Election dates on the calendar are closer than they appear – this is something politicians are acutely aware of. And with Tamil Nadu assembly election scheduled for April-May 2021, the state’s political formulations are already in high-voltage mode. Ahead of an election without J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, Khushbu Sundar has already quit the Congress and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. And now, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s M.K. Alagiri is also poised to float his own party, even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah visits Tamil Nadu on Saturday. Call it coincidence or pieces of jigsaw puzzle falling in place.
But the real dark horse is T.T.V. Dinakaran, the moving spirit behind the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). Incidentally, this is the only party in Tamil Nadu that does not have ‘Dravida’ in its name. This, by itself, is a huge, transformative political signal in the state. Heading a splinter group of the AIADMK formed after Jayalalithaa’s death by her friend and fidus Achates V.K. Sasikala, Dinakaran could play an important role in the coming days. A person with a spiritual bent of mind, an ardent cow worshipper (said to have never missed his daily pre-dawn gau puja), Dinakaran is also reported to have denounced the idea of north-south divide and the Aryan-Dravida theory. If handled properly, TTV, as he is popularly known among his followers, could tilt the political balance in the BJP’s favour.
There is likely to be much ideological affinity between the BJP and the AMMK. Dinakaran’s aunt Sasikala, who is serving a four-year jail term after being convicted in a disproportionate assets case, has paid the Rs 10 crore fine slapped on her by the trial court and later upheld by the Supreme Court. She could be out of jail by the year-end or early 2021, right on time to join the unfolding political drama in Tamil Nadu. Corruption tag notwithstanding, she could tour the state invoking the name of ‘Amma’ and try to win sympathies by projecting her jail term as ‘sacrifice to save the honour of Jayalalithaa’.
Alagiri, who also has an offer from the BJP to join the party as he contemplates floating his own, had incidentally denied all speculations of quitting the DMK in 2014. Party patriarch Karunanidhi had anointed M.K. Stalin as his successor while Stalin’s sister Kanimozhi latched on to his bandwagon. Alagiri was left out with no party position. In what looks like a repeat of Maharashtra situation vis-à-vis the Thackeray clan sibling war, Alagiri’s quitting will cause a vertical split in the DMK much to the benefit of the AIADMK-BJP combine. The BJP is determined to stop the DMK from making a comeback. And, ironically, it needs to do very little. The DMK, which dismissed the Congress in 1967, is now not even a shadow of its past stature.
Meanwhile, during his visit, Amit Shah will inaugurate Chennai’s fifth reservoir, lay the foundation stone for Phase-II of the over Rs 60,000 crore Chennai Metro Rail project, flyover at Coimbatore-Avinashi Road, shutter dam across Cauvery River in Karur district, expansion of Chennai trade centre, construction of a petroleum terminal at Vallur by Indian Oil Corporation, building of a lube plant at Ammulavoyal and a jetty at the Chennai Kamarajar port.
None of these projects come under his ministry and so they likely won’t get much media attention. What will make headlines, though, is his likely meeting with Rajinikanth, who has successfully kept every party guessing all along. He is unlikely to float a new party, or join an existing one. But his leanings are certainly towards the BJP and that itself is great news for the party, which seems to have made inroads lately with its unique Vetrivel Yatra movement. The Vel, a weapon associated with Murugan, symbolises the resentment over ‘derogatory’ remarks about a hymn sung in the deity’s praise, in a video by a YouTube channel allegedly linked to the DMK, which the party has denied. The BJP was quick to grab the opportunity and turn the incident into a popular movement to manoeuvre Hindu sentiments in its favour.
Though BJP state president L. Murugan has said that the alliance with the AIADMK stands, the E. Palaniswami government has strongly opposed the Vetrivel Yatra, saying it could disturb communal harmony in the state. This is contrary to the earlier stand of opposing the yatra only due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The fear of losing the minority votes to the DMK could be weighing heavily on the AIADMK. Interestingly, the party had allowed the ‘Ram Rajya Rath Yatra’ in March 2018, which actually galvanised the BJP’s cadre and brought a number of Hindu organisations under one banner.
It is no secret that both the Dravidian parties have lost their popular vote banks, popular leaders and ideological moorings by joining hands with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at different times. Yet, it is clear that they would like to see the back of Amit Shah and deny the BJP any political space in Tamil Nadu just as they did to the Congress. For the BJP, a non-Dravidian party would probably be a safer bet. Watch this space, the game has just begun.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.