In a state where it is largely dependent on the AIADMK foot soldiers to give the NDA seats in the Lok Sabha, a big brother attitude was the last thing it needed to show. Yet three recent instances by three senior leaders of the party confirms that the relationship between the BJP and the AIADMK is anything but equal.
The opposition is less polite in its interpretation. It taunts the AIADMK calling it the ModiDMK. Already O Panneerselvam is spoken of as the BJP’s man in the AIADMK. The BJP control of the AIADMK is also the running narrative in the DMK campaign videos.
Rewind to 2014 when despite the Jayalalithaa-Narendra Modi friendship, the AIADMK chief also threw her hat into the Prime ministerial race. She fought the elections alone while the BJP had to make do with smaller parties like the PMK, MDMK and DMDK. The AIADMK won 37 out of the 39 seats in 2014, the NDA the remaining two.
Five years later, the AIADMK is contesting just 20 of those 37 seats. In the post-Jayalalithaa era with the sword of central agencies hanging like a Damocles sword, the Edappadi Palaniswami-O Panneerselvam duo can do little but agree in silence. TTV Dhinakaran takes a jibe at the AIADMK leadership pointing out that Jayalalithaa had said she will contest alone in the future.
Just three days after the AIADMK-BJP alliance was inked, Amit Shah told OPS at the lounge of Madurai airport, “Now every programme will be NDA programme”. In one stroke, the BJP had trashed the regional strength of the AIADMK by making it one of the many NDA allies in Tamil Nadu. Even though the BJP was contesting just five of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, it was calling the shots.
“Jayalalithaa was criticised for being dictatorial but there was an admiration among the public for the way she stood up to Delhi. That attitude is liked in Tamil Nadu. But these people have fallen at Delhi’s feet, surrendered to them like their slaves,” says Chandramohan, Salem-based activist.
The second episode involved not acknowledging the problem a large section of Tamil Nadu has with NEET, the common entrance exam for admission to medical colleges in India. The BJP has failed to realise that NEET in its present format without universal access to quality coaching, is a sensitive issue for students and parents alike. Anitha, who committed suicide in September 2017, is being used as a reference point in speeches by most leaders. The Congress has promised to take measures to dispense with the NEET exam and substitute it with a state-level exam of equivalent standard. The AIADMK too in its manifesto promised a temporary exemption from NEET.
However, last week Piyush Goyal spoilt the goodwill the AIADMK was trying to generate by dismissing the need to scrap NEET arguing it will only pave the way for private colleges to demand huge capitation fee.
“We will speak to the AIADMK leaders and try to convince them,” said Goyal while the AIADMK came across as a ruling party unable to persuade its alliance partner about a demand from Tamil Nadu.
This Sunday, Nitin Gadkari on a visit to Tamil Nadu made it seem the Madras High court order scrapping the 8-lane expressway between Salem and Chennai was of no consequence.
“The project is important for industrial development. We will talk to the farmers to offer them higher compensation,” said Gadkari. The irony is that the PMK, which is now an NDA alliance partner, had opposed the project and even EPS is now talking of abiding by the court verdict. According to environmentalists, roughly 8000 patta holders and 50000 people stand to be affected by the land acquisition for the road project. It had run into a controversy with land being marked forcibly with police force used to detain farmers obstructing the officials.
In the past few months, every visit of Modi has resonated with hashtags of #GoBackModi trending. The BJP accuses the DMK of artificially creating an impression that Tamil Nadu is opposed to Modi. But on the ground, the fact remains that the people are noticing the several election campaign trips that the PM is now making and contrast it to the Central government’s alleged apathy during Cyclone Gaja last year. The cyclone had left over 3 lakh people homeless and uprooted 11 lakh trees, crippling a large population.
“It is wrong to say that we are not pro-Tamil. What is Tamil pride, isn’t it Jallikattu? Who brought the ordinance to bring back Jallikattu? The BJP government in Delhi and the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu,” says Narayanan Thirupathy, BJP spokesperson.
Will the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude of the BJP have a negative impact on its electoral fortunes? Not really, going by the choice of its seats in Tamil Nadu.
“Of the five seats the saffron party is contesting, it will fancy its chances in Kanyakumari and Coimbatore and may have an outside chance in Ramanathapuram. Tamilisai Sounderrajan is up against tough competition in Tuticorin. At least in the constituencies they are fighting, the BJP is not pulling the alliance down. If they actually win 3/5, they can be very happy about their strike rate,” says Arun Krishnamurthy, psephologist and political analyst.
The AIADMK leadership, to its credit, is not taking things to heart. At least, it is not showing it. Its leaders are working hard on the ground, campaigning for the alliance party candidates.