The BJP and the AIADMK are unable to sort out ideological differences, observes N Sathiya Moorthy.
At a time when the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu was on the back foot and forced into a defensive position, the continuing one-upmanship between the Opposition All India Anna DMK in the state and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ally at the Centre seems to be a clear give-away ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha polls this time next year.
Rather, the state BJP, or its unit president K Annamalai, is playing spoilsport even after big boss Union Home Minister Amit A Shah had sought to sort out the differences between the parties some weeks ago, in his presence and in discussions with AIADMK boss and former chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS).
In the most recent episode of the kind, Annamalai led a few members of the state BJP's women's wing to submit a memorandum to Governor R N Ravi, demanding the dismissal of two ministers in Chief Minister M K Stalin'S government.
The alliance issue flowed from the alacrity with which Annamalai rushed to Raj Bhavan just a day before the AIADMK ally had scheduled a rally and meeting with Ravi, for the very same reason.
On the one hand, the AIADMK is upset with Annamalai for seeking to out-smart them on an issue that is of common interest to them both.
On the other, some BJP leaders point out how Annamalai had sought to sidestep the party's national women's wing chief, Vanathi Srinivasan, MLA.
According to them, Vanathi is the latest one to fall foul of Annamalai, owing to what they call his deliberate attempts to ride rough-shod over the older generation leaders in the state party.
Two years after coming to power, the Stalin magic has lost some of its sheen.
Yet, the only charge directly levelled against the chief minister is an alleged corruption issue dating back to his days as deputy CM, way back in 2011, under his late father M Karunanidhi.
Of course, the BJP's Annamalai was the accuser.
However, over the past weeks and months, a perception has been created that through his calculated indifference, Stalin has at least been covering up the alleged wrong-doings of some of his ministerial colleagues and immediate family members.
Though nothing has been proved thus far, in a democracy, perceptions rule and there the DMK has lost some ground since the twin electoral victories of 2019 (Lok Sabha) and 2021 (state assembly).
Thus, the recent twin hooch tragedies in which Minister K S Masthan's name got entangled, coincided with a Supreme Court clearance for the Enforcement Directorate proceeding against the all-important Electricity and Excise Minister V Senthil Balaji for a recruitment scam from his days as a member of the late chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram's then AIADMK government.
The hooch tragedy that took 22 lives in two adjoining northern districts died a natural death after the police investigation showed that apart from people supposedly identified with Masthan, a lower-level BJP functionary too was involved.
Likewise, Senthil Balaji's AIADMK past, that too under Amma, was a dampener for the Opposition party to proceed too far in the matter.
Alongside these two episodes came the chargesheets filed by the state government's department of vigilance and anti-corruption (DVAC) against two former ministers from the Edappadi government (2016-2021).
They are separate cases, yes, but relate to alleged accumulation of disproportionate assets from their days in power.
The chargesheets against former health minister and incumbent legislator, Dr C Vijaya Bhaskar, and also former higher education minister K P Anbalagan, each run into 10,000-plus pages, and are products of orders issued by the Madras high court when they were in power.
The very term 'disproportionate assets' is an embarrassment for the AIADMK as it brings back to memory the way a Bengaluru trial court sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in prison and an unprecedented Rs 100 crores in fine in a DA case in which she was accused number one (A-1).
There is hence some truth in the DMK's finance minister and occasional spokesman Thangam Thennarasu that the AIADMK's well-attended Raj Bhavan rally (though taken only from a couple of kilometres away but in the scorching summer sun) was aimed at deflecting public attention from the DVAC cases.
Yet, with better coordination between the allies, the AIADMK and the BJP could have done a better job of targeting the ruling party than Annamalai's 'DMK Files' and leaked audio-tapes purportedly carrying the voice of IT Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan (PTR), earlier in charge of the more prestigious finance portfolio.
Today, instead, Annamalai's occasional yet persistent reiteration of the party's plans to contest a high number of 25 Lok Sabha seats from the state's total of 39, cause rancour in the minds of AIADMK cadres and leaders alike.
