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Looking ahead, could TN face simultaneous polls in 2019?

By N Sathiya Moorthy
August 10, 2017 11:05 IST

The BJP calculates that simultaneous polls to Parliament and TN assembly could help it, intent as it is on making the state break from its Dravidian past, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

A protest by Democratic Youth Federation of India members against the BJP government at the Centre, in Chennai. Photograph: PTI Photo.

It may sound too early and too speculative, but unless the three factions of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam patch up or commit hara-kiri, either of them early on, Tamil Nadu may be heading for simultaneous elections to the state assembly alongside the one due for the Lok Sabha, in May 2019.

A remote alternative could be for the Opposition DMK to try and form an alternative government in the name of trying to avoid political instability in the state -- or the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-National Democratic Alliance decides to advance the LS polls to an earlier date with possible simultaneous polls to the state assembly.

After waiting for months despite being unduly provoked by the ruling AIADMK faction of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, that he was working in tandem with the rival party group under three-time Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, or OPS, DMK’s Leader of the Opposition M K Stalin has said that they were ready to topple the government.

Earlier, the party had maintained that they would not topple the Edappadi government, and let it fall under its own weight.

Stalin’s new calculations seemed to derive from a few political realities.

Despite internal troubles within the AIADMK, the Edappadi government does not seem anywhere near collapsing early, causing either an opportunity for the DMK to try and form an alternative government or take the state to early assembly polls.

Despite continual troubles with the internal faction under T T V Dinakaran, the Edappadi government is holding on. Their common rival in the OPS is nowhere near toppling either or both of them, even for the party leadership, leave alone the government.

All this means that the DMK-led combine with 98 MLAs in the 234-member state assembly may actively consider moving a no-trust motion against the Edappadi government. The DMK could make the move at the earliest, if only to silence critics and also unsettle the Edappadi faction that is gaining greater stability, if not additional legislative strength -- and more so, cadre support than in the past.

The DMK cannot afford it in the medium and long terms especially, though in the short term, it cannot afford to be seen as being ‘jealous’ of a government in power.

Either the Dinakaran or OPS faction, or both, with the purported support of 25 and 11 MLAs each, would then have to back the government or vote against it.

There is also an increasing feeling that the current drag has negatively impacted the OPS faction, which was believed to have inherited a major cadre following.

Now, all three may need to reunite to go back to the Election Commission and reclaim the frozen ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, a mascot of sorts for the AIADMK since MGR founded the party in the ’70s.

The DMK seems to have calculated that either way, all three factions would stand exposed. The party also purportedly feels that any patch-up among the  three factions, especially the government-saving Edappadi and Dinakaran groups, could lead to more groupism in the ruling party, starting with  Cabinet reshuffle, beginning with the chief minister’s job.

Even if the chief minister issue is settled, the consequent patch-up would have to involve Cabinet-level appointments of left-out party leaders to head government corporations and the like, leading to further disenchantment among the people. Either way, the DMK hopes to gain.

BJP’s calculations

Simultaneous polls to Parliament could help the ruling BJP at the Centre, intent on making a break from the past in ‘Dravidian’ Tamil Nadu.

Both party leaders and ideologues in the state seem to have convinced themselves that there is a political vacuum in Tamil Nadu after the death of AIADMK’s charismatic chief minister Jayalalithaa and irrecoverable health issues of DMK’s M Karunanidhi, and they (alone) could fill the vacuum, building up on the ‘Modi magic’ elsewhere.

However, all purported post-Jaya attempts at dividing and/or re-uniting AIADMK factions do not seem to have borne fruit.

The more recent raids of Karnataka minister D K Shivakumar after he ‘shielded’ Congress MLAs from BJP-ruled Gujarat of Prime Minister Modi has also raised questions as to why the Centre did not do so when the Sasikala-Edappadi faction of the AIADMK was keeping party MLAs confined to resorts in the Chennai suburbs of Koovathur earlier.

Even Tamil cinema’s superstar, Rajnikanth, whom the BJP is rumoured to be wooing for joining the party and be its chief ministerial candidate, may have some questions to ask of the party -- and many to answer his cadres, voters and the media, if he were to enter active politics and on the BJP’s side.

Yet, there is no denying Modi’s add-on value along with a Rajnikanth if simultaneous polls became possible, and both were to campaign together, either with the superstar in the BJP or as its ally, heading a new party and a new coalition.

Yet, this may not ensure that the combination could sweep the assembly polls. Given Tamil Nadu’s contemporary political history, excessive ‘witch-hunting’ of the tax raids kind has only proved counter-productive as the ruling DMK found out in Jaya’s case in Election 2001.

Despite a pending high court verdict against her in the ‘Tansi land-deal case’, she contested and won all four assembly seats that she contested at the time.

AIADMK re-union

Yet, the BJP can hope to make some impact if and when Rajni too joined hands, but then it would still require the likes of the Vanniar-strong Pattali Makkal Katchi, which still polled the third highest vote-share of 4.5 per cent in the 2016 assembly polls.

There are incongruities, for instance, as the PMK leadership and Rajnikanth fans cannot stand each other -- but then the BJP leadership having succeeded in bringing in the PMK and rival DMDK’s actor-politician Vijaykanth together under the NDA umbrella in Election 2014 can hope to repeat it with them all.

Yet, they all would have to remember that the NDA could not go anywhere in the Lok Sabha polls at the time even after polling a substantial 17.5 per cent vote-share. The question is, if they could repeat the performance, and if the Rajnikanth factor, if it came to that, can bring in another about 12-15 per cent for a sure-fire victory. 

There is however no denying the possibility, at least in theoretical terms, though for now there are even non-Muslim fans of the superstar who will be upset if he were to join hands with the ‘Hindutva’ BJP.

Even without all these, the Tamil Nadu voter is wary of reluctant political customers of the likes of Rajnikanth and the late Congress veteran, G K Moopanar.

Better or worse still, but ditching one or the other of the AIADMK factions, if it came to that, and thus leaving them alone, the BJP Centre might encourage and also facilitate their reunion on their own ahead of any future elections of the kind.

In such a scenario, a completely reunited AIADMK can go back to the EC and get back their ‘Two Leaves’ symbol.

If anything, any BJP approach to Rajnikanth and calculations for a simultaneous polls without a reunified AIADMK, or without involving one or more factions of the party, would be good enough reason for them not only to reunite but also speak their minds to their cadres first and the ‘Tamil Nadu voter’ later on.

In either case, not only Rajnikanth but also PM Modi and the BJP may have a lot more to explain than on AIADMK’s corruption of the preceding years. This will go beyond the separate but common support that all three factions of the ruling party have extended the BJP-NDA’s candidates for the presidential and vice-presidential polls, recently.

Should the BJP still want to bring the AIADMK and Rajnikanth together under its umbrella, leaving the chief minister’s job to the former, then the superstar would have to be considered for a Lok Sabha seat and a Cabinet berth at the Centre...

As of now, of course, it’s all more in the realm of possibility than political reality.

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

N Sathiya Moorthy