S. Sethuraman

BJP's master strategist Mr Amit Shah has seemingly laid the groundwork for an effective entry for his party in Tamil Nadu into the impending electoral games, during his visit to Chennai on July 10. The immediate goal for the BJP President is to make up in the South, to some extent, for the expected losses in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, in some of Northern and Western states.
Tamil Nadu assumed urgency after the Party’s debacle in Karnataka, which was earlier conceived as gateway to the south, to help the saffron party shed its Northern image. And a crumbling AIADMK, after the loss of its supreme leader Ms. Jayalalithaa in December 2016, left the field open for DMK and state-level parties to galvanise themselves for the future. The next state elections are not due until 2021.
But splits in AIADMK plus the failure of DMK Working President Mr M K Stalin, anointed as successor to the ailing DMK supremo Mr M Karunanidhi (95), to firm up an alliance to pose an immediate challenge to the minority AIADMK government, have thrown TN politics in total disarray. Adding to uncertainty is the bumpy entry into politics by the two cine super-stars Mr. Rajnikant and Mr Kamal Hassan, without clearly defined political objectives.
But for Mr Amit Shah, it is fertile ground to build on with a massive booth-level approach and has flamboyantly called for an alliance to rid the state of “electoral corruption”. Mr Shah said the alliance would be formed ahead of 2019 poll to secure for BJP about 25 seats in the next Lok Sabha (as against 2 in 2014).
The BJP work plan is to set about this task vigorously while the alliance itself would take shape after Prime Minister Modi’s participation in a rally with over 1.25 lakh booth-level workers in October. It is apparent that the BJP high command aims to rope in the AIADMK faction in power, and more significantly, a stellar role may be assigned for super-star Rajnikant, who seems to be keeping his options open..
Meanwhile, the AIADMK faction in power since February 2017, headed by Mr. Edapadi Palaniswami, though lacking majority in T N Assembly, has been able to hold on, maintaining a facade of stability. This has been facilitated by the disputed disqualification by the Speaker of 18 MLAs of the breakaway AIADMK group led by Mr. T T V Dhinakaran. The Madras High Court, after giving split verdicts on the validity of Speaker’s action is yet to pronounce its final view.
And a benign look from Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Palaniswami-Panneerselvam regime all through has led DMK and other opposition groups to view the dispensation as "puppet" of BJP. No wonder that the Shah strategy banks upon this segment of AIADMK, with benefit of doubt in its favour on the current level of support it commands across the State.
A Jaya associate, Mr Dhinakaran who scored a stupendous win in December last in the by-election in North Madras,(the constituency represented by late Amma) dealt a severe blow to both the ruling AIADMK faction and the leading Opposition DMK. His newly-minted wing AMMK (Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam), recognised by the Election Commission, may become a force to reckon with in the coming weeks.
A massive rally addressed by Mr Dhinakaran in the western belt of Tamil Nadu, has already unnerved his rivals both AIADMK and DMK. This western region was considered AIADMK stronghold in Amma's time, returning the largest chunk of legislators in May 2016 Assembly election. Observers rate Mr Dhinakaran as a front-runner outdoing the major Dravidian rivals, now shrinking in cadre strength.
The Congress continues to remain a bit player while nominally aligned with DMK, as major ally. Mr Dhinakaran has ruled out any truck with BJP and said his party (AMMK) would head a secular alliance and contest 25 seats for Lok Sabha, leaving the balance (14) to allies. Tamil Nadu has 39 seats in Lok Sabha, 37 of which were won outright by Ms. Jayalalithaa in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Most state-level parties have been watchful of developments, perhaps awaiting the outcome of the High Court decision on MLAs and on what the Dravidian major, DMK, the principal opposition intends to do should the Edapadi Government fall. Both Mr Stalin, leader of DMK Opposition, and Mr Dhinakaran may stake claims to form an alternative government defying the logic of numbers.
Should there be a deadlock, the Modi Government can be expected to take a course through the instrumentality of the Governor to ensure that Tamil Nadu remains politically calm, mainly in the larger interests of BJP. Should it work out better, in the event of Prime Minister’s decision to advance the Lok Sabha poll, simultaneous elections can also be held in some states including Tamil Nadu.
In the 233-member House, the Edapadi Palaniswami Government has functioned in minority status, The DMK opposition is made up of 98 including eight Congress MLAs. Chief Minister E Palaniswami had adroitly managed the Cauvery water dispute with Karnataka, putting pressure on both Karnataka and on the Centre for early constitution of Cauvery Management Board as directed by the Supreme Court. With heavy rains in Karnataka, the inflows of Cauvery water have significantly improved brightening the crop prospects. (IPA)

Wednesday, 18 July, 2018