March 3, 2021 4:08:20 am
WITH the countdown having begun for the Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, both the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK alliances have hit roadblocks.
The AIADMK is in a fix as allies BJP and RSS want to facilitate re-entry into the party of ousted general secretary V K Sasikala, the closest aide of the late J Jalayalithaa. On the other side, the DMK is refusing to hand out more seats to the Congress.
A senior AIADMK minister said a late-night meeting of Union Home Minister Amit Shah with Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Deputy CM O Panneerselvam of the AIADMK in Chennai on Sunday night wasn’t conclusive. But the BJP is expected to keep pressing the Sasikala issue in the coming days through multiple channels and emissaries.
This remains the main stumbling block now in the alliance, an AIADMK leader said. “Seat-sharing talks are almost over. Prime ally PMK will get 23 seats, the BJP will get 21 constituencies as well the ticket for the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat (whose sitting Congress MP died of Covid-19 last year).” The AIADMK will contest 170 seats.
In 2016, of the 234 seats, the AIADMK contested in 227 seats and won 136; the PMK and BJP contested separately and didn’t open account. The DMK fought in 178 and won 89 seats.
The AIADMK minister said, “The BJP believes Sasikala’s re-entry would help the AIADMK-NDA alliance. But while Panneerselvam was okay with this, Palaniswami wasn’t. His camp is probably apprehensive of Sasikala (who called the shots during Jayalalithaa’s time) capturing the party if allowed back. He fears that leaders would become her dummies.”
That Sasikala still wields clout in the party is clear. The AIADMK leader quoted above said almost half the party wants her to return. “At least 50% of the leaders think it will strengthen the party. Many from the delta and southern districts are Sasikala loyalists. Panneerselvam also agrees with the BJP plan.”
A senior BJP leader said they had prepared a list of 60 potential seats they could contest and demanded 33 seats from the AIADMK. While claiming ignorance about the AIADMK’s claim of giving 21 seats to the BJP, the leader hinted they would be okay with this number if the Sasikala faction was accommodated in the alliance.
The problems are tougher for the DMK, that sees itself as having a winning shot. Chief M K Stalin is leading a much bigger alliance, including the Congress, Left, and other smaller parties. He is insistent that the DMK contest 170 to 180 seats at least.
However, talks with the Congress have been stuck. “The Congress has demanded a minimum 34 seats while the DMK is of the view that they cannot give more than 18 seats,” said a Congress leader from the state. In 2016, the Congress had won only 8 of the 41 seats it contested. The only other party to open its account in the state in 2016 apart from the AIADMK, DMK and Congress was IUML, with 1 seat.
Stalin’s tough stance in the seat talks with the Congress also has to do with his belief that this election — the first without supremos Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi in the picture — is in his pocket, establishing him finally as his father’s rightful heir.
“Not only his professional strategist Prashant Kishor, who does not see faces but only figures and data, but Stalin’s closest circle in the party and family too have given him the impression that the DMK can win on its own,” said a DMK leader.
Warning against this “overconfidence”, the leader added, “Stalin had adopted the same approach in 2016, leading to the DMK’s defeat. Hope he won’t repeat the mistake.”
At the same time, the high-profile road shows of Rahul Gandhi in the past few days have not gone down well with the DMK. “These have become exclusive programmes of the Congress. That is unfortunate,” the DMK leader pointed out.
Should the seat talks in the two camps fall through, it will hurt both the AIADMK and DMK. That will leave them pitted against not only the Congress and Sasikala but also smaller parties such as Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam.
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