Sasikala’s ‘sudden’ decision to quit politics is part of her new benefactor BJP’s plan to put in place Phase 2 of Mission Sasikala, and to close the gap between the AIADMK-BJP front and the DMK-led combine in the April 6 assembly election.
In Phase 1, the BJP moved heaven and earth to force the AIADMK to accept a merger of the AMMK (led by Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran) with the ruling AIADMK. After the AIADMK leadership rejected any suggestion of a merger, BJP top leaders like Amit Shah asked the party to accept the AMMK as an ally in the NDA and set apart about 20 seats for that party.
What is important to note in the Phase 1 operation of the BJP was its assessment that there was a distinct gap between the DMK-led combine and the AIADMK front. While the AIADMK secured nearly 41 per cent of the votes in the 2016 assembly election, political observers believe that there would be a distinct fall this time in the absence of its leader J Jayalalithaa and due to the split in the party and the formation of the AMMK.
The AIADMK would likely struggle to even touch 25 per cent in this situation. Aware of the situation, which must have been confirmed in the internal surveys of the BJP and the IB, the BJP has been trying to raise the vote share of the NDA in the state.
The BJP believes that a merger or an AIADMK-AMMK alliance could bridge the gap up with the DMK considerably. That could bring the NDA much closer to the DMK-led combine, at least within striking distance. The rest could be mopped up in a post-poll operation, as done by the BJP in several states like Goa, Manipur, Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
However, the AIADMK leadership does not want any truck with the AMMK. Therefore, the BJP has had to revise its strategy and implement Phase 2 of the Sasikala Mission, focusing on damage control and minimising the effects of the AMMK.
The AMMK could cause a dent in the AIADMK vote share of around 5 to 7 per cent. However, if Sasikala was to campaign for the AMMK-led front, it could mop up 10 to 12 per cent of the votes, especially if she brings in a few more parties into the alliance.
That is why the BJP reached out to Sasikala and convinced her to stay away from the campaign and also from politics for the moment – first, to prevent that extra loss of 7 to 10 per cent, and second, to persuade Dinakaran to withdraw from the election scene and prevent a 5 per cent loss caused by his candidates.
Therefore, the BJP managed to convince some family members of Sasikala to persuade her to keep away from the 2021 election, since the AIADMK leadership has rejected her unity call. The idea is that she should not be identified with the AMMK, since she could have a role to play in uniting the AIADMK after the election. The family members are under extreme pressure from central investigative agencies, since several cases relating to hawala transactions, FERA violations, amassment of assets disproportionate to known sources of income are pending in various courts, as also the state government’s move to confiscate their properties.
Just as in other states where the BJP has used the central investigative agencies to pressure various politicians into quitting their parties and join the BJP bandwagon, the BJP in Tamil Nadu is pressuring a harassed Sasikala family into doing its bidding.
The BJP in fact gave the game away by saying that the party expects Dinakaran to follow Sasikala’s example and stay away from the election scene. However, Dinakaran may not be ready to oblige the BJP at the moment. He is keen on the AMMK front. At the moment, the BJP is happy to limit the damage from Sasikala, while also trying to generate some sympathy for her, although that provides only partial relief to the AIADMK-BJP front.