THE VOID left by J Jayalalithaa’s death has given the BJP the opportunity to explore the prospects of setting a meaningful footprint in Tamil Nadu politics, where it has so far been overshadowed by Dravidian parties.
Party sources said the leadership is keen to utilise the goodwill it shares with the ruling AIADMK due to its personal rapport with leaders close to the late CM. The BJP, which has sent Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu to Chennai, would like at least one of those with a comfortable relationship with the party to take over the AIADMK’s affairs. This, party sources said, they would prefer to be either Lok Sabha deputy speaker M Thambidurai or Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan.
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The sources admitted that neither the BJP national leadership nor state leaders such as L A Ganesan have been able to strike a deep rapport with the AIADMK as Jayalalithaa, despite her warm ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had always shielded her party and leaders from the BJP. “We have not been able to build strong ties with even O Paneerselvam (the current CM) either,” said a BJP insider.
The BJP leadership has been in touch with AIADMK leaders in the last 24 hours. Through Tuesday, Naidu and Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan were seen beside Sasikala, a key power centre in the AIADMK after Jayalalithaa.
BJP sources denied, however, that they could use the “vulnerability of Sasikala” due to the cases against her. “With the death of Jayalalithaa, there is not much to proceed on as far as cases are concerned. Sasikala will be a good bet as someone the BJP can bank on for its political ambitions in Tamil Nadu,” a BJP source said.
Sasikala, however, apparently never shared a good rapport with BJP leaders. BJP sources felt she and others close to Jayalalithaa were upset that the PM had not visited the ailing CM at Apollo Hospitals in September. Both BJP chief Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did so but only after Rahul Gandhi was there. Besides, Sasikala, sources said, is conscious that Jayalalithaa never wanted the BJP to get a hold on her Hindu support base. Nor does she want to shut the doors on the Congress by forging a formal alliance with the BJP.
The NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had been backed by the AIADMK and the government fell by one vote after it pulled out of the coalition in 1999. Even with a clear majority of 282 members in Lok Sabha now, the BJP does not want to antagonise the AIADMK as it requires its support in both Houses to push its legislative agenda. The BJP also needs the AIADMK’s support in the presidential election next year.
Ever since Jayalalithaa’s health started to fail, the BJP has been building a rapport with other AIADMK leaders. “At the same, we are keeping options open. We have not shut the doors on the DMK either,” said a BJP leader.