Is this really the BJP’s moment in Tamil Nadu?

Is this really the BJP’s moment in Tamil Nadu?

For the handful of office-bearers, who still remain loyal to Dinakaran – the BJP, indisputably, has a role in all the commotion happening in the party. Photograph: (Twitter)

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India Apr 20, 2017, 11.33 AM (IST) Kavitha Muralidharan

On December 29, 2016 – weeks after former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had passed away – the AIADMK’s general council met and passed a resolution handing over the party’s leadership responsibility to Jayalalithaa’s close confidante V K Sasikala.  “The general council hands over the party leadership to Chinnamma Sasikala who was with Amma for the last 33 years and has experience in handling the party affairs. In this very important moment in the history of AIADMK, the general council resolves to be faithful to the leadership and give no room for conspiracies by evil forces” the resolution read. “In Chinnamma, we see our Amma and we would continue to work for the party under her leadership, just as we did under Amma’s leadership” it further said.

In less than three months, the state cabinet headed by Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy – incidentally handpicked by Sasikala herself before she went to the Parappana Agraha jail after her conviction in Disproportionate Assets case – has decided to oust her nephew TTV Dinakaran and his family – from the party and government affairs. “It is in keeping with the wishes of Amma that we have decided not to encourage centralisation of power in the hands of one family”, state ministers say.

The story of the rise and fall of Sasikala’s family over three decades is perhaps a lesson in the quintessential ruthlessness of politics.
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The story of the rise and fall of Sasikala’s family over three decades is perhaps a lesson in the quintessential ruthlessness of politics.  From being an extra-constitutional authority in the country’s third largest party for about three decades to being reduced to its expelled members, Sasikala’s and her family’s story – is a potboiler of devotion inspired by fear and loyalty inspired by power. Appointed as deputy general secretary by his aunt Sasikala to fill in for her absence, Dinakaran was perhaps not hoping for a political journey without any glitches but he was certainly not expecting a coup d'état from his own party men, most of whom had remained his hardcore loyalists till recently.

For the handful of office-bearers, who still remain loyal to Dinakaran – the BJP, indisputably, has a role in all the commotion happening in the party. Many opine that BJP is trying to gain a foothold in the state by weakening the AIADMK and bringing it under its tacit control. But whether the BJP will be able to gain anything long term out of this confusion in the AIADMK remains a million dollar question.

With its strong Dravidian roots, Tamil Nadu has essentially remained a state where the BJP is still struggling hard to make inroads. Despite its clout elsewhere, the BJP could manage to win a few seats only in alliance with either of the Dravidian majors. As recently as last year, the BJP could not win a single seat when it faced the Assembly elections almost alone. Even when a Modi wave swept across the country in 2014 Parliamentary elections, Tamil Nadu coldly remained untouched by it – winning just one seat in alliance with parties like the DMDK, PMK and MDMK.

Over the next four years, the BJP might be able to manipulate the ruling AIADMK government to suit its interests in the state.
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The BJP perhaps hopes to break this jinx. There perhaps couldn’t be a more opportune moment to strengthen itself in the state than now. After all, AIADMK known for its military discipline until Jayalalithaa was around is in tatters. There would be no single leader to ride herd on the AIADMK, strange as it might sound, for a party never known to step out of line. The leaders have come up with the suggestion of forming a committee to guide the party and government in future, but whether it is feasible in the long run for a party used to monolithic leadership since its inception is anybody’s guess.

Also, Dinakaran’s exit from the party wouldn’t mean an end to its problems. In fact, without a single leadership in place, more troubles might be brewing for the party. That includes possible power struggles between two factions after the merger. It is precisely this scenario that BJP perhaps hopes to take advantage of.

But observers say the BJP can just about manage to use this confusion to their favor in the upcoming presidential elections and Rajya Sabha elections. Over the next four years, the BJP might be able to manipulate the ruling AIADMK government to suit its interests in the state. It may be recalled that the state government had towed the Centre’s line on many issues that the former chief minister had vehemently opposed when she was alive. This may well continue and more so over the next four years, with the BJP’s attempts to lord it over the now weakened AIADMK.

But whether this would be converted into public support and votes, in the long run, is anybody’s guess. For now, in the eyes of a common man, Dinakaran has gained an edge, however small, by deciding to exit instead of toppling the government as was expected. The social media that went gaga over O Paneerselvam’s protest now is now using its other edge of the sword and accusing him of being BJP’s minion. Clearly, Paneerselvam does not enjoy the same public support that he had enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of his revolt against Sasikala early February.

With the kind of money and muscle power they are said to have, Dinakaran and Sasikala, will be hoping that after all the Sturm und Drang, the party will come back to them. Perhaps an unexpected denouement to this long drawn political drama might eventually unfold itself, yet again in Poes Garden.  

Kavitha Muralidharan

Kavitha Muralidharan is an independent journalist based out of Chennai with over 18 years of experience in covering Tamil Nadu politics.

Story Highlights

Arguably, BJP is trying to gain a foothold in the state by weakening the AIADMK and bringing it under its tacit control.

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