In the absence of a charismatic leader like party founder MGR and later Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK cadres are apprehensive if the Edappadi leadership could put its foot down in seat negotiations with the BJP's national leadership in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
However, there is the other section in the AIADMK that points the increasing toughness that Edappadi has been reportedly exhibiting vis a vis the Modi-Shah leadership of the BJP at the national level, once out of power.
In particular, they refer to Edappadi's unyielding ways when it comes to not yielding to reported BJP pressures to work with the other three factions under three-time chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS), Jaya's live-in-confidante Sasikala Natarajan, and the latter's nephew T T V Dhinakaran.
The BJP sees an opportunity in this, too, as they have not closed the option of working with the three AIADMK factions, which it perceives as having a strong base in the southern districts, where the party too has a relatively stronger vote base.
Or, that is the only way that the BJP could hope to contest 25 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, the Edappadi camp followers argue.
But as they too point out, Annamalai's more recent ambition is not just to contest 25 seats, but to send 25 BJP MPs from the state in 2024.
It is here that the BJP and the Edappadi-led AIADMK are unable to sit down and sort out certain ideological differences and the diverse campaign the two of them end up with.
Going beyond the common ground that revolves around corruption and perceived lawlessness under the DMK regime, the two allies are not able to address the AIADMK'S Hindutva-related concerns involving the BJP.
Already, the Edappadi group attributes their combine's rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls more to the BJP's ideological plank that did not sell even in their combined stronghold of the state's western districts, comprising Coimbatore, Erode, Tiruppur, Salem, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri, among others.
Edappadi and some of his term's strong ministers came from this region and the influential majority community of Vellalar Gounders.
Even their losing power in the subsequent assembly elections of 2021, they attribute it to the party's association with the BJP.
All factions of the AIADMK are convinced that Hindutva does not sell as a politico-electoral proposition in Tamil Nadu, but are in no place to tell the 'bosses' in Delhi that they are wrong in strategising for the state at the very least.
This is because they also seem to feel that if they tell the BJP what to do and what not to do in electoral terms in Tamil Nadu, the national ally might start interfering in the internal affairs of the AIADMK, more than already.
According to them, most Tamil Nadu voters, other than those already converted to the BJP's ways and methods, resent the party leadership's strategy to be seen as being the lovers of Tamil language, literature and culture.
In the words the BJP leaders choose, the way they package it all and their body language all end up conveying the message that they aimed at hijacking the Tamil identity of two thousand and more years, and subsume them all in their larger 'Bharatiya' identity.
Or, so goes the internal exchanges within the AIADMK, too.
This applies to PM Modi quoting Thirukkural and the famed Tamil proverb, 'Yaadum oorey, yaavarum kelir' ('All places are ours, all humans are our kin') at the UN General Assembly, or he releasing a Japanese translation of the Thirukkural while in that country recently and in Tok Pisin while in Papua New Guinea.
They see the absence of altruism of the kind even in the Centre's decision to place the Sengol, which Lord Louis Mountbatten handed over to then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to mark the transfer of power at Independence, in the new Parliament building and Amit A Shah recalling its immediate history.
As Shah explained, the Sengol, which was designed and made by a leading jeweller in Chennai, then Madras, at the instance of the Thiruvaduthurai mutt (of the Saivite order), after C Rajagopalachari, who was a close aide of Nehru and who succeeded Mountbatten as the first and only Indian to become governor general, sought suggestions in the matter.
That was after Nehru asked Rajaji for ideas, that too when Mountbatten sought to know how the former wanted to mark the transfer of power.
Congressmen in the state are peeved at Shah not mentioning Nehru's role in the matter.
From the larger Tamil perspective, AIADMK leaders point out how the pro-BJP social media has already 'saffronised' the Sengol, by first projecting it as being unique to the Tamil kings of yore (which it was not) and then declaring that its presence in a place of prominence in the new Parliament, the highest seat of people's power in the country, reflects the larger Bharatiya tradition and culture!
According to these AIADMK worthies, such constructs only produce derision in the average Tamil Nadu voter, and contempt in the eyes of those that are ideologically tuned against Hindutva and Bharatiya brands of BJP's 'nationalism' plank.
They resent what they see as the BJP's childish to churlish ways, which treats the Tamil culture and people as less than equal and worse!
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com