This reluctance has been the subject of speculation and criticism, with opposition parties and even former allies, the Left parties, terming her party the team B of the BJP-led NDA.
Speaking at Karur, the 20th constituency she has addressed since kicking off her campaign three weeks ago, Jaya urged voters of Tamil Nadu to ensure that neither the BJP nor the Congress retain their deposits from any of the seats in the state.
While the DMK and the Congress have been her targets right from the beginning, Jaya and her party campaigners had steadfastly stayed away from criticising the NDA, BJP or Modi, with whom she shares a personal friendship.
In agrarian Karur that is dependent on disputed waters from river Cauvery, Jaya accused the BJP of betraying the people of Tamil Nadu in the past, and could not be expected to change in the future. Claiming that she had left the NDA in 1999 after realising that it would not do justice to the state on the issue, Jaya pointed out that both national parties had a stake in Karnataka politics but neither in Tamil Nadu. “That is why they adopt a similar position on the Cauvery water dispute,” she said. As the ruling powers in both Karnataka and the Centre, the Congress and BJP had repeatedly betrayed the interests of the Tamils, alleged Jaya.
Regional NDA allies, MDMK and PMK, too, came under attack from Jaya, who sought an explanation what assurances they had obtained from the BJP on securing the state’s rights over Cauvery water. “There is nothing in the BJP manifesto on Cauvery. The BJP leaders are silent on it. Because if they offer to release water for Tamil Nadu, they will not win even one seat in Karnataka… Those aligned with the BJP cannot help the people on this issue. The voters should ensure the defeat of the Congress, the DMK, the BJP and their allies in the election,” Jaya said.
Jaya’s criticism has come on the back of two recent developments. As the coalition equation stands now, the DMK has two Islamic parties on board, while the Modi-led NDA has none. Though the AIADMK has patronage among Muslim voters, its present image as a potential post-poll ally of the BJP is bound to have an impact. On Saturday, TNTJ, a non-political Muslim outfit, withdrew the support it had pledged to Jaya citing this reason.
Her rivals, barring the NDA constituents, have taken this up as a campaign issue, questioning her sincerity in working for a non-BJP alternative as is claimed. The DMK has sharpened its attack on this front, with M Karunanidhi and M K Stalin taking on both Modi and Jaya. The most stinging comment came at an election campaign in Trichy on Saturday, when a leader of DMK ally the IUML described Jaya as Modi in a sari. Former allies the CPM and the CPI have been repeatedly questioning her post-poll plans vis-a-vis the BJP, charging her with ejecting them from the alliance with an aim to align with Modi.
Secondly, the NDA is looking to increase its momentum ahead of the polls on April 24, lining up its top campaigners led by Modi himself. Modi, who once shared a personal rapport with Jaya, was literally in her backyard today, visiting Tamil superstar Rajinikanth at his Poes Garden residence close to Jaya’s home in Chennai. Part of the votes garnered by this coalition would be from the AIADMK, which will have an effect on the outcome in the multi-cornered fight that Tamil Nadu is witnessing. At Karur where Jaya campaigned today, for instance, KMDK’s ER Eswaran, contesting on the lotus symbol, is a strong contender.
Being a marginal player, the BJP has little to lose in Tamil Nadu, but for Jayalalithaa, the stakes are too high to play nice for long.