The BJP’s hobnobbing with M K Alagiri and ally Vaiko’s controversial demands has the potential to rock the BJP’s boat in Tamil Nadu, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s ally and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko and former Union minister M K Alagiri are at the centre of a storm, which if fanned well by the National Democratic Alliance’s electoral competition, has the potential to rock the boat in 40 parliamentary seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
Having hit the campaign trail a little late owing to seat-sharing talks with regional and sub-regional allies after Narendra Modi had given the party a head-start with two massive rallies at Tiruchi and Chennai, the BJP-NDA now has ended up giving in to the temperament and temptations of the likes of Vaiko.
Vaiko’s demanded in his party manifesto the rechristening of the nation as the ‘United States of India’. The intention was not just about name-changing. It was more about changing the character of what’s at best a quasi-federal Union into a genuine federal state.
Vaiko’s demand found a ready reverberation from BJP state president Pon Radhakrishnan who is contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Kanyakumari. He declared that a BJP government at the Centre would have India’s name changed as ‘Bharatham’ in Tamil.
It is unclear if on a sensitive and serious matter such as this one, he had the clearance of the national leadership of the party, particularly that of Modi, the prime ministerial candidate. Or, will it go the way of the BJP’s flexible position on issues such as Article 370 and ‘uniform civil code’, among others -- that is if for now the national leadership backs Radhakrishnan’s demand.
Vaiko’s other manifesto demands include even more controversial proposals. He has been demanding a referendum in Sri Lanka’s Tamil areas for the possible formation of a ‘separate nation’, like most Dravidian parties.
Needless to say, these are very serious issues over which Vaiko has had even more serious differences with the BJP and the Congress leaders in the past. He had either quit the government, or had stayed away from joining it.
With the BJP declaring that they would have all alliance partners in the government if the NDA won the elections, it raises questions about Vaiko’s future position. Whether any insistence on his part to include his party’s known positions on a future common minimum programme would make a difference, also remains to be seen. Or, will it be that he and his party would choose to stay out of any future NDA government.
Together, the two issues will flag more questions on the continued loyalty of a ‘sensitive’ ally like the MDMK and the consequently stability of any government, should other allies, take their cue from the Tamil Nadu partner.
Queuing up for Alagiri
Vaiko created another flutter by meeting Alagiri. Following in Vaiko’s footsteps, among others, was BJP’s H Raja, who is facing Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti in Sivaganga.
Raja, a chartered accountant, incidentally, had pushed Chidambaram, then the candidate of the now-defunct Tamil Maanila Congress, to third place in the 1999 polls. As if the MDMK and BJP were not enough, the Congress’ Bharath Natchiyappan too queued up to Azhagiri’s Madurai residence for an audience.
Faced with stiff multi-cornered contests, what with Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party too throwing in tough candidates like the Koodamkulam protest leader S P Udayakumar in Kanyakumari, with the Communist parties and the Congress too having traditional vote-shares in the southern constituencies, neither Vaiko nor Radhakrishnan could afford to miss those extra votes that Alagiri could muster for them, by splitting the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Despite being suspended from the DMK, Alagiri’s purported relevance flows from the votes that his rebel candidates could muster in the 2001 assembly polls under near-similar circumstances, contributing to the defeat of the official DMK nominees in around eight constituencies near Madurai.
BJP leader L Ganesan, contesting the prestigious South Chennai seat, has backed Raja meeting Alagiri.
J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu chief minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, will not keep quiet on the issue. Jaya can be expected to rake up the issue, asking the BJP in general and Modi in particular to answer charges on the Tamil Nadu BJP hobnobbing with Alagiri.
State BJP leaders expect Modi to address another round of campaign rallies in Tamil Nadu, particularly in Radhakrishnan’s Kanyakumari and possibly Coimbatore, if not South Chennai. Voters, particularly the urban middle-class BJP sympathisers of the past two decades, and the more-recent first-time voter-supporters of the party, would expect Modi then to respond to the opposition’s salvos.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation.