CAN JAYA OUTSMART BOTH BJP-LED NDA AND DMK?
By S. Sethuraman
Political parties in Tamil Nadu, ahead of the May elections to the Assembly, want to usher in a “change” in the state’s governance, and BJP is trying hard to bring NDA rule through an alliance by reportedly offering bulk of the seats to contest for the influential state parties, DMDK and PMK, and thus break the hold of “corrupt” regimes of AIADMK and DMK over the last five decades.
Whether the BJP dream fructifies or not, it could cut into the assumed strength of both the ruling AIADMK, which still remains confident of a renewed mandate for ‘Amma’s’ welfare schemes, and of a resurgent DMK which, however, faces difficulty in forging a stronger alliance, with only a divided and demoralised Congress willing to go with it at present..
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to launch BJP poll campaign in Coimbatore on February 2. Meanwhile, state BJP leaders are trying hard to coax both the potential allies offering them three-fourths of seats in the 234-member T N Assembly but short of conceding their competing demands to be designated Chief Ministerial candidates.
The political scene has warmed up with the alliance building moves of parties, big and small, and including the Left. 93-year old DMK leader, Mr Karunanidhi, is back in command and actively seeking to rebuild a DMK-led alliance and wrest power from Ms. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK.
For Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, things are not as rosy as it was with her spectacular victories in 2011 as well as while bagging 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. This is due to a confluence of factors, not the least being the hurt from the Government’s poor handling of the rain havoc in Chennai. DMK and other opposition parties had hammered the AIADMK Government, eyeing electoral gains but Ms. Jayalalithaa vigorously caught up with rehabilitation measures and delivered cash assistance to lakhs of distressed families.
Mr Karunanidhi has not been able to attract smaller parties or the Left which have together promoted a People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA) which includes Mr Vaiko’s MDMK, the promoter. Whatever its combined vote strength at well below 10 per cent, this alliance favours a coalition government so that power-sharing becomes more broad-based.
The DMK patriarch, encouraged by some reawakening in his party as a result of a sustained campaign by his second son, Mr M K Stalin, is now active in the power game and makes alarmist noises about democracy under threat from the AIADMK regime.
Ms. Jayalalithaa has told her party she would decide at an appropriate time on an alliance, if need be, and has meanwhile called on the Ministers and cadres to propagate the “achievements” of AIADMK. Claiming AIADMK as the “only true movement to work for the prosperity of Tamils”, she said it would be so after the 2016 election and, with a tinge of emotion, “even after my time”.
Tamil Nadu political scene could thus see dramatic shifts as alliances are firmed up in the coming weeks by leaders of AIADMK, DMK and BJP. A major factor would be how the Supreme Court decides, likely in February, on petitions challenging the acquittal by the Karnataka High Court of Ms. Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate asset case in mid-2015. The Chief Minister has urged dismissal of these appeals questioning her acquittal by raising several competence and jurisdictional issues.
There is an air of self-confidence around her on this case as well as in securing a renewed mandate in the forthcoming elections, even if not on an impressive scale. But she no longer enjoys robust health for any hectic campaigning and may limit her personal appearances to select constituencies.
On positives for her Government are the alleviation of power shortages, ensuring of Tamil Nadu’s interests in the inter-state water disputes including Cauvery, and ongoing infrastructural and developmental programmes.
BJP for its part remains hopeful of reviving NDA to enter the race, largely counting on Mr Vijaykant’s DMDK but less sure yet of Dr Ramadoss’ PMK which recently launched its own poll campaign pledging itself to stay away from the Dravidian majors. Both Mr Vijaykant and Dr Anbumani Ramadoss would like to go into the election as Chief Minister-designates.
BJP, which has boosted its membership and cadres across constituencies, has told these parties that it would be leading the NDA alliance and the question of Chief Ministership could be left to be decided on whichever ally gets the majority of seats.
The Modi Government has also been making some tactical moves to improve the prospects for BJP in poll-bound states. This is quite apparent in the timing of conferment of Padma Vibhushan on superstar Rajnikanth. A possible calculation might be that a person with such formidable reputation as Mr Rajnikant would at least continue to remain apolitical as hitherto.
BJP has stepped up its efforts to court Mr Vijaykant after the latter’s enthusiastic welcome extended to Mr Amit Shah on his re-election as national president of BJP.. The PMK leader also welcomed Mr Amit Shah’s re-election. Reports are that Mr Vijaykant’s DMDK has been offered over 110 seats to contest and it would be 70 for Dr Ramadoss’ PMK. They are also believed to have been assured of cabinet berths.
DMDK of Mr Vijaykant, a popular film hero, rose to become the second largest party in T N Assembly in 2011 when it contested that election as an ally of AIADMK. Later, DMDK separated owing to policy differences. It can put up a fight in many areas. Both DMDK and PMK were in NDA in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll.
PMK, has been traditionally dominant in the Vanniyar belt in Northern districts. In daring to go it alone this time, PMK led by Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, is banking on a change in people’s mindset after 50 years of Dravidian rule and has given itself a programme of mass appeal such as total prohibition. How both these two parties react finally to new offers would be known as negotiations proceed in coming days with BJP leaders at the national level.
In any case, the Tamil Nadu election this year holds the promise of some dramatic shifts as parties head into triangular or multi-cornered contests with rising expectations of garnering votes from a greatly enlarged electorate since 2011, a substantial chunk of new voters being made up of youth with aspirations for access to portals of learning and jobs. (IPA Service)