Struggling to find a suitable alliance partner to brighten its electoral prospects in Tamil Nadu, the BJP, has received positive signals from the ruling AIADMK for a possible tie-up.
Talks are on at the highest level, and the BJP has conveyed that it wants to fight on at least 25 seats in districts the party feels it has significant influence, according to sources. The BJP has come down from its initial demand for 100 seats and is now eyeing 60 in the upcoming Assembly elections, it is learnt.
According to sources, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s initial stance of going it alone has been “diluted”, especially after reports that the DMK-Congress alliance will be revived. In fact, Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad met DMK leader M Karunanidhi on Saturday and the parties have decided to fight the elections together.
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Although they are not major players in the state, the Left parties, too, could join the Opposition alliance. Besides, the AIADMK is apprehending some erosion in its support base over the Jayalalithaa government’s handling of the Chennai floods, which came in for widespread criticism.
A party source said the BJP is not inclined to form a pre-poll coalition with the DMK, although it was a possibility the party had toyed with earlier. “The AIADMK is almost like an ally for us in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, where we need the party’s backing. The BJP does not want to antagonise Jayalalithaa,” the source reasoned. The “warm relationship” between Jayalalithaa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also a factor driving this possible alliance, a party leader said.
To shore up prospects of a victory, the BJP is also trying to woo MDMK, which had broken ties with the BJP immediately after the Lok Sabha elections over the Modi government’s handling of Sri Lankan Tamils issue. The saffron party is in touch with actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK, too.
On February 4, BJP president Amit Shah had said in Kochi that the party is open to the question of alliance, and is weighing all options.
Although the BJP has wooed and maintained “social” relationship with superstar Rajinikanth, hoping that he would be its face in Tamil Nadu, the actor has apparently turned down the offer since he does not want to antagonise any of the parties in the state. Rajinikanth, who is also said to bond well with Modi, has recently been honoured with the Padma Vibhushan.
Specifying that the BJP has been trying to rope in Rajinikanth for more than a decade, a senior leader said, “The absence of a popular face will be a handicap for the party in a state where it lacks a strong political and social base to challenge the Dravidian parties.” The DMK and the AIADMK have alternately been in power for nearly half a century, and both retain a pan-Tamil Nadu base cutting across caste lines.
The BJP is upset with the lukewarm response to Modi’s recentrally in Coimbatore but remains hopeful that if the alliance with the AIADMK works out, it can emerge as the second largest party in the state. BJP, a leader said, has considerable support in Kanyakumari, Coimbatore, Nagercoil, Nilgiri, Tiruchirappally and Madurai. Pon Radhakrishnan, the BJP’s lone Lok Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu, was elected from Nagercoil.
BJP candidates came second five Lok Sabha seats in 2014, and the party won approximately 13 per cent of the votes polled, a record for it in the state. The BJP, which has projected itself as a party that has championed issues such as Jallikattu and roped in small caste organisations to appeal to regional sentiments, banks on the Nadar community heavily. Both Radhakrishnan and state BJP chief Tamilsai Soundarajan, who was recently given a second term, belong to this community.
The party had even celebrated the 113th birth anniversary of former Congress leader K Kamaraj, who came from the Nadar community and whose name still evokes goodwill in villages. To woo smaller community groups, Amit Shah and party’s national general secretary P Muralidhar Rao had accompanied a group of people representing seven sub-caste groups — with a population of 1 crore — demanding to be renamed Devendrakula Vellalars to meet the Prime Minister.