The ruling party in Tamil Nadu hurriedly ties up alliances ahead of Lok Sabha polls 2019; was it bulldozed into a partnership with the BJP?
Seven Lok Sabha seats and one Rajya Sabha seat for Ramadoss’ Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), five Lok Sabha seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the possibility of more parties jumping onto the bandwagon – this is the umbrella alliance formed by the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to battle the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
In a day of fast paced developments, the excitement amongst the newfound allies was palpable as were the smirks from the opposition.
The first announcement that arrived was that of an alliance between the AIADMK and the PMK. “We have formed a mega alliance, a victorious alliance,” said Deputy Chief Minister and AIADMK Convenor O Panneerselvam. The PMK got seven Lok Sabha seats and one Rajya Sabha seat as part of the alliance. As for the 21 Assembly seats going to bypolls soon in the state, Panneerselvam stated that the PMK had agreed to support the AIADMK for the same.
PMK leader S Ramadoss told waiting presspersons that they had a list of ten demands of the AIADMK in order to be part of the alliance.
“The demands are as follows:
The second announcement that came was that of the alliance with the BJP. After about 3 hours of deliberations inside Hotel Crowne Plaza in Chennai, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy and Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal emerged smiling and waving the victory sign which is also the two-leaves sign, the election symbol for the ruling party. Announcing that the BJP got five seats, O Panneerselvam said – “AIADMK and BJP have formed a victorious alliance to battle Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.”
Goyal in turn invoked late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. “We are together working to continue the legacy of Amma,” he said. After a bit of a struggle with the Dravidian language, Goyal managed to say in Tamil – “Naarpathum namadhey” – “All 40 are ours”, in a reference to the 39 seats of Tamil Nadu and the single seat of Puducherry.
A visit to the residence of ailing DMDK leader Vijaykanth by Piyush Goyal yielded no results. Goyal said he had only called on the leader to wish him good health.
Sometime after the AIADMK-PMK alliance announcement, rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader MK Stalin poked fun at the development. Pointing out that Ramadoss had, not very long ago, published a book detailing the corruption allegations against Jayalalithaa, O Panneerselvam and Edappadi Palaniswamy, Stalin said that the alliance was a selfish one. Speaking at a party event in Vellore, Stalin said – “This same Dr Ramadoss recently criticised them (AIADMK) not just on a stage, not just released a statement or not only gave interviews, he actually released a book. The name of the book is “The story of AIADMK”. That same respected man is the one who is sitting by their side and signing (alliance documents). Don’t they have any shame, dignity or honour?”
Tamil Nadu Congress leader S Thirunavukkarasar told mediapersons in Delhi that the alliance between the AIADMK, the BJP and the PMK was akin to a “forced marriage”.
“A Forced Marriage?”
Thirunavukkarasar was not too far from the truth when he used those words. The Lede now takes you through a fantastic chronology of events that would help the reader understand exactly why the AIADMK-BJP alliance stood no chance of not happening.
|05 December 2016||Chief Minister and General Secretary of the AIADMK J Jayalalithaa dies after prolonged illness; O Panneerselvam takes the reins a few hours after her demise.|
|21 December 2016||Sand and highways contractor Sekhar Reddy arrested by CBI; they find cash worth Rs 170 crore and 127 kg of gold in his residence.|
|22 December 2016||In an unprecedented move, TN Chief Secretary P Rama Mohana Rao’s office inside the Secretariat and his residence raided by IT Department officials with armed CRPF personnel standing guard. This raid is based on the Sekhar Reddy case.|
|31 December 2016||VK Sasikala, Jayalalithaa’s close aide and confidante, takes over as General Secretary of the party.|
|05 February 2017||O Panneerselvam resigns as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and VK Sasikala elected as leader of legislature party, paving the way for her to become Chief Minister.|
|07 February 2017||In a late night drama, Panneerselvam meditates at Jayalalithaa’s burial ground and declares war on Sasikala.|
|14 February 2017||VK Sasikala and her relatives convicted for four years in a 19-year-old corruption case, jailed in Bengaluru prison; Edappadi Palaniswamy installed as Chief Minister in her stead.|
|07 April 2017||IT Department raids Health Minister Vijaybhaskar in connection with an alleged Gutkha scam.|
|10 April 2017||RK Nagar bypolls cancelled citing voter bribery in light of “evidence” found at Vijaybhaskar’s residence. Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran was the AIADMK candidate and Edappadi Palaniswamy was campaigning for him. Ministers KA Sengottaiyan, Dindigul Srinivasan, P Thangamani, SP Velumani and D Jayakumar along with Rajya Sabha MP R Vaithilingam named in leaked documents. They were alleged to have “bribed voters” in RK Nagar on behalf of Dhinakaran.|
|April to August 2017||Edappadi Palaniswamy and other ministers cut ties with Sasikala and TTV Dhinakaran|
|21 August 2017||Edappadi Palaniswamy and O Panneerselvam announce merger of their factions, lay claim to the two-leaves symbol of the party. After a protracted battle before the Election Commission, they win the symbol.|
|08 July 2018||IT raids on Christy Group, a company supplying eggs and dhal to the state government’s noon meal scheme. Alleged to have links with senior Ministers SP Velumani and P Thangamani.|
|16 July 2018||IT Department raids SPK Group chief Nagarajan Seyyadurai – a close associate of Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy’s sammandhi – his son Mithun’s father in law. The SPK Group and Sekhar Reddy’s firms were the two main contractors for roads, highways and river sand mining.|
Political analysts in the state agree that the AIADMK has been under immense pressure to toe the BJP’s line since the demise of the powerful Jayalalithaa.
