While talks are said to be going on between the AIADMK and the BJP to contest the Lok Sabha elections as allies in Tamil Nadu, the saffron party has come across an unexpected hurdle in AIADMK leader and Lok Sabha deputy speaker M Thambidurai’s repeated statements against the BJP. His stand is seen as having delayed the BJP’s poll plans in the state.
The BJP is learnt to have staked claim to nearly half of the state’s 39 Lok Sabha seats in the first round of talks between the two parties.
Thambidurai, who won from Karur constituency with a margin of more than 1 lakh, had late last week asked why the AIADMK should allow BJP to have such a large space in the election, especially at a time when there is a “strong public sentiment” against the saffron party in Tamil Nadu. “We cannot tolerate the BJP, which tries to treat AIADMK like a slave. They (BJP leaders) cannot belittle us — they talk with an attempt to insult us, talking about us like slaves cannot be tolerated.” he told the media.
A top RSS leader in charge of BJP’s affairs in Tamil Nadu said Thambidurai is the only AIADMK leader who is opposing the alliance. The RSS leader explained: “This is happening mainly because AIADMK doesn’t have a leader (with stature) who can silence Thambidurai by promising him a Rajya Sabha seat…. He doesn’t have support of even a single MLA.”
But BJP, the RSS leader said, is “hopeful that Thambidurai cannot spoil our talks — at the most, his statements may reduce two or three seats for us from what we were promised two weeks ago”.
While the AIADMK’s top leadership has stayed away from reacting to Thambidurai’s stand against an alliance, BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan said his opinions are not that of the AIADMK. “Jayakumar (state fisheries minister and senior leader of AIADMK) has already clarified that…. Whatever Thambidurai says about BJP is not AIADMK’s opinion — they are his own opinions,” she said.
Over the last week, Thambidurai has made a series of statements and asserted his stand against an alliance with the BJP.
Two senior AIADMK leaders told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity that Thambidurai remains a lonely voice in the party against the BJP for many reasons, including the fact that he has to face the electorate soon.
One leader said, “Neither Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami or ministers close to him, S P Velumani or P Thangamani, face polls now, even though they are the leaders who decide on talks with BJP. But Thambidurai has to face the people, and the situation in Karur is not favourable for him. A sizeable number of minority votes in Aravakurichi, which is in his Lok Sabha constituency, will not vote for him if the AIADMK strikes an alliance with the BJP. This is why he is opposing the alliance.”
Besides, the leader said, Thambidurai may be “one of the few AIADMK leaders who do not fear income tax raids for speaking out against the BJP”.
Another leader said the absence of Senthil Balaji, the powerful AIADMK leader from Karur who recently joined DMK, will also be a worry for Thambidurai. “In 2014, Jayalalithaa had deputed Balaji to ensure Thambidurai’s victory. Balaji’s hard work and Jayalalithaa’s political advantage (favourable to minority voters) helped Thambidurai win with a big margin. That may not repeat. So he has to take a stand before people, especially since AIADMK is largely seen as a party controlled by BJP after Jayalalithaa’s death (in December 2016),” the leader said.
There has also been speculation that Thambidurai may float his own political outfit. Recently, when a puja was held at his home, the controversy resurfaced about a new party. Thambidurai quickly denied reports of launching a party and said the rituals were held since a close relative was unwell. “I have no power to start a new party. I am an ordinary cadre of AIADMK,” he said.