BJP aims high in Tamil Nadu; brokering peace between warring AIADMK factions is its first litmus test

The joke in Chennai is that the high command for the AIADMK rank and file has moved 2,200 km away. To New Delhi. What the party does not realise is that the joke is on them.

The clearest indication of this change is that even the AIADMK cadre believes no movement on the merger of the two factions will happen unless the ruling party at the Centre greenlights the plan. Both Edappadi Palaniswami and O Panneerselvam are in New Delhi on Friday where a meeting with those who matter, the belief is, will clear the cobwebs over Panneerselvam's homecoming.

File image of E Palaniswamy. PTI

Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami.. PTI

The question is why is the BJP so keen to see order in the AIADMK house. Because it knows the lotus, contrary to what botanists would tell you, cannot bloom in this muck.

'Operation Swachh AIADMK' therefore entails that the clock to be turned back on the split that took place in February. And since Sasikala was the main reason why OPS ostensibly walked out after a prime time on-camera meditation session at Amma samadhi in Chennai, her Mannargudi family ought to be kept away. This, the BJP thinktank believes, will help the AIADMK present itself as a new and improved version, a non-corrupt avatar as it were.

The BJP knows it neither has the cadre strength nor a pan-Tamil Nadu leader to take on the DMK-Congress combine. Which is why if it is able to call the shots in the AIADMK by proxy, its purpose will be served. The AIADMK has already been put on the back foot with the Income Tax raid on one of its top guns, Health minister C Vijaybaskar. Rumours of dossiers on other senior leaders add to the atmosphere of fear. That has sent the message across to the AIADMK top brass that it is important to be in the good books of the BJP leadership. The manner in which leaders of both factions fawned over Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Rameswaram last month and vied to be in the same frame as he was a clear indication.

BJP president Amit Shah knows that even in the face of the Modi wave, Jayalalithaa picked up 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu. While a repeat of that looks highly unlikely, the BJP knows the value of the AIADMK party structure that has a presence in every village and town in Tamil Nadu. A BJP-AIADMK alliance with Modi as the lead campaigner, it believes, can help BJP win seats in Tamil Nadu, where it has only one MP now.

The insistence that an EPS + OPS equation has to be worked out before Independence Day, leads one to wonder if the Rajinikanth plan has fallen apart. Two months back when news of Rajini's political plans started coming into the public domain, the belief was that a rainbow alliance of Rajinikanth + BJP + Panneerselvam will be stitched in keeping with the superstar's insistence on rubbing shoulders only with clean politicians.

The present narrative where only Sasikala is projected as the tainted one and the others as Mr Clean will find few takers in Tamil Nadu. More importantly, will Rajini agree to an arrangement where he has as political partners who have for long believed in buying votes at election time.

It is also not as if the BJP meddling in the AIADMK affairs has not caused any resentment. Old timers in the AIADMK who have been MPs or MLAs for two terms or more are aggrieved at the manner in which both EPS and OPS have prostrated before New Delhi and let the BJP indulge in backseat driving. They point out that despite the Modi-Jayalalithaa friendship that is much talked about, the then AIADMK supremo put her hat in the ring as a possible contender for the prime minister's post in 2014, knowing fully well that Modi was the NDA's prime ministerial candidate.

This is because in Tamil Nadu, the BJP is perceived as a Hindi belt party, that is at odds with the Dravidian emphasis of the AIADMK. Also in areas like western Tamil Nadu, the voter base of the two parties overlap to an extent, which means the AIADMK does not really gain much by having the BJP as an alliance partner.

The BJP on its part is very ambitious as far as Tamil Nadu is concerned. There is talk about some AIADMK leaders, who were sidelined during the Jayalalithaa era, making an entry into active politics by joining the BJP later this month.

The other worry is that the AIADMK has never been used to a dual power structure. Now with the leadership, at least for namesake, being vested in both EPS and OPS, the character of the AIADMK will change. Will the warring factions be able to genuinely cement over the cracks or will the cracks deepen? The tensile strength of the NDA in Tamil Nadu will be tested.

Updated Date: Aug 11, 2017 18:06 PM

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