“The BJP has bulldozed the AIADMK into an alliance based on the raids conducted on OPS, EPS, Velumani, Vijaybhaskar and the Kodanadu murders,” said senior journalist Damodaran Prakash. “Talks were opened by Modi some months back. It was continued by Nirmala Sitharaman and then handed over to Piyush Goyal. Velumani was staying in Delhi for weeks together in order to ensure that the alliance was formed,” he added.
C Lakshmanan, Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies agrees. “Certainly, there is no doubt about the fact that the AIADMK has been under pressure from the BJP. Around 10-15 days after the demise of the leader, the party has gone through serious turmoil and upheaval. Without the Centre’s approval and constant support, it is not possible for either EPS or OPS to continue in power,” he pointed out.
Political analyst and senior journalist K Venkataramanan told The Lede that while the BJP had indeed put pressure on the AIADMK to form an alliance, the regional party too had seen merit in the same. And he says there are a number of positives for the AIADMK.
“Left to themselves, I don’t know if they would have taken the decision to join the BJP,” said Venkataramanan. “But the AIADMK also sensed an opportunity. They are safeguarding their government by allying with BJP and also by allying with the PMK. They also have the convenience of having the Centre on their side during the elections. And the impression of being a large alliance could work in their favour. It is likely to be a combination of factors. Though it goes against Jayalalithaa’s game of maximising presence – by ensuring that even allies contest under the two-leaves symbol – they are in no position now to follow her strategy,” he said.
Experts also agree that the bypolls to 21 Assembly seats is more of a concern for the ruling party than the Lok Sabha elections. This is because the government is sitting on a slim majority as of now. And come bypolls, it will need to battle hard to stay in power.
Crunching The Numbers
20 AIADMK seats have fallen vacant, of which 18 were disqualified by the Speaker in September 2017, one MLA passed away and one was forced to resign on account of a conviction in a 1998 stone-pelting case.
One DMK seat has fallen vacant with the demise of M Karunanidhi. So a total of 21 Assembly seats need to go to byelections.
Out of 234 elected members in the Assembly, the AIADMK now has 114. The DMK-Congress-IUML (Indian Union Muslim League) combine has 97 seats. Independent TTV Dhinakaran holds one seat. The Speaker has the deciding vote.
With 18 MLAs disqualified and the decision upheld by the courts, the size of the House shrank to 214. The AIADMK had the magic figure of 108 to stay in power.
But now, with 21 seats vacant and going to bypoll, the AIADMK is going to be forced to win at least another 7 Assembly seats in order to remain in power.
“The Assembly bypolls are more of a concern for the AIADMK than the Lok Sabha polls,” continued political analyst Venkataramanan. “They need to avoid a whitewash of the Assembly bypoll seats and they need the PMK for this. The PMK is strong in pockets of northern Tamil Nadu and the AIADMK is going to need their help to retain government.”
And this, he says, is the reason for the AIADMK giving the much smaller PMK so many seats in the Lok Sabha polls – in return for support in the more important election – the Assembly bypolls.
The ground has now been levelled for a two-pronged battle again in Tamil Nadu – the AIADMK front versus the DMK front. With the passing of two cult leaders in the state – Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi – Tamil Nadu is gearing up for its first big election. One that could change the political equations of the state forever.