Even as political parties in TN have decided not to field a candidate against CM Jayalalithaa in the assembly by-election, the BJP's ambivalence has shown up once again, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Even as all non-Communist political parties in Tamil Nadu have decided not to field a candidate against All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the R K Nagar assembly by-election, slated for June 27, it’s the ambivalence of the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party that has shown up once again.
The by-election became necessary after Jayalalihtaa had to return to the state assembly before the expiry of six months from the day she was sworn-in as chief minister, after the Karnataka high court reversed the trial court verdict and acquitted her in the ‘disproportionate assets case’.
With the full quorum of 234 seats filled, it was in fact a case of sitting AIADMK legislator, P Vetrivel, resigning his assembly membership before Jayalalithaa could even be sworn in chief minister.
Though the Constitution provides for any minister/ chief minister being sworn in without he or she being a member of the state legislature concerned, the non-existence of a vacancy for him/ her to return to the house is among the legal impediments thought possible.
Among the major political parties in the state, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was the first one to cry foul even before the polls, and deciding not to field a candidate at R K Nagar. The Paattali Makkal Katchi, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam followed.
The Congress and the BJP have been the last ones to declare that they would not contest, either.
From among the major political parties, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Part of India-Marxist together, after great confabulations, have decided to field a nominee of the former. It is not unlikely that their candidate would lose security deposit against such a walk-away candidate as Jaya, that too in a walk-away situation of this kind.
If their candidate got more votes than no-nonsense social activist, ‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy, to whom the DMK incidentally has pledged support, they should be happy.
How Ramaswamy, who has also moved the Supreme Court for barring Jaya from becoming chief minister pending an appeal against the Karnataka high court’s acquittal, would fare depends on how serious is the DMK on working for him.
It’s surmised that DMK supremo M Karunanidhi hit upon the idea of backing Ramaswamy early on, only to avoid the embarrassment of having to back a nominee of the ally-turned-adversary-turned-what Congress, if the latter decided to field a candidate only to test the strength anti-Jaya sentiments among the state’s non-AIADMK polity.
Incidentally, ‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy is an Iyengar (Vaishnavite Brahmin), a community that the DMK in general and Karunanidhi in particular once used to love to hate.
In an early round of indirect elections to Chennai mayoralty, which used to be based on a yearly caste representation, the DMK had chosen a Brahmin in Kamakshi Jayaraman, when the Congress was still in power in the state.
In more recent times, it would still have been one thing for the DMK to back a Brahmin candidate fielded by an electoral ally -- but another to back an ‘independent’, by making a choice against another Brahmin in Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
Yet, the by-election is not about the DMK backing a Brahmin candidate -- a milestone in the ‘evolution’ of the party, after Jaya in her first term as chief minister (1991-96) had called her Brahminical leadership of the AIADMK as the ultimate stage in the ‘evolution’ of the Dravidian polity as a whole.
Instead, it is about the BJP leader of the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre seeking to dub the upcoming by-poll as ‘match-fixing’ of sorts, that too with the umpire’s collusion that should make political observers across the country and the voters in Tamil Nadu sit up and take notice.
Like the DMK and the MDMK, PMK and DMDK, the Congress and the rest, the state BJP president Tamizhisai Soundararajan, too has been reported to have alleged that the Election Commission of India would collude with the ruling party, and render the by-election ineffectual for all practical purposes.
It’s thus possibly for the first time in the country that a ruling party at the Centre, that too with a majority, has its state unit president alleging collusion between a political party and a constitutional and globally-respected institution as the EC, to thwart the will of the people (if that’s what they all think it would amount to).
However, Soundararajan did not go all the way like DMK’s Karunanidhi, who in an early statement had pointed to the ‘hurry’ with which the EC had scheduled the by-election, whose results would be known on June 30, the last day before the SC opened after the summer recess.
Karnataka has since made known that it would prefer a special leave petition in the SC against the HC verdict, only after the summer recess.
All this apart, it’s another matter that no political party or individual even remotely considers the remotest possibility of Jayalalithaa losing the by-election even against a ‘combined Opposition candidate’, if there were one.
Soundararajan’s charge against the AIADMK -- even when it implicated the EC, under the overall care of the BJP-run government of Prime Minister Nraendra Modi -- is a reflection of the party’s ambivalence bordering on utter confusion in associating with and consequent handling of Jayalalithaa.
She was possibly the only leader of any political party unit in the state that Jaya had publicly congratulated on elevation. Yet, after a time, she did not lose a single opportunity to target the AIADMK state government, on almost every issue concerning governance.
