What could be the reason for OPS admitting to Modi’s role in an AIADMK patch up?
OPS wants to convey to his detractors in the AIADMK and EPS that he may still be having the ear of Narendra Modi and so cannot be messed around with. Another theory is that he is forestalling a possible rapprochement between TTV Dhinakaran and EPSopinion Updated: Feb 21, 2018 18:58 IST
The recent admission by Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam that Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked him to patch up with the rival faction of the AIADMK last year has come as a surprise. Not because it was not widely suspected at that time, but because of Panneerselvam’s willingness to admit it. During the days of the OPS rebellion, leaders of both faction made frequent visits to Delhi and had meetings with Modi. In a period of less than a month during 2017, OPS (as Panneerselvam is referred to by the party cadre) met Modi on at least four occasions and this had led to speculation that the BJP was playing the mediator in the reunification talks between the two AIADMK factions.
Maybe the BJP was, but why admit it, and why now?
The conspiracy theorists are in full voice. One theory is that OPS wants to convey to his detractors in the party and chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) that he may have Modi’s blessings and so cannot be trifled with. Another theory is that he is pushing this line to forestall a possible rapprochement between TTV Dhinakaran and EPS.
Over the past few weeks there has been a hardening of stances in both both the AIADMK and the BJP state unit. State ministers, who were earlier queuing up to defend the NDA government, are now noncommittal or even critical. Similarly, the state BJP, which was batting for the ruling AIADMK in no small measure, has started attacking it . Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan’s statement that Tamil Nadu was becoming a haven for extremists did not go down well with the ruling party. OPS called the minister a liar and EPS strongly refuted the statement.
There is also a view that the current friction between the AIADMK and BJP may be stage-managed and that it may be part of the plan to dispel the public impression that the BJP is the back-seat driver of the AIADMK government, with the two parties having come so close to each other that the Dravidian ideology of the AIADMK (what still remains, as the party has come a long way from the days of rationalism and other Dravidian ideals) could be at risk.
The AIADMK wishes to hold on to its Dravidian roots, at least in name, and does not want to be seen as an extension of the BJP. Towards that objective, periodic noises are being made by its leaders, OPS included, to assert their Dravidian moorings. The party leaders have also taken pot shots at the “spiritual” brand of politics that actor Rajinikanth has promised once he enters politics. Even six months ago it was unlikely that they would have been critical of the actor, who is widely seen as having the blessings of the BJP.
EPS tried to play down OPS’ statement, saying he did not know about Modi brokering the merger deal and adding that he and OPS were working together to strengthen the party. He also took a somewhat softer line on the BJP, saying that both central and state governments were working for the welfare of the people though their ideologies may be different.
There is also speculation that the BJP is tired of the AIADMK’s factional shenanigans and could be ready to cut loose and let the government fall. This, however, seems unlikely because there is as yet no alternative acceptable to the BJP in the state. Their most obvious choice, Rajinikanth, is still to formally launch his party and the BJP does not stand to gain much by pulling the plug. Whether the BJP would be able to topple the government as and when it wishes to do so is a moot point.
The lure of office has kept the flock of AIADMK MLAs together for the last several months and it is difficult to see how the BJP can destabilise the government. One destabilising opportunity could come if the Madras High Court overturns the disqualification of the 18 MLAs owing allegiance to TTV. This could cause some upheaval, but it is almost certain that whichever side loses in the high court will move the Supreme Court and an immediate confidence vote is unlikely. Thus, the EPS government could well survive an adverse verdict in the high court.
Despite the theories floating around, the AIADMK-BJP rift may in the end prove to be nothing more than the proverbial storm in a teacup.
Sumanth Raman is a Chennai-based television anchor and political analyst
The views expressed are personal