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Katchatheevu: Modi Bets Big On A Dead Horse

April 02, 2024 18:24 IST
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The BJP is now inventing new angles to keep its campaign relevant -- even if it's old wine in an old bottle, which is what the allegation on 'Katchatheevu' is, notes N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party lead campaigner Narendra Modi at an election meeting in Salem, Tamil Nadu, March 19, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

After a fortnight-long hesitation to target the Congress-DMK rivals in Tamil Nadu going to the polls in the first phase on April 19, Narendra Modi seems prepared to whiplash them all over again, for obvious reasons.

Minus corruption and dynasty politics there is little else that he and state BJP President K Annamalai had focussed on in the past year and more, but after the electoral bonds scam, brought out by the Supreme Court, there was a visible down-slinging of campaign priorities on their part -- for them to find out that there was possibly no one else to take on their stronger electoral rivals on in Tamil Nadu at the very least.

Modi signalled the shape of things to come elsewhere, but in Tamil Nadu he and his party can be expected to revive the graft plate against the other in just about two weeks of campaign time that the Election Commission's schedule has given all parties and leaders, even if prime minister.

Despite the excitement that the duo could whip up over their typical Congress-centric 'conspiracy theories' dating back to prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and alleged complicity by then DMK boss and late chief minister M Karunanidhi, the 'Katchatheevu issue' is a dead horse in Tamil Nadu elections.

The two could excite mediapersons elsewhere in the country, for whom not only every election but even every issue is new -- and they have stopped doing their homework, very long ago.

But then, the BJP seems to have lost whatever initiative that graft and dynastic politics could whip up during this past fortnight of studied silence.

It is now inventing new angles to keep its campaign relevant -- even if it's old wine in an old bottle, which is what the allegation on 'Katchatheevu' is, since the days of AIADMK rival, the late Jayalalithaa.

Yet, Modi and Annamalai among other BJP leaders from the state and elsewhere will still find it difficult to talk about 'dynasty politics' targeting the Congress-DMK combine after they shared the dais with other NDA allies in the state at their first joint rally at Salem.

Present on the dais were also the likes of the PMK's father-son duo, S Ramadoss and Anbumani Ramadoss, both medical doctors.

Anbumani's wife, Sowmya Anbumani, is among the 10 PMK candidates in the NDA.

Heading the party's environmental wing for long, Sowmya is contesting in western Dharmapuri constituency, which her husband had won in 2014 against a 'Jaya gale' but lost badly to the present DMK-Congress combine, five years later, in 2019.

Then, there was Tamil Maanila Congress leader G K Vasan, who became party president on the exclusive virtue of being the son of his father, Congress veteran G K Moopanar, on the latter's death.

Like Anbumani, he too has raids and cases pending against him from his ministerial days under UPA-II.

IMAGE: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam President M K Stalin poses for a selfie with residents during a morning walk in Erode, March 31, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In comparison, three-time former chief minister O Panneerselvam (OPS), who is now without a party after the parent AIADMK under successor Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) sacked him and the courts upheld the decision.

He is not a product of dynasty politics, yes, but before his current woes blew up on his face, OPS was promoting his son, Raveendranath Kumar, whom he had got elected as Lok Sabha member of the undivided AIADMK in elections 2019.

As party general secretary and deputy chief minister, he made enemies of many second-line leaders after reportedly canvassing for the only MoS position that the BJP leader of the NDA coalition was willing to offer in Modi 2.0.

There were many other senior aspirants who had taken the Rajya Sabha route to be able to stake the claim.

In the final analysis, according to some EPS camp leaders, OPS putting dynasty interests above party interests delayed the AIADMK formally joining the BJP, and ultimately led to his being thrown out of the party and the EPS leadership breaking all ties with the national ally from the 2019 and 2021 polls -- respectively for the Lok Sabha and the state assembly -- both of which they lost to the DMK-Congress rival.

Yet, the same accusation cannot be laid against the BJP's candidate for the prestigious South Chennai seat.

A medical doctor, Dr Tamizhisai Soundararajan (62) was the controversial governor of Telangana and also the lieutenant governor of Puducherry, quit both jobs, and signed back into the BJP as a primary member at Chennai the very next day.

A couple of days later, the party named her candidate, taking on DMK's sitting MP, Tamizhachchi Thangapandian, and her immediate predecessor J Jayavardhan of the AIADMK.

In a way, all three are children of leading politicians, but that stigma, if it is any, does not stick to Tamizhisai alone, and for obvious reasons.

A former state BJP president, who held the post possibly for a longer time than any other in recent memory, Tamizhisai is the daughter of Kumari Ananthan of the Indian National Congress.

Nonagenarian Ananthan is a former MP and was once state president of the Congress.

Thus, the father-daughter duo may be one of a kind for heading rival national parties in their shared state.

That is not the case with the other two. Tamil scholar and former English professor in a government college, the DMK's Tamizhachchi Thangapandian (61), born Sumathi, is the daughter of the late DMK minister and a southern Virudhunagar district strongman, Thangapandian -- and has also retained her father's name.

Her husband Chandrashekar is a police officer.

IMAGE: Modi at an election meeting along with Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai, Pattali Makkal Katchi party founder Dr S Ramadoss, BJP leader L Murugan, TMC MP G K Vasan, O Panneerselvam and other politicians in Salem. Photograph: ANI Photo

Tamizhachchi's brother, Thangam Thennarasu, an engineer by qualification and profession, is the state's finance minister.

Together, the two lend their names to critics' argument that the DMK, after all, was a 'family party' where dynastic politics prevailed.

If however it does not stick or hurt as much, either the party or either of the siblings, it was also because they entered politics only after the death of their father -- and have acquitted themselves well in their role, without getting into any controversy of the 'dynastic kind'.

Against the two other main candidates, AIADMK's J Jayavardhan is just 36.

He became the youngest MP in the country at 26, when he won the same seat in elections 2014, when Jayalalithaa's 'Modiya-indha-Lady-a?' campaign-call swept it all in the party's favour.

Despite being a medical doctor (like the BJP's Tamizhisai) and an MP for a full five years, he still owes the seat not to his political presence, but to the dominance of his father, D Jayakumar, who was either the speaker of the state assembly or the fisheries minister under Jayalalithaa, OPS and EPS -- and is the unofficial spokesman of the party.

This is also Jayavardhan's burden as in a three-cornered contest like this, he does not seem to have any vote bank in the constituency to call his own.

An interesting aspect of elections in South Chennai this time is not only 'family heritage' and/or dynastic politics.

Apart from the DMK's incumbent Tamizhchchi and BJP's Tamilisai, there is actor-politician Seeman's Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NKT) candidate, S Tamil Selvi, too carrying the 'Tamil' in her name... Something coincidental, yes, but also unique!

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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