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Rediff.com  » News » EPS to back BJP's presidential candidate, but that's not all

EPS to back BJP's presidential candidate, but that's not all

May 24, 2017 14:06 IST

With both the factions pledging their support, the BJP believes that the natural corollary is for them to now merge and retain the two-leaves election symbol, a view shared by the prime minister as well.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Wednesday assured Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the support of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Sasikala faction for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s presidential candidate. 

Palaniswami, popularly referred to as EPS, is learnt to have communicated to Prime Minister Modi that as former chief minister J Jayalalithaa had extended her party’s support for the BJP’s candidate in the last three presidential elections, her party would continue the tradition.

Palaniswami’s decision comes as a shot in the arm for the BJP, as it has now comfortably crossed the 50 per cent voting norms for the presidential election, and is assured of no hiccups in seeing its candidate installed in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Only last week former chief minister O Panneerselvam from the rival faction of the AIADMK had met the prime minister and assured him of his group’s support for the BJP’s presidential candidate.

With both the factions pledging their support, the BJP believes that the natural corollary is for them to now merge and retain the two-leaves election symbol, a view shared by the prime minister as well.

The Centre realises that there has been a political vacuum and instability in Tamil Nadu since Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, but it does not favour snap polls. The BJP leadership, including Modi and party president Amit Shah, believes that with four years left for the current assembly, the state should be ruled by a united AIADMK till then.

However, insiders in the AIADMK feel that Palaniswami did not make any commitment to Modi, and that he focused on the investigating agencies raids’ on his  ministers, the resultant negative media reportage and its impact on cadre morale.

Other long-pending demands of Tamil Nadu like drought relief, scrapping the NEET and the Sri Lankan Tamils as well state fishermen’s issues were all raised by him.

The prime minister reportedly assured Palaniswami that the PMO will study the representations made and send a team of officials to the state to assess the drought relief measures.

Interestingly, the Tamil Nadu CM did not take along any of his ministers to the meeting, but was accompanied by his co-brother (wife’s sister’s husband) Manickam, who doubled up as the interpreter between the two, a role usually played by Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai.

The latter has stayed back in Chennai, leading to speculation that internal differences are now tearing the Sasikala faction apart.

Even as the chief minister met the PM, his ministers had been deputed to meet other Union ministers. Thus, S P Velumani met Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, D Jayakumar met Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, the AIADMK’s leader in the Lok Sabha P Venugopal met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Interestingly, in all these meetings their focus was on their faction’s support to the BJP’s presidential candidate.

The ministers were not only ones to be kept away from the PM-CM meeting. Even chief secretary Girija Vaidyanathan was not present during the deliberations, leading to the belief that Palaniswami was keen on establishing a hotline with the PM.

According to a highly placed source, Chief Minister Palaniswami recently took away the Directorate of Anti Corruption and Vigilance from Girija Vaidyanathan’s charge by an executive order. This came about following the Tamil Nadu unit of the income-tax department writing to the chief secretary seeking permission to raid IAS and IPS officials in connection with health minister Vijayabaskar’s reported admission of money paid to bureaucrats. Now they will have to seek permission for the raids from the chief minister.

Considering that the CM raised the issue of tax raids with the prime minister, it is clear that whichever way one looks at it, the real beneficiary in Tamil Nadu is the BJP. On one hand it has the support of both the major factions for the presidential elections, and on the other it has both the leaders where it wants them.

Image: A file photograph of Edappadi K Palaniswami meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 27, 2017.

R Rajagopalan is a senior journalist in New Delhi, and has reported on Tamil Nadu for decades.

R Rajagopalan