Stalin, Panneerselvam's dilemma: Rajinikanth-Narendra Modi combo should worry DMK, AIADMK factions
The next election in Tamil Nadu looks set to be fought between MK Stalin and Rajinikanth as the two chief ministerial aspirants.
About 10 days back, MK Stalin made a call to someone whose counsel he trusts in matters of Tamil Nadu politics, even though the person concerned is not a member of his party. The DMK working president wanted his opinion about Rajinikanth and what impact his impending political entry is likely to have. Stalin told him that his party leaders say the superstar won't be able to create much of an impact.
"You should in fact be extremely worried,'' the person told Stalin. The DMK, the Congress and a few smaller parties together polled 37 percent in the May 2016 elections. Rajinikanth alone is expected to take away a significant chunk of the 40 percent AIADMK vote and along with his fan base, BJP, Vijaykanth and perhaps even PMK, could hit 30 percent vote share at the starting point itself. How much the rest of the AIADMK vote disintegrates will determine the eventual winner, whenever elections are next held in Tamil Nadu.
Stalin has led the DMK in two elections so far — the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the Assembly election last year. He came a cropper in the former, with the DMK failing to win even a single seat. A sartorial change followed, with Stalin undergoing a makeover, trading the white veshti for trousers and displaying a swag not associated with Tamil Nadu politicians. He used social media extensively to impress the younger voters. But inability to forge alliances to avoid a split in the anti-AIADMK vote, meant he could not prevent Jayalalithaa from returning to power in 2016.
The next election then looks set to be fought between Stalin and Rajinikanth as the two chief ministerial aspirants. Stalin has been hardselling the image of an administrator-politician, someone who knows his job and has the experience. He has been focusing on the people connect, trying to reach out. Over the last month, he has asked his party cadre to engage in desilting works of tanks and ponds, to drive home the point that the Opposition is taking up public works as the government has abdicated its role.
Stalin is doing this to emphasise that since September, when Jayalalithaa was hospitalised, the AIADMK government has been operating on auto pilot. The split in the party and the political upheaval that followed has impacted administration. Industrial investment has been hit and the state is experiencing its worst drought in 140 years, with a repeat of the dispute with Karnataka over release of Cauvery waters likely this year. Stalin is thereby positioning himself as the leader who can take Tamil Nadu out of this mess.
The DMK also believes that the state has trusted itself with one of the two Dravidian parties for five decades and a 'north Indian' party like the BJP would not find traction in Tamil Nadu, even if it rides on Rajini's star power.
But given Tamil Nadu's fascination with politicians imported from Kollywood, Stalin's best laid out plans could come unstuck. Rajinikanth's arithmetic looks like falling into place and if he gets his chemistry right as well, the rising sun may be eclipsed.
With the verdict in the 2G case is expected soon, an adverse judgement against A Raja and Kanimozhi can once again label the DMK as a corrupt party. The younger generation does not relate to the DMK of old but knows it more as a party that had something to do with the 2G scam. Stalin will need to neutralise that impression and establish that the DMK is now his party.
The DMK at the moment, seems to be underestimating the potential of the Rajinikanth-Narendra Modi combo. Though Stalin has been critical of the BJP for the manner in which he alleges it is controlling the AIADMK, he will find it difficult to attack the actor directly. That is because Rajinikanth has been close to Karunanidhi and it was his comment that "Even God cannot save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa comes back to power'' that helped the DMK come to power in 1996.
Stalin is not the only person who needs to be worried. O Panneerselvam's hopes of returning to Fort St George as chief minister will be dashed forever if Rajini is projected as the chief ministerial candidate of the BJP + Rajinikanth party + OPS AIADMK alliance. Which perhaps explains his terse "I don't think there is any attempt by BJP to bring Rajinikanth into politics'' comment last week. Panneerselvam would be only too aware that Rajini's entry will finish off the OPS story.
While the Edappadi Palaniswamy faction had no option but to fall in line and agree to vote for the NDA candidate in the presidential election, an interesting twist in the tale has been how TTV Dinakaran has reached out to the BJP leadership. Sources in Delhi say Sasikala's nephew has made overtures to the BJP, keeping the anger over his arrest in the bribery case aside, but has not been entertained so far. The three factions of the AIADMK know all efforts are being made to reduce the party to a has-been in Tamil Nadu and they have no one to blame but themselves for this state.
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