DMK could be staring at tough times as BJP, AIADMK mend fences

Amit Shah brokers peace between Palaniswami and Annamalai; politics behind Stalin’s Friday Delhi visit?

amit shah eps aiadmk
Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s April 27 meeting with AIADMK leaders led by Edppadi Palaniswami. Image: Twitter/ANI

The 2024 Lok Sabha poll bugle is ringing loud and clear in Tamil Nadu. Leading the march is Union Home Minister Amit Shah brokering a truce between his party BJP and warring alliance partner AIADMK. 

The fact that AIADMK General Secretary Edppadi Palaniswami had a “courtesy meeting” with Shah along with the BJP’s state head K Annamalai, whom he had termed “immature” two weeks back, speaks volumes on the fast changing political scene. “We don’t have any issue with Annamalai,” said Palaniswami after meeting with Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda in Delhi. Political observers believe this is a clear signal that the BJP has launched its election moves for 2024.

Despite the claims that the 50-minute-long meeting Palaniswami’s entourage had with the BJP top brass was courteous in nature, it’s a certainty that seat sharing was also discussed, said Jagadheeswaran D, political analyst and former leader of the Lok Satta party. “Ironing out the differences was the first agenda of the meeting. That’s why Annamalai, who was critical of an alliance with AIADMK, was brought into the meeting. Also, the BJP leadership is preparing its alliance partner to yield more seats in the 2024 elections,” he said. 

Balance of seats

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the AIADMK allocated five seats to the BJP, which is now looking at nine seats. “The BJP is said to have insisted on specific seats where it has a better scope to win elections, such as Coimbatore, Kanyakumari, Nilgiris and Ramnad,” said  Jagadheeswaran.

Also read: Why ecologists, locals are divided over denotification of Nilgiris private forests

Initially, for the Karnataka Assembly election, both AIADMK and BJP had fielded candidates in the Pulikeshi Nagar constituency in Bengaluru. Subsequently, the AIADMK withdrew its candidate in what is seen as a clear sign that it’s falling in line. The constituency has a significant Tamil population. 

Recent developments in Tamil Nadu have clearly drawn the lines of the upcoming electoral war. After releasing a dossier named ‘DMK Files’ related to alleged assets owned by DMK leaders, Annamalai released audio clips purportedly spoken by Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan (PTR). Income-tax searches on the premises of real estate company G Square reached DMK MLA MK Mohan’s assets the fourth day, April 27. 

Perception war against DMK

“The BJP has begun a perception war against the DMK. They (DMK) are unknowingly powering it by protesting against the raids in the DMK MLA’s house,” said Jagadheeswaran. “The perception war can heat up over time. PTR won’t be possibly the last person linked with such leaks,” he said.

The political fallout is visible. Even as the BJP-AIADMK alliance is getting stronger, rival DMK is on the backfoot. This comes amid party chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin increasingly taking on a pan-India role, consolidating disparate Opposition parties into a united anti-BJP front. 

AIADMK leaders have started attacking the DMK rather than indulging in intra-alliance squabbles. Palaniswami has questioned why Stalin and the DMK have not issued any statement on the PTR audio tape controversy. 

Though DMK leaders claim the clarification issued by PTR is enough, expelled DMK leader KS Radhakrishnan questioned Stalin’s Delhi visit, slated for Friday (April 28). Stalin is ostensibly going there to invite president Droupadi Murmu to inaugurate a newly built hospital in Chennai. “He (Stalin) didn’t welcome the President on the first official visit. Why this visit then?” he questioned.

Also read: From a sleepy town to thriving city, the gripping story of Karur’s transformation

The sequence of events and Stalin’s Delhi visit do seem to be connected, said Jagadheeswaran. “The DMK seems to be shying away from the issue or seems to think it can shut it out from public memory. This will only push the public to access information from social media, which can be further detrimental to the party. They do not seem to be aware of the challenges lurking around,” he said.

DMK’s national role

These developments have put into question how DMK can become a uniting point for anti-BJP forces. The resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly pushing for a constitutional amendment to fix a time period for the Governor to clear bills got the support of many non-BJP ruled states including Delhi, Kerala and West Bengal. It was one of the moves which brought the CMs of non-BJP ruled states together. Stalin is also the only Chief Minister who is putting his weight behind the Congress to take on the BJP in 2024. 

J Constantine Ravindran, secretary of the DMK’s media relations wing, said: “MK Stalin is building up a strong alliance against the BJP. It is a practical partnership of non-BJP parties where each plays to its strength. So, they (BJP) are hell bent on building a campaign to malign him (Stalin). First, they built up a fake narrative that migrant labourers were attacked in TN, portraying Stalin as against North Indians. The fake narrative failed miserably. These attempts (releasing audio files) won’t succeed.”

Even as the ‘PTR tapes’ were released, the DMK mounted an attack on the AIADMK, releasing a CAG report which indicted the previous regime for various misdeeds. “It is AIADMK which will get exposed as per the CAG report. More than 2,000 tenders have been awarded from one single IP address. It went on from 2017 to 2021. This (allegation of) cartelisation will damage the AIADMK’s image,” said Salem Dharanidharan, DMK spokesperson.

But the AIADMK is refuting the allegations. “There is not a single word about any scandal in the CAG report (during the AIADMK term),” said Palaniswami. “It is about unused funds … happened due to Covid restrictions,” he claimed.

Also read | Temple land recovery: TN makes inroads despite documentation challenges, tenant resistance

In the run-up to the 2024 election, the focus seems to be on corruption and clean politics in Tamil Nadu. So, the I-T searches and contents of the alleged leaked audio clip could well work against the ruling party in the state.

Early bird advantage

The BJP, which has sealed an early alliance, may enjoy an early bird advantage. After the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 2021 Assembly elections, the two parties are going together yet again, though former AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa had stayed away from formal alliances with the BJP in the previous elections.

The DMK, which appears to be on a weaker wicket right now, has the chance of bouncing back, said Jagadeeswaran. “The DMK and BJP have many points of convergence. The 12-hour work labour law passed and put on hold by the DMK government is an example. It was a central law which the DMK tried to adopt,” he observed. “Stalin’s Delhi visit might focus on political issues as they would be worried about an extension of such I-T searches.”

In another sign of a white flag, senior state minister K Ponmudi said recently the DMK regime isn’t completely against the New Education Policy (NEP) brought in by the BJP in the centre.

Watch | TN decision to merge Adi Dravida schools undemocratic: Educationist Prince Gajendra Babu

Yet, the DMK knows the damage it would face in the longer run if it compromises with the BJP, said Jagadeeswaran. “Already, the state BJP is positioning itself as an active opposition in Tamil Nadu, a threat the DMK is aware of. They (BJP) are eyeing the 2026 state elections. But the pressure would start to build from 2024 itself if BJP manages to capture power again at the centre,” he added.

“The DMK clearly knows the political importance of bringing non-BJP parties into alignment. So, despite short-term slides, Stalin is expected to go ahead with his efforts to arrange a strong non-BJP coalition across the country because it is closely connected with the stability of his government, too,” he further said.