That was after BJP national president Amit Shah reportedly directed the state unit to prepare to take on the two ‘Dravidian majors’ in the 2016 assembly polls in the company of the party’s NDA allies from the 2014 parliamentary polls in Tamil Nadu. The alliance had polled 17.5 per cent vote-share at the time.
Yet, in between the state unit targeting the state government almost in unison – with a few notable exceptions, still -- the national leadership surprised them by despatching the all-important Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to call on Jayalalithaa, purportedly to garner the all-important AIADMK support for crucial bills in the Rajya Sabha.
As coincidence would have it, the Jaitley visit was followed by the finance ministry, incidentally under his care, climbing down on Jayalalithaa’s tax matters, pending before a Chennai court for years on end.
This was followed by Tamizhisai Soundararajan taking the cue, possibly from Modi, and welcoming the Karnataka HC acquittal of Jaya in the ‘wealth case’, along with the BJP’s Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, also from Tamil Nadu.
Modi, it may be recalled, had called up Jaya on the night of the HC verdict and congratulated her, even when the possibility of a Karanataka government’s appeal against the acquittal remained a real possibility -- with the matter becoming sub judice all over again.
The BJP’s Tamil Nadu confusion is understandable. Like the Congress, the BJP too continues to be unsure of its next course in Tamil Nadu all the time -- as was evident when the AIADMK first and the DMK later were partners in the BJP-NDA government of former prime minister A B Vajpayee (1998-2004).
The BJP wants to take deeper roots in the state, particularly when the party is in power at the Centre, but also needs the support of the DMK/ AIADMK in Parliament, one way or the other.
Just now, it is the turn of the AIADMK, and the BJP national leadership seems wanting to hunt with the hound and run with the hare. Or, so it seems.
The party had tried to woo the DMDK ally from the parliamentary polls to field a candidate in the R K Nagar by-election, so that it would serve the BJP’s twin purpose.
Should the Supreme Court reverse the Karnataka HC verdict, then the BJP seemed to be hopeful of leading a third front onto the assembly polls.
Else, it would still want to stick to the AIADMK, for hoped-for support in the Rajya Sabha, at least until the BJP is able to make up the numbers in the Rajya Sabha through a series of biennial elections.
Not to bite the BJP’s bait, DMDK’s star-politician Vijaykanth has since asked in public why those wanting his party to contest the by-election were shy of fielding their own nominee.
For Vijaykanth and the DMDK, the prospects of contesting the by-elections are not encouraging -- and in very many ways.
One, the loss of the by-election could demoralise its cadres. Two, the ruling AIADMK could then revive the cross-over game all over again, the DMDK still retaining a precarious lead over the DMK as the main ‘Opposition’ party in the state assembly.
It has already lost nine of the party MLAs to an insider-group openly sympathetic to the AIADMK.
Like the BJP, the DMDK too is awaiting the verdict of the Supreme Court on the Karnataka government’s appeal against the HC verdict which is yet to be filed in the first place.
Should the SC reverse the HC verdict, like the BJP, the DMDK too could consider the prospects of a third front at that time.
Else, the DMDK would prefer a common Opposition alliance, possibly led by the DMK, instead.
Vijaykanth was conspicuously absent from the reception of Karunanidhi’s actor-grandson Arulnidhi, sending in his all-powerful brother-in-law and DMDK treasurer Sudeesh instead.
This, he did, despite the groom’s paternal uncle and DMK treasurer M K Stalin personally inviting him and other political party leaders for the wedding.
Making an appearance at the wedding reception were MDMK’s Vaiko, once the bête noire of Stalin, both inside and outside the DMK, and PMK’s Ramadoss and Anbumani, the party having named the latter as its chief minister candidate for 2016.
Conspicuous by his absence was former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who was represented by his lawyer-wife, Nalini, even though PC had returned to political limelight with television talk-shows on the first anniversary of the Modi government.
State Congress president, E V K S Elangovan, could not make it to the wedding even though he was being seen as pro-DMK by his state party colleagues. His late father, E V K Sampath, in turn a nephew of the Dravidian movement’s pithamaha, the late ‘Periyar’ E V Ramaswami Naicker, too was a friend-turned-adversary of Karunanidhi.
Elangovan had lost his mother, Sulochana Sampath, a senior leader of the AIADMK, only on the eve of the Karunanidhi family wedding, and hence could not make it to the function.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.