Tamil Nadu continues to flounder in the political confusion caused by Jayalalithaa’s death. As may have been expected in a one-person outfit which the AIADMK was in her time, the party is yet to find its feet. The situation has been made worse by the influence which Jayalalithaa’s companion, Sasikala, who is now in jail, continues to wield over the shaky organization via her nephew.
Seeing the political vacuum in the state, ambitious outsiders like the ageing film stars, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, have been trying to enter the field, although they haven’t yet gathered enough courage to announce the formation of their parties.
Given the unsettled conditions, it is not surprising that the BJP has decided to try its luck. At first, it appeared to be close to the AIADMK, which was its ally – though a troublesome one – in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time.
But, perhaps realizing that the AIADMK is yet to stabilize, the BJP is apparently looking for other options. Hence, Narendra Modi’s courtesy-call on the ailing DMK leader, M Karunanidhi, during the prime minister’s recent visit to Chennai. The BJP’s sudden interest in the DMK may also explain the income-tax raids on Sasikala’s properties, which can sow further confusion in the AIADMK ranks.
Time will show how the DMK responds to the BJP’s overtures, but the eagerness with which MK Stalin, the DMK’s heir apparent, flew in from Dubai to be present when Modi met Karunanidhi, suggests that the atheist inheritors of Periyar’s legacy will not mind joining hands with the votaries of Hindutva.
One reason for the DMK’s interest is that it is not in the best of health. While its nonagenarian patriarch can no longer play an active political role, his son, Stalin, does not have the burnished image of a person who can provide effective leadership to an important state with high industrial potential.
The DMK will look forward, therefore, to have as an ally a major national party, especially when the other national party, the Congress, which is its ally, has lost much of its earlier lustre.
Besides, it has been playing second fiddle to the two Dravidian parties – the DMK and the AIADMK – for decades. It is possible that the DMK will also expect the BJP to play second fiddle if there is indeed a tie-up. But the BJP’s higher all-India status will provide stability to the alliance, which the Congress cannot at the moment.
The BJP’s interest in getting close to a major Dravidian party is not to bolster it but to get a foothold in a large southern state, which has been out of its reach, like other states in the south of the Vindhyas viz. Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
But how it navigates the choppy waters of anti-Hindi, anti-north Indian sentiments in Tamil Nadu will be a matter of curiosity not only to political observers but also sociologists.
Of all the states, Tamil Nadu has been a bulwark against the Sangh Parivar’s strident Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan chauvinism ever since the pro-Hindi zealots, who then belonged to the Congress, tried to give official status to the North Indian language in place of English in the 1960s.
The parallel between this attempt in favour of Hindi by cow belt politicians and Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s diktat on imposing Urdu in then East Pakistan is obvious. The Quaid-e-Azam’s effort sowed the seeds of the liberation of Bangladesh. Tamil separatism, however, was formally abandoned by the DMK in the wake of the Chinese invasion in 1962 although remnants of it survive in minor outfits and is most prominent in the Tamil Eelam concept in Sri Lanka.
In all probability, therefore, the BJP will never quite be able to establish itself as a major player in the state because of its pronounced north Indian orientation. But it may be able to muddy the waters by injecting a ydose of communalism as it tried to do by highlighting the Christian background of the hero of the film Mersal, since it contained unflattering references to the GST.
Even as a party like the BJP with a focused objective and an individual like Kamal Haasan with hazy ideas are throwing their hats in the ring, it is odd that the Congress is maintaining a deafening silence. Normally, it might have been expected to stand by its ally, the DMK. But, perhaps, it is waiting for Rahul Gandhi’s formal coronation before deciding on the next move.
It is no secret that one of the reasons for the Manmohan Singh government’s downfall was the presence in the UPA of a tainted minister like Andimuthu Raja of the DMK. Karunanidhi’s daughter, Kanimozhi, too, came under a cloud in those days.
For the Congress, it might have been okay to play second fiddle to Karunanidhi, but to do the same when Stalin is in charge is perhaps unacceptable to the 132-year-old party. There is little doubt, therefore, that a political churning is on in Tamil Nadu.
The author is a political analyst