandhinagar for New Delhi in May 2014.
But Patel has denied receiving any feelers from New Delhi about Chennai.
The RSS input also is likely to be factored in. But the RSS-BJP leadership, sources say, wants to be very careful after the embarrassment of the Shanmughanathan episode. V Shanmughanathan had to resign in January 2017 as Governor of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, whose additional charge he held, after he was accused of seriously compromising the dignity of Raj Bhavan. There were complaints of sexual harassment and charges of converting Raj Bhavan into a 'young ladies club'.
Modi is likely to turn his attention to Tamil Nadu only after the Uttar Pradesh elections. The assembly election results also will give the BJP an idea of how it will be placed in the electoral college for the Presidential and Vice Presidential election. The BJP would want the AIADMK to back its candidates for the top two posts in the land. Appointing a Governor, keeping Palaniswami in the loop, may be one way to ensure the AIADMK stands by the BJP.
Vidyasagar Rao came in for criticism for delaying the swearing-in of VK Sasikala on the grounds that the verdict in the DA case in which she was prime accused, was due any time. His stand was vindicated when she was convicted. Since Rao is by now familiar with the world of Tamil Nadu politics, there could be a move to shift him from Mumbai to Chennai. Rao himself may however, prefer the more quaint world of Mumbai Raj Bhavan, as the glue of the BMC where Shiv Sena is in a minority, is likely to ensure political stability to the government of Maharashtra ruled by the BJP-Shiv Sena combine.
Published Date: Mar 07, 2017 10:56 am | Updated Date: Mar 07, 2017 10:56 am