With just about a year left for Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, a rift has started emerging between the ruling AIADMK and the BJP. How this will impact the late J Jayalalithaa’s party as it tries to hold on to power for a third consecutive term depends on many factors including the plans of the national party and the re-entry of ousted party general secretary V K Sasikala, expected to walk out of prison in the next three months or so.
How is the AIADMK government perceived in the state?
The government of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is neither unpopular nor facing extreme public anger. Palaniswami has been careful to maintain most of the popular social welfare schemes launched by his predecessors, like the Rs 2,000 pongal dole.
The government machinery in the state continues to function with all the legacy of the good old ‘Madras Cadre’. A key exception might be the deteriorating leadership of the state police force, highlighted by the way public property was damaged towards the end of a peaceful Jallikattu protest in 2017, firing on 13 anti-pollution protestors in Thoothukudi in 2018, the latest series of custodial deaths and the reluctance to act against right-wing fringe groups, notorious for harassing and personally targeting several women and prominent journalists online.
Despite that, the AIADMK government was doing a fairly good job on the governance front from prioritising much-awaited projects like Athikadavu–Avinashi Ground Water Recharge and Drinking Water Supply Scheme to Kudimaramathu schemes in different districts to restore dying water bodies. Even if the government’s hands are tied in initiating massive investment projects, it continues to take up several development and road infrastructure projects across the state.
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So, why is the government still walking a tightrope?
The AIADMK is also staring at some major challenges.
To start with, the party unity has been impacted by then CM O Panneerselvam’s attempt to wrest power from Sasikala soon after Jayalalithaa’s death. There is already chatter on who will become then next chief minister — Palaniswami or Panneerselvam. Many top leaders confirm that despite this confusion, Palaniswami will remain the party’s man for the top job. ‘The OPS camp may push for his significance, but he is losing clout inside and outside the party. When we merged, he had 11 MLAs. Hardly five of them are with him now,” said a senior AIADMK minister.
Apart from Sasikala’s unquestionable control over the party’s formal and informal assets and wealth, her nephew TTV Dhinakaran, who launched the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), had proved his vote base by cornering about 4 per cent votes in the bypolls. After her expected release last this year, it remains to be seen if she chooses to lead an inactive and peaceful life away from the highly turbulent state politics, or strengthen Dhinakaran’s party to garner more support.
The damage, either way, would be AIADMK’s. Supporters of AMMK and Sasikala would be drawn from AIADMK’s vote base. And there are some murmurs inside the party about resolving issues with Sasikala to consolidate the AIADMK’s power and resources before May 2021. This may be an option, if Sasikala and EPS agree. It would be preferable for the BJP as well, as strengthening the AIADMK would be the only way to defeat DMK, as the ruling dispensation would be also fighting 10 years of anti-incumbency.
What are the compulsions behind a possible AIADMK-BJP alliance?
Many AIADMK leaders believe the alliance with BJP is only bringing long-lasting harm to the party. However, the party in a way owes is very existence now to the BJP. Without the active role of the BJP and even some RSS leaders, the merger of rival factions led by EPS and OPS wouldn’t have happened in 2017. Without the merger, the ruling dispensation would have lost their strength in the Assembly before a powerful opposition led by DMK.
When AIADMK had to keep the national party in good humour for its existence, it was also a survival tactic for the top leadership of AIADMK. All top ministers including those who control the regime are vulnerable to potential cases and charges of corruption by central agencies in connection with several raids they conducted after Jayalalithaa’s death. The CBI probe against Health Minister C Vijayabaskar, alleged reference to his seniors in the party in evidence seized by central agencies from his residence, loads of currency notes unearthed from mining baron Sekar Reddy and evidences of his close links to top AIADMK leaders are among the reasons why the current AIADMK leadership cannot do what Jayalalithaa daringly did with a powerful national party in Delhi.
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