With the DMK formalising its alliance with the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League, and the AIADMK not allowing the BJP anywhere near it, if the DMDK too goes with the DMK then the only option left for the BJP is to explore going with the PMK. In that case it has to endorse Dr Ramadoss as its chief minister candidate, says R Ramasubramanian.
It seems the ruling Bharathiya Janata Party at the Centre has lost its plot in Tamil Nadu even before the election process has begun.
Tamil Nadu will go to the assembly polls along with West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Puducherry in April-May this year, and the BJP is moving heaven and earth to cobble together a strong alliance. The saffron party had its run of luck just two years back when it stitched together what can be described as “though not a good alliance, but surely not a bad one”. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the BJP was successful in bringing Vaiko’s Marumalarchi DMK, Dr Ramadoss-led Pattali Makkal Katchi or PMK, and actor turned politician Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam or DMDK, besides a few smaller outfits under the National Democratic Alliance umbrella.
Though the AIADMK won 37 out of 39 seats in the state, the BJP was able to win Kanyakumari where Pon Radhakrishan defeated his Congress rival with a wafer-thin margin. The PMK won Dharmapuri with former Union health minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss able to sail through despite the Amma wave.
But today the situation is totally different. Vaiko left the NDA a long time ago and the PMK has been on the streets for the past one year and more campaigning with Dr Ramadoss as its chief ministerial candidate and proclaiming that it is the true alternative to both the DMK and the AIADMK. So the sole choice left for the BJP is the DMDK but Vijayakanth, or ‘Captain’ as he is affectionately called by his cadres, is putting up some tough demands before the saffron party.
Insiders say he is demanding not less than 130 seats (TN has 234 assembly seats) and wants to be announced as the CM candidate. Plus, insiders say, the DMDK wants a couple of Rajya Sabha seats for those close to his family.
On February 28, Union Minister and BJP’s TN in-charge Prakash Javadekar was in Chennai, when he called on Vijayakanth at his home. The meeting went on for nearly an hour after which, while briefing the media, Javadekar said the DMDK was very much a part of the NDA and added that he will come to Chennai again by March 2 for another round of talks. Soon after he left Vijayakanth’s home, the DMDK issued a press statement describing the meeting as a “courtesy call”.
Seasoned political opinion in the state is that this statement by the DMDK even before Javadekar’s convoy could turn the corner from Captain’s house was a signal to the DMK. “Captain wants to assuage the anxiety of the DMK which is perturbed by Javadekar visiting Vijayakanth’s house. Captain is negotiating hard with the DMK and wants to ensure that the meeting with Javadekar should not be construed as his going with the saffron party but at the same time he is using it cleverly to increase his bargaining power with the DMK,” says a source in the BJP.
It’s unclear still as to what the BJP will do and what will be its strategy in the state. Even small things are messed up by the local leaders. Take, for example, the visit of Javadekar on February 27 to actor Sharad Kumar’s residence in Chennai. Sharad Kumar, who heads a small political outfit, was with the AIADMK alliance till a few days ago. In fact, he won the 2011 assembly elections in alliance with the AIADMK, contesting it on its two-leaves symbol. But a few days back he jettisoned the AIADMK and is looking for greener pastures. Javadekar made a secret visit to Sharad Kumar’s residence after 10 pm, but one national daily smelt it out and broke the story with photographs.
This angered Vijayakanth. BJP sources say that in fact, Captain raised this issue with Javadekar when the latter met him. But there were no convincing answers from the BJP leader about his visit to Sharad Kumar’s house. The simple logic while cobbling together multi-party alliances is that first you have to convince and bring into your fold the bigger parties and then touch the smaller once. But here the BJP is doing it the other way round, by knocking on the doors of small and sundry parties first and then approaching the bigger ones. “This is ridiculous. They don’t know how to handle their partners or their potential partners and in the process they mess up the whole thing,” says a middle level BJP leader with an RSS background to Rediff.com.
The Tamil Nadu assembly elections are indeed a big challenge for the BJP leadership, especially for its president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It may be an irony of sorts that Amit Shah, while welcoming former Union minister of state from the DMK and actor turned politician D Napoleon to the BJP on December 21, 2014, had said, “The BJP will head an alliance in the 2016 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and the party will announce its chief minister candidate and get a mandate from the people.” (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-former-union-minister-of-state-and-dmk-leader-d-napoleon-joins-bjp-2045876)
This was in December 2014. But today the BJP, leave alone announcing its chief minister candidate, is not even able to get a single political party with a decent vote bank in its fold as alliance partner. After the heavy drubbing in the Delhi and Bihar elections, this indeed is a tough challenge for the Shah-Modi duo. The BJP opened its account in the state assembly in 1996, and won four seats in the 2001 assembly elections thanks to its alliance with the DMK at that time. But in the 2006 and 2011 assembly elections it ended up with zero.
Absolute lack of focus and total disconnect with local sentiments and issues are taking a huge toll on the saffron party in the state. While on the one hand the party’s national secretary L Ganesan was saying that talks were going on with the AIADMK for an alliance, the party’s state president Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan was saying that there was no talks with the ruling party.
Apart from this, speeches by another senior leader from the state BJP, H Raja, are adding fuel to the already existing animosity the party faces in the state. Raja, who is considered a motor-mouth, is constantly criticising rationalist leader the late Periyar. Observers say this proves that the saffron party is totally directionless in the state. “There are holy cows in every state. You should not touch them at least for one simple reason, which is vote bank politics. Here in Tamil Nadu H Raja is badmouthing Periyar consistently and using all sorts of epithets to denigrate the rationalist leader who enjoys great respect cutting across castes and religions,” says a senior journalist from a national daily who is covering the BJP beat.
Javadekar cancelled his visit to Chennai on March 2, proving the worsening situation for the saffron party in the state. Meanwhile, strong rumors are going round that the DMK had indeed clinched a deal with Vijayakanth and the DMDK has been allotted 59 seats. DMK sources, while confirming this, say that Vijayakanth will formally announce this on March 7 or 9, days considered by him to be auspicious. But there is no independent confirmation of this so far.
Meanwhile, the BJP cadre is totally clueless, unable to gauge which side the wind will blow. Already the DMK has formalised its alliance with the Congress and the Indian Union Muslim League. The AIADMK will not allow the BJP anywhere near it. If the DMDK goes with the DMK, then the only option left for the BJP is to explore going with the PMK. In that case it has to endorse Dr Ramadoss as its chief minister candidate.
Lack of quality leaders and bad strategies are taking a toll on the saffron party’s prospects in the state and it does seem to have lost the plot well before the election dates have been announced.