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BJP shifts gears in Tamil Nadu to block Congress’s gains

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent “courtesy” visit to DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi and the I-T raids on the properties of AIADMK leaders have political significance.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Updated: November 13, 2017 5:42:55 am
Narendra modi, dmk, karunanidhi, modi meets karunanidhi, mk stalin, tamil nadu, indian express PM Narendra Modi recently visited DMK president M Karunanidhi in Chennai. (PTI photo)

From being a behind-the-scenes player in the merger of the two warring factions of the AIADMK, to sending friendly overtures to its arch rival DMK, the BJP seems to have clearly shifted its political approach in Tamil Nadu. With the party viewing the south to compensate for its possible losses in its overall tally in the next Lok Sabha elections, the party’s focal point in the region would be “block the Congress from making any gains” in 2019, party sources said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent “courtesy” visit to DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi and the I-T raids on the properties of AIADMK leaders have political significance.

Till September, the BJP had maintained that a strong and united AIADMK would be good for the BJP at the Centre. At an Idea Exchange programme at The Indian Express in the first week of August, BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao had said the BJP would prefer the AIADMK as the DMK is an ally of the Congress.

However, party sources said the BJP’s focus now has shifted to ensuring that the Congress does not get any space in the south and that the winning party stays with them. “In Tamil Nadu, the political situation has changed and the AIADMK has spoilt its own prospects. The BJP does not want its adversaries to grow by benefiting from it. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress cannot go on its own but the DMK can strengthen it. Why should the BJP allow that,” asked a party leader.

The BJP fears that the factional fight in the AIADMK could continue or worsen in the coming days as the fight for the party symbol of two leaves is on before the Election Commission. Also, the BJP’s effort to woo superstar Rajinikanth to its fold has come a cropper. Party sources said Rajinikanth has not given any affirmative response to the BJP’s overtures.

Admitting that the party “played a significant” role in bringing together the AIADMK factions — led by former CM O Paneerselvam and the other by current CM E Palaniswami — BJP sources said its “efforts have not seen the desired results”.

Pointing out that the BJP has not gained much from the recent developments, the leader said: “Why should the BJP be a villain or loser in Tamil Nadu, which has 39 seats, especially when we have options to explore?”

This was a clear shift from the party’s earlier stand. A party leader added: “We do not have to go with a presumption that DMK is a natural partner of the Congress. It is not. DMK was a partner of the BJP and both parties had a healthy partnership.”

With the Congress still hopeful in the south — it can be a force to reckon with in Kerala, Karnataka and with the right coalition partnership in other states — the BJP’s focus would be to keep the rival party away from power. This would be possible only if the BJP woos the regional players, pointed out the source. The change in the stance seems to have stemmed out of the party’s conclusion that the BJP might not be in a position to win as many seats as expected from the Coromandel states.

According to its strategies at the beginning of the year, the party would have to get at least 115 seats from the southern and eastern states, where the BJP has not been able to make much headway. However, the feedback from these states has not been up to expectations, the leaders admitted.

BJP leaders are optimistic that it would not be tough to get the DMK into the NDA fold for forming the next government at the Centre. But the leaders also agreed that its recent overtures to the DMK could send a signal to the AIADMK too.

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