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The BJP is yet to drop