Presidential Election 2017: Tamil Nadu's E Palaniswamy leans on Iftar diplomacy to keep BJP in good books

Despite the pressure mounted by the DMK over the 'MLAs for sale' expose, nothing is likely to happen in Tamil Nadu before the Presidential Election process gets over by 20 July. The BJP is keen on getting the entire lot of AIADMK MLAs and MPs to cast its vote with the NDA candidate, Ram Nath Kovind. Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy (EPS) is also likely to be present when Kovind files his nomination papers for the post of president this week.

Tamil Nadu governor Vidyasagar Rao has gone through the motions by forwarding the representation given by the DMK to the Assembly speaker and the chief secretary for "appropriate action" but that is unlikely to influence the speaker to allow a discussion on the issue in the House.

 Presidential Election 2017: Tamil Nadus E Palaniswamy leans on Iftar diplomacy to keep BJP in good books

File image of Edappadi K Palaniswami. PTI

What has surprised most, however, is the radio silence of the O Panneerselvam (OPS) group inside the Tamil Nadu Assembly. Though before the Assembly was convened on 14 June, OPS had promised that his group of 12 MLAs will raise issues of public importance, it is the DMK that has been at the forefront of cornering the ruling party and justifiably so. The reluctance of the OPS camp to take on the role of an opposition force is an indication that despite the theatrics outside, the back channel talks are at best, only on the backburner.

But it is almost a given that once the race for Raisina Hill is out of the way, the process of setting the house in Tamil Nadu in order will begin in right earnest. The first step towards that is being taken on Wednesday with Palaniswamy, in his capacity as the AIADMK headquarters secretary, hosting the Iftar party.

In the past, it was J Jayalalithaa, as party general secretary, who did the honours and in the present power structure, it would naturally be assumed that TTV Dinakaran, as deputy general secretary, would do so this time. Palaniswamy has sent a message by deciding to be the host.

That relations between EPS and Dinakaran are not exactly very friendly is an open secret. EPS, who has been trying to cosy up to the BJP to survive in the chief minister's chair, knows the Sasikala clan is anathema to the ruling party at the Centre.

The Iftar invitation, keeping Dinakaran out of the picture, is Palaniswamy's way of telling the BJP that he is doing its bidding. There is already pressure on EPS as the Election Commission has filed a FIR against him and six others in the RK Nagar byelection bribery case.

The Iftar party will also test Palaniswamy's strength within the ruling faction. It is important for the chief minister to ensure that all the 122 MLAs are in attendance. So far, 34 legislators have openly declared allegiance to Dinakaran and if they keep away, it will dent Palaniswamy's clout. Some of them like Andipatti MLA, Thanga Tamizhchelvan have said that they will boycott the chief minister's Iftar.

More importantly, the Muslim outreach is also to assuage feelings of doubt within the Muslim community if closeness to the BJP would make the AIADMK adopt its Hindutva cloak. The Iftar diplomacy gives Palaniswamy the opportunity to convey to the community that the AIADMK minus Jayalalithaa has not changed its spots.

Panneerselvam is organising his separate Iftar party on Wednesday, again with a view to blunt the DMK criticism that he is virtually the 'B-party' of the BJP in Tamil Nadu.

Even though OPS has called off the committee formed to take forward the merger process, it is likely that both factions will be asked to bury their differences and come together to run the government in Tamil Nadu.

Dinakaran is not likely to be part of this compromise formula and sources in the AIADMK expect his numbers to dwindle once the lawmakers see the futility in sticking to Dinakaran.

Since removing Palaniswamy is fraught with the risk of offending the influential Gounder community, he is likely to continue with OPS coming in as a senior minister in his cabinet apart from replacing Sasikala as general secretary. With this, those who are planning this hope the AIADMK will be completely purged of the Mannargudi family influence.

But there are still many who do not approve of the BJP indulging in backseat driving, reducing the AIADMK to a party taking orders from Delhi. Other members of the Mannargudi family are unlikely to give up without putting up a fight and would by controlling at least some of the MLAs, try to ensure the AIADMK is not in a majority. But with no MLA wanting to force an election now, an EPS and OPS arrangement stuck together with band aid bought from Fort St George, is the only way they can avoid going back to the voters.

Updated Date: Jun 21, 2017 21:38:59 IST