by TS Sudhir | 06:19 PM August 02, 2017

The 'will it, won't it' question of the AIADMK equation with the BJP

The 'will it, won't it' question of the AIADMK equation with

The merger of the two factions of the AIADMK is the most over-recycled story in Tamil Nadu in the last six months. So in order to make it appear fresh and enticing, the tadka of the AIADMK joining the Narendra Modi cabinet has now been added. The bizarre twist to this story is that both camps (in fact, three, if you take into account the TTV Dinakaran loyalists) of the AIADMK deny any such development. 

In fact, to call it a merger itself is erroneous, given the depleting strength of the Panneerselvam group. Last month, Kavundampalayam MLA VC Arukutty, who was the first MLA to join the OPS camp, moved to the ruling group, bringing down the OPS strength to 10. If the AIADMK becomes one, it will be more of an acquisition than a merger since EPS has the official backing of 123 MLAs.

When Panneerselvam rebelled in February, most thought it was just a matter of time before most of the AIADMK rallied behind him. But the OPS story has flattered to deceive. Because Palaniswami has proved that political success is `caste' in stone. 

Contrary to what most believed, Palaniswami has proved to be a savvier political customer than his colleagues in the party. Using caste as an effective weapon, the party has seen moving from its image of a Thevar-dominated party to a Gounder-dominant outfit. Both the Sasikala family and OPS are Thevars and the community was seen as grabbing the lion's share of goodies under Jayalalithaa. Palaniswami's ascent has seen the Gounder community asserting itself and having tasted power, is in no mood to give up the top chair to a Thevar OPS. Incidentally, Arukutty is a Gounder as well.

EPS realised that Panneerselvam's trump card in Delhi was his anti-Sasikala-ism. The Tamil Nadu chief minister decided to do the same, by sidelining TTV Dinakaran, knowing fully well that Sasikala's nephew would not pull the rug from under his own government. He refused to take orders from the Mannargudi family, endearing himself to New Delhi. So now, as far as BJP is concerned, there is little to distinguish between OPS and EPS, except for the fact that Panneerselvam was the early bird to revolt against Sasikala.

But with EPS in no mood to give up on the chief minister's post, an alternative that is doing the rounds is taking Panneerselvam to the Rajya Sabha and making him an Union minister. But will the EPS camp MLAs vote for OPS given the bad blood between the two camps in recent weeks. And will Panneerselvam want to move to New Delhi, leaving the Tamil Nadu pitch vacant for EPS. Three, will the MPs in Panneerselvam's camp agree to this formula given that they would ask, ``why not me?''

The other question to ask is why would Narendra Modi need to pamper the AIADMK by offering them berths in New Delhi when a mere Income Tax raid on the Health minister C Vijayabasker in April was enough to tame the ruling party. In Tamil Nadu today, the BJP + I-T > AIADMK. Not difficult given the number of skeletons in the Dravidian party cupboard. 

An analysis of the body language of leaders of the two groups in Rameshwaram when the PM came last week to dedicate the APJ Abdul Kalam memorial to the nation was a giveaway. The manner in which they try to outdo each other in being seen with the PM, was proof that the AIADMK knows the value of keeping the BJP leadership in good humour. A big change from the imperious days of Jayalalithaa when she would not kowtow to anyone from New Delhi. 

Then there is the Rajinikanth factor. For the four months, work has been on to convince the Superstar to take the political plunge. On paper, a Rajinikanth + AIADMK + BJP combo looks formidable arithmetic but the chemistry may prove to be the weak link. If the BJP indeed nudges the warring AIADMK factions to bury the hatchet, can it then expect EPS and OPS to play second fiddle to a political greenhorn like Rajini. 

Then there is also the vested interest of leaders in both camps in resisting a merger. They would stand to lose their positions of eminence in a united outfit, many of them fear. But with local body elections due in Tamil Nadu soon, the AIADMK would need to get its house in order. If the DMK steals a march over them, political oxygen could prove scarce for an AIADMK that is already pretty much in survival mode.

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