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Amit Shah's temple visit shows up BJP, EPS ties for what it's worth

June 28, 2017 13:51 IST

Even without Shah’s TN visit and the rest, the increasing bonhomie between the BJP and the AIADMK factions in the state have become more visible than ever in the post-Jaya era, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

Image: BJP President Amit Shah at the Arunachaleswarar temple in Thiruvannamalai on June 27, 2017, during a visit to Tamil Nadu. Photograph: PTI Photo.

Despite loud protests to the contrary, Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah’s visit to the Sri Arunachaleswarar temple and the Ramana Maharishi ashram in Thiruvannamalai should show up the growing ties with Tamil Nadu’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam faction under Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami.

Shah holds no governmental position at the Centre or in any state. Yet, Tamil Nadu’s minister for Hindu religious and charitable endowments (HR&CE), Seruvur S Ramachandran, was on hand to receive him. So were two local AIADMK legislators.

AIADMK member of Parliament Vanaroja, according to news reports, even fought with the police to gain entry into the helipad where Shah landed.

Therein lies the second part of the story. A temporary helipad was built on the grounds of the local government college, and the EPS administration had granted permission for the same.

It may be the kind of courtesy that state governments offer elsewhere to leaders of Opposition parties, but not so in ‘Dravidian’ Tamil Nadu, not when AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa was around, whether in power or out of it.

Even granting that the helipad decision was a good gesture that was missing in the state all along, the decision for a minister to receive the BJP boss and accompany him to the government-run temple, which involves administrative protocol, cannot be dubbed as such.

Of course, state-level BJP leaders, including Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan and Tamil Nadu party chief, Tamizhisai Soundararajan, were present to receive and accompany Shah during the short visit. But that was part of their political being, not for an AIADMK state minister and his party MLAs and MP.

Even without the Shah visit and the rest, the increasing bonhomie between the BJP and the AIADMK factions in the state have become more visible than ever in the post-Jaya past.

Over several decades now, presidential candidates have made it a habit to visit state capitals to thank political party leaderships for endorsing their candidature.

Even where their victory was assured, candidates had done this trip, as post-poll and their status as president-elect, protocol and security concerns would come in the way.

After being sworn in President, he or she could not be seen as being politically partisan, to one or the other of political parties, including their regional avtars.

In the case of BJP’s current presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind, Chief Minister Pananiswami and predecessor, O Panneerselvam, or OPS, heading a rival faction of the AIADMK, vied with each other to be present in Delhi, to become co-signatories to Kovind’s nomination papers.

If Tamil media reports are to be believed, their close aides jostled for space inside the returning officer’s room, which did not have enough chairs to accommodate all.

According to these reports, some senior BJP leaders had to stay outside the room lest their AIADMK guests should feel slighted in toto, or one in favour of the other.

Now, for all practical purposes, the election of Kovind as President is taken for granted. In states like Tamil Nadu, the question is only one of possible cross-voting, for and against the BJP-NDA nominee.

Apart from the EPS and OPS factions, the one loyal to T T V Dinakaran, within the former, is also expected to back Kovind’s candidature. At least 30 MLAs and an unspecified number of MPs (could even be ‘zero’) are said to be with Dinakaran, whose status as party ‘deputy general secretary’ remains contested.

If anything, any rebellion against the party/faction leadership within the AIADMK is bad not for the BJP or Kovind, but for the three leaders and the future of their own politics.

For now, the OPS faction is repeatedly talking about no-merger. It also keeps repeating the demand for distancing the party from ‘elected’ general secretary V K Sasikala Natarajan, now in Bengaluru prison, and of course Dinakaran, anointed by her as ‘deputy general secretary’, unacceptable to the Election Commission (EC), since.

Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai, who called on Sasikala in prison recently, continues to declare that she was still the party general secretary, elected by the ‘general council’. He has also declared that no individual or group had the authority to remove her, sans the general council.

Barring such occasional professions of the kind, no one in the party, including the EPS faction, which had owed original allegiance to Sasikala during the post-Jaya showdown with OPS, even refers to her name, remotely.

Even Jayalalithaa’s name has begun making an occasional, but deliberate miss, from the publicity material of the EPS faction, where Chief Minister Panaliswami, along with logos of party founder MGR and the latter’s mentor, C N Annadurai, if at all, alone find prominent or less-than-prominent, mention.

The questions are about the merger of all three or four factions within the AIADMK on the one hand, and the recovery of the ‘Two Leaves’ electoral symbol of MGR and Jayalalithaa, frozen by the EC, since.

It is anybody’s guess how the EC could verify a non-Aadhar linked membership of the rival factions of the AIADMK, against the total claim of 1.5 crores, when they all had completed submitting truck-loads of attestations, as could only be expected.

The natural course for the EC would have to be to freeze the party name and title, along with the symbol, and let the factions choose their own names and symbols.

Even the Supreme Court, if moved, could not be expected to devise a fool-proof mechanism for the purpose. All precedents in this regard might prove unhelpful, to say the least.

Thus, either the factions merge and claim the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, or they go their own way, and start almost from the scratch, that too ahead of the 2019 parliamentary polls.

A lot rides on marketing a new party with a new symbol, and the success rate would depend on two or three factors.

One, the time that they might get after the Election Commission and/or the Supreme Court had decided the matter.

Two, the kind of government/governance that the EPS leadership renders in the coming months and years, making it popular or unpopular with party cadres and more so the non-AIADMK, non-party voters at large.

Three, the time that EPS might get from within the larger faction, now under his command but with the Dinakaran clan still around, and from other faction legislators, to ensure that his leadership would remain stable until the assembly elections, due in May 2021.

Between all these, they all would also have to contend with the increasing stability within the rival DMK faction. Apart from the fact that the DMK-led combine did poll a respectable 40 per cent vote-share against the victorious AIADMK’s 41.5 per cent, that too under the charismatic Jayalalithaa, who was incumbent chief minister, in May 2016, the DMK also has other factors favouring it, prima facie.

Despite best efforts, the Hinduvta ideology and politics, as different from the ‘Modi factor’, that too to a much limited extent, has not caught on with contemporary Tamil Nadu, as may be the case elsewhere.

This has meant that there is ‘minority consolidation’ against the BJP and parties that are perceived as being close to the BJP -- the AIADMK factions in this case -- without any reciprocal ‘Hindu consolidation’ of any kind, on the other side.

It is also here that the state law and order and intelligence machinery have to be extremely professional and cautious about any possible repeat of the kind of the ‘Coimbatore blasts’ of the 1998 poll-eve kind.

For all this, however, the ‘Rajni factor’ in future Tamil Nadu election remains unclear, as the superstar himself continues to remain ‘unsure’. Despite all the tall talk of Rajnikanth’s political popularity and electoral possibilities, the fact remains, there is no substantive evidence to his vote base.

To make it worse, there is no assembly constituency among the 234 in the state, for Rajnikanth to call his own, to contest and win on his own, or as an ally exclusively of the BJP, if at all.

A southern Tamil Nadu seat might be a choice, but it would be seen as a ‘BJP stronghold’, not that of Rajnikanth by any stretch of imagination.

The comparison with DMDK’s actor-founder Vijayakanth would be misplaced in context, and for specific reasons.

Vijayakanth did contest from the northern Tamil Nadu seat of Vridhachalam in his first electoral outing, and won the lone seat for the party, in Election 2006.

The DMDK polled 8.6 per cent vote-share at the time, and caused the defeat of 50-plus candidates of either the ruling AIADMK or the incoming DMK by margins that were equivalent to the votes polled by the party nominees.

Surprisingly, the DMDK also polled a higher 10-plus percent vote-share in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, even when it contested alone, again.

That was all to it. The DMDK joined the AIADMK combine in 2011 assembly polls, won a substantial number of seats, but lost its individuality and vote-share, coming a cropper at the head of the BJP-NDA combine in the Lok Sabha polls (2014) and the assembly elections (2016), this time,  sans the BJP.

Unlike Vijayakanth, who was fighting for a substantial vote-share as a bargaining chip, Rajnikanth would be contesting to win, not lose. Given his age and possible health issues, Election 2021 could not only be his first, but also the last election, if he were to float a party of his own.

Organisationally, MGR inherited part of the ‘ideologically-oriented’ parent DMK cadres and also the post-Kamaraj ‘swing voters’ customarily on the anti-‘rationalist’ DMK side, and also his own massive fan following of the time. Jayalalithaa retained them all and also added new-generation voters. Vijaykanth was current with a contemporary fan following, to convert as party cadres at all levels -- but nothing more.

Against all this, Rajnikanth’s core fans are now past their prime. Those that paid Rs 5000 or so for a weekend view of his super-hit movies Robot and Kabaali -- with super flops in between -- were the IT genre crowd, paid for by their employers in many cases, and mostly not voters in Tamil Nadu.

Neither of these superhits did the customary silver jubilee runs of 25 weeks, as the cinema lexicon and marketing have all now changed, come consumerism and market economy.

Conversely, by aligning with the AIADMK factions, one or all of them, through the good offices of say, the BJP, Rajnikanth can only soil his image, given all the corruption charges that central agencies have been unearthing against faction leaders, ministers and their cohorts.

That way, rather than a Rajni entry into politics, any real fear of it happening could motivate the AIADMK factions into fast-tracking the sluggish merger moves.

Should that happen, then Rajnikanth would not have a role to play, not certainly as chief minister first, and as a chief minister capable of controlling his ministerial colleagues and big-time corruption, especially.

To begin with, he cannot even be seen as seeking votes for a ‘corruption-free’ government, with the likes of the present-day rulers by his side.

If anything, his position then could be like that of MGR after Annadurai’s death within the united DMK. Even while keeping MGR out of his ministry, purportedly because he wanted to continue to act, Annadurai was known to have got his approval for his ministry before sending the list to then governor Ujjal Singh in 1967.

After Annadurai’s death in 1969, Karunanidhi became chief minister, but with greater and more specific backing from MGR. There it began and ended, leading and contributing to the DMK split, and the formation of AIADMK, not very long after.

The rest, as they say, is history.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.

N Sathiya Moorthy