The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in a strong but dubious role of steering Tamil Nadu politics for over two years without any presence in the state legislature or popular support among the people in the state. The party wants to make most out of the callous corruption, political decay, ideological decline and transitional time underway in the emergence of next leadership in two major Dravidian parties — Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) — that have ruled the state since 1967.
BJP had begun its maneuvers in the state soon after the Bangalore verdict against Jayalalithaa in September 2014, spreading its close monitoring net after the admission of the late chief minister at Apollo Hospital in Chennai on September 22, 2016, and thereafter intensified its focus on Fort St. George since her passing away in December 2016 with a view to emerge as an alternative to both AIADMK and DMK. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) held its annual conference in Coimbatore in March 2017 — its first ever in Tamil Nadu.
V K Sasikala, who had assumed charge as party general secretary of the AIADMK after the death of Jayalalithaa, had already committed political suicide by her ruthless assertion and greed for the post of Chief Minister. Given the impending court verdict, it was only a matter of time before she would return to Bangalore prison. The Centre had pushed the Acting Governor into accepting the resignation of O. Panneerselvam from the Chief Minister’s post and in not inviting V K Sasikala to form the government. While V.K.Sasikala was faced with legal hurdles in her swearing-in, Panneerselvam did not have the required numbers in the given circumstances.
While BJP, for its part, wanted to prolong the crisis and wreck havoc into the Sasikala camp, Edappadi K. Palaniswamy had the tacit approval of BJP leadership. However, after sensing that the mood of the people in the state was against Sasikala and her family, the BJP chose to bolster the confidence of Panneerselvam, who was stranded without sufficient numbers on his side.
In walking out of the fold and challenging Sasikala, Panneerselvam had the complete backing of the BJP. At the same time, BJP kept a close watch on the developments within the AIADMK and followed the elevation of. Palaniswamy as Chief Minister with a sense of glee and scope for maneuvers. It was only a matter of time that the BJP began applying its second operational strategy of coercing him into the fold through blackmail, fear tactics and intimidations of survival of a corrupt government. Then, BJP began laying the ground to bring Panneerselvam and Palaniswamy together. The RSS-BJP network did the plain work of the go-between with established moles in the factions, and finally, at the home of a Chennai-based key RSS-BJP think tank, the final settlement was arrived between the two factions.
In a matter of few hours, the Governor did what was unwarranted of his office by uniting the factions of a party already in power with majority numbers. In a state suffering the extraordinary circumstances of public turmoil and political instability, the Governor did the unthinkable with a rare sense of joy over the accomplishment. Prime Minister Narendra Modi did the rest with his tweets congratulating the leaders of both the factions, knowing little that he and his party have already dug the grave for this AIADMK government led by Palaniswamy.
The AIADMK government led by Palaniswamy is engulfed in multiple crisis of statewide public protests in Kathiramangalam and Neduvasal, authoritarian display of power, and brutal suppression of the rights of social and political activists in the state. It is a mute spectator to ruthless implications of GST and its compliance without debate, arbitrary shootings, arrests and imprisonment of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lanka, failure to protect the rights of medical aspirants of the state over NEET, government employees and teachers strikes over pay revision, and meek surrender of Constitutional rights of the state over critical subjects like education, agriculture, access to water, control over natural resources, development and finance.
People do not see BJP as an alternative to either AIADMK or DMK. Though BJP claims, in party campaigns, meetings and wall writings that its goal is — “கழகங்கள் இல்லாத தமிழகம், கவலை இல்லாத தமிழர்கள்” — which means it wants to see “Tamil Nadu without Kazhagams” as a broad reference to political parties inspired by Dravidian identity-based movement while implying its inroads in state politics. This is a cruel joke. BJP little understands the social dynamics of politics in the state, grassroots influence of social justice movements, and the ideological basis of Dravidian movement in the state. Dravidian parties may have lost sheen with time, corruption and decay in values, but the ideological contents and ground realities are intact despite the impressions articulated by the RSS-BJP intelligentsia.
If Dravidian parties are to be replaced, why seek false heroes like Panneerselvam, reel heroes like Rajinikanth, and through intimidating tax raids hanging like a sword on corrupt politicians and officials? The crisis of governance is being sustained by the political manoeuvres and puppet shows orchestrated by the BJP’s leadership at the centre and the state BJP leadership enjoying an unprecedented access to Fort St.George and the newfound control over bureaucracy.
There is no full-time Governor in Tamil Nadu for a year now. If the role of Acting Governor is to carry out merger of factions and deals brokered by the RSS-BJP leadership, then all is not well with the office and functioning of the Governor. There is more to be read in his role, conduct and expectations of the office when he returns to Mumbai after fully knowing that 19 AIADMK legislators have withdrawn their support to the Palaniswamy-led government, including the fact that the leader of the Opposition and the DMK working president along with other party leaders in the state, have asked the Governor to order for floor test to prove the majority for the government. Where is the ever acting Governor? He is gone and will only return with the guidelines from the BJP leadership at the Centre and a magic wand that would force TTV Dhinakaran towards alternate strategies outside the withdrawal of support to the government. This is also the last chance for Dhinakaran to dare BJP and resist its pressure tactics as well as the first opportunity to build party with Sasikala and her family loyalists who also require a point to rally and roof for cover.
The state administration has long been under the ‘push and pull’ operational strategy of the BJP leadership. BJP is in a crushing mood vis-à-vis the state bureaucracy after smacking Rama Mohana Rao, former Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, through income tax raids and securing the loyalty of the bureaucracy to fall in line.
Palaniswamy is at the edge of his seat and his government is staring at the exit doors with the likelihood of threats from Dhinakaran driving the last nail in the coffin of this lifeless government. Though DMK is reluctant to seek a no- confidence motion on its own or pull down the government without an alternate strategy and the elections, if held, would happen at the convenience of the BJP. This is the precise course and strategy of BJP to retain the edge in state politics despite the projected fall of Palaniswamy’s government in the near future.
There has been a feeling that Tamil Nadu has been under the Centre’s rule for over a year now since the descent began at the Apollo Hospital. The dissolution of the present Assembly and the schedule for state elections is anybody’s guess, with enforcement and extension of President’s rule, until BJP is convinced that both Assembly and Parliamentary elections can be combined to force its bargain with its allies, friends and puppets. What Sasikala had done to Jayalalithaa during her life, the BJP has done the same after her death – betrayal of trust, friendship and the hidden bond as a friendly party.
If the BJP can break an ally like AIADMK into multiple factions without taking into consideration the party’s future and its million members, then it can also go out to wipe wipe off Dravidian-identity based political parties out of state politics. Given the social dynamics and movement-oriented historicity of politics in the state, there are realistic challenges on the ground. BJP is in a hurry to swallow more than it can chew. In its desperate divisive moves, polarising tactics and intimidating strategies to gain access to power through back gate and by sitting on the shoulders of others, it forfeits the case of presenting itself as a potential alternative and a durable choice in a state that has witnessed many social movements and long historical marches.