Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswamy is likely to discuss electoral alliance between the AIADMK and BJP for the forthcoming assembly elections when he calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 19 (Tuesday).
Though the two parties have discussed an alliance earlier, this is likely to be the most definitive meeting in which the two leaders are likely to seal one in principle. Besides, the prime minister is also likely to discuss AIADMK’s tie-up with other NDA partners such as the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and Tamil Manila Congress (TMC).
Ostensibly, Palaniswamy is calling on the prime minister to invite him to inaugurate late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s memorial built at the Marina beach in Chennai. But, the occasion also offers an opportunity for the two parties to take stock of the political situation in the state.
The prime minister, during his two-day visit, is likely to meet all other alliance leaders as well. The BJP had an alliance with parties other than the AIADMK for both the 2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections, but it could not make any headway in the state.
Jayalalithaa was a personal friend of Modi, but she had refused to ally with the BJP for the 2016 assembly elections. Subsequently, following her death, a demoralised AIADMK allied with the BJP for the 2019 parliamentary elections. The combine could win only one seat as the elections were swept by the rival alliance headed by the DMK in the state. The ruling AIADMK, however, retained power in the state by winning 11 Assembly seats during the bypoll, which turned out to be a mini state election. The DMK won 13 seats, but could not wrest power from the AIADMK.
Since the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been making serious efforts to spread the saffron appeal in Tamil Nadu. The party planned several programmes, including mobilising cadres during religious functions such as the darshan of Athi Vardar (reclining Vishnu) in Kancheepuram district, Ganesh Chaturthi, and lately Vel Yatra for Lord Murugan.
Since the BJP lacked a charismatic leadership in the state, it zeroed in on superstar Rajnikant and it hoped that he would either join the party or launch his own party and ally with the BJP. The saffron party hoped that the two together could make a dent in the state electoral calculations. The plan fell through as on New Year’s eve, the superstar withdrew from the contest citing poor health condition.
The BJP, which has been promising a government free of ‘Dravidian’ politics, seems to have buried the anti-Dravidian stance for the time being for a tactical tie-up. This is because both the national parties, the Congress and the BJP, have only a marginal presence in the state to make a mark on their own.
The first signs of the BJP turning to the AIADMK for a tie-up came when BJP’s observer for the state C.T. Ravi announced Palaniswamy as the chief ministerial candidate. This settled conflicting signals from some party office-bearers of the local party who pronounced Palanisamy as a chief ministerial nominee of the AIADMK and not that of the NDA. They claimed a leader for the NDA would be elected after the polls.
These statements caused heartburns in the Palaniswamy camp. The chief minister, who had successfully managed to overcome the political challenge posed by his deputy O Paneerselvam, began to worry about the return of V.K. Sasikala, the soul sister of Late Jayalalithaa. She is expected to be released from a Bengaluru prison this month after serving a sentence in a disproportionate income case. She was convicted along with Jayalalithaa. But the cases against the former chief minister were dropped following her death.
If the BJP-AIADMK alliance is sealed, the contest in the assembly elections is likely to be evenly poised between the two alliances headed by the two Dravidian parties in the state. Though, initially, the DMK seemed to have an edge, it has been blunted by Palaniswamy’s dogged performance.
The chief minister seems to have covered lost ground by managing the COVID crisis well, and taking a number of populist measures such as the 7.5 per cent reservation for children studying in government schools for NEET (medical entrance test) and offering a ₹2,500 Pongal gift for a substantial size of the population.