In 2002, the leader of the LJP had quit Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ministry, saying that the riots in Gujarat would have “reverberations across the country”. And the DMK chief has repeatedly professed his commitment to “secularism”.
“(Modi’s) ongoing election campaign shows how hardworking he is. He is also a good friend of mine,” Karunanidhi said in an interview published in a Tamil daily on Friday. The comment raised eyebrows in Tamil Nadu because the DMK has so far stressed that it would align with neither Congress nor BJP, and emphasised especially the need to prevent “communal forces” from coming to power.
The interview had no questions about the Gujarat riots. Asked in the interview about the possibility of a post-poll alliance with the BJP, Karunanidhi said, “I cannot predict what the scenario after the Lok Sabha election will be.” He did mention his camaraderie with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but they were overshadowed in the “good friend” status that he accorded to Modi.
As his comment — and the possibility of it being a signal to the BJP — was analysed all day, Karunanidhi refused to speak to the media throng outside his home and the DMK office. Party spokesperson and MP TKS Elangovan argued there was nothing wrong in expressing personal opinions about individuals. “People can be friends and still not form an alliance due to differences in policies. We stand by our general council decision to give a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative,” he said.
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Senior BJP leader Ela Ganesan, the state president of the party when the DMK was part of the NDA over a decade ago, too, downplayed the comment on Modi, saying it was Karunanidhi’s personal opinion, and had no political significance.
“Our decision is to set up a non-AIADMK, non-DMK coalition in Tamil Nadu, and we have come some distance on that path. Now there is no question of a BJP-DMK alliance,” Ganesan said.
The BJP has been in talks with the DMDK, MDMK, PMK and a few caste outfits, but is yet to finalise a poll deal. In December 2013, Karunanidhi had praised Modi as a “good person” and “capable administrator”, setting off the first wave of speculation about a possible re-joining of forces. The DMK had quit the NDA in December 2003, and chosen to contest the 2004 elections with the UPA.
At its state conference in Tiruchirappalli on February 15-16, the party resolved to ally with only those who were secular, believed in social justice, and supported the Sethusamudram shipping channel project. The first and last conditions were believed to have automatically excluded the BJP.
However, when asked specifically if he had meant the BJP while referring to “communal forces” in his speech at the conference, Karunanidhi had answered with a question, asking whether the reporter was suggesting that the BJP was communal.
A section of the DMK believes tying up with the BJP would drive Muslim votes to the AIADMK-Left. Karunanidhi’s chosen successor M K Stalin is against an alliance with either of the two national parties, preferring instead a front with the DMDK on the anti-AIADMK plank.
On Friday evening, Stalin reiterated his opposition to an alliance with national parties, saying they had little role to play in Tamil Nadu. “It is the national parties who are at the mercy of regional parties in Tamil Nadu. They cannot help the regional parties win elections. So the DMK is not banking on them,” Stalin said. But when the time comes to select the next prime minister, Karunanidhi would have a say in it, he added. The DMK has taken unexpected decisions in the past — like joining Indira Gandhi in 1980, not too long after she had dismissed Karunanidhi’s; and going with the BJP ahead of the general elections of 1999, which had stunned several senior leaders of the party. Said Elangovan, “Of course, if leaders feel that (pursuing a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative) should change, the general council can be called again and consulted.”