Coming close on the heels of a West Bengal visit, Union Home Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah’s ‘Mission Chennai’ on November 21 is seen as a clear sign of the saffron party’s ambitious strikes in Tamil Nadu, which faces Assembly polls in five months time.
The flexing of muscles by Shah shows that the party wants to shed its image of playing second fiddle and move to a dominant role, even as there exists an uneasy relationship among the allies (AIADMK, BJP, PMK, DMDK).
BJP is still smarting under the blow delivered by the Tamil Nadu electorate against PM Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Tamil Nadu looks like a bridge too far for the BJP but it wants to end the drought. A rise of the party’s fortunes from its own rank and file seems unlikely, and therefore Amit Shah is expected to push for the ‘Eastern formula’ (as done in North-East and West Bengal) of breaking other parties and shoring up its fortunes with defectors, even if they belong to the tainted category.
Senior BJP leaders in the state have so far not ruled out induction or relationship with persons like M K Alagiri, estranged son of DMK patriarch or even for that matter joining hands with Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran. A recent statement by the president of BJP Women’s Wing, Vanathi Srinivasan, that the party would have no qualms about admitting persons with criminal cases as they had been already punished, gives an indication of the desperation in the party to boost its ranks, ignoring even its own posturing of being a party with a difference.
The BJP expects people to forget its own condemnation of Alagiri and Dhinakaran, especially those belonging to the family of Sasikala (confidante of J Jayalalithaa). In recent times, the party has opened its doors to several persons with criminal background in its anxiety to become a mass-based party in Tamil Nadu.
The BJP had put enormous pressure on the Edappadi Palaniswami group within AIADMK to remove Sasikala and her family members from that party in 2017 and forced the merger of its pet, O Pannerselvam and company, with the Palaniswami group. It is strange that the BJP has so far not ruled out a tie up with the Sasikala family, either as part of a BJP-led alliance or as part of an AIADMK-led front.
The state is closely watching the moves of Amit Shah to bring Rajinikanth into the BJP-led dispensation or the process of chipping away at other parties.
As for the AIADMK, its government extends a warm welcome to Amit Shah with regard to official functions on November 21, but is extremely nervous about the political ambitions of BJP, and the likely fall out, if the BJP demands had to be rejected.
AIADMK leaders got into a huddle on the eve of Amit Shah’s visit, to discuss the way forward, and how to handle the Modi confidante during his Chennai visit. Clearly, the AIADMK is worried that the BJP may try to create defections from not just the DMK and other opposition parties, but also from the AIADMK. The central investigative agencies have plenty of dope on AIADMK lawmakers too and, as a result, the latter may come under pressure. The Saradha chit fund scam model may find a replica in Tamil Nadu too where perpetrators get protection if they join the BJP, but could be hounded if they say ‘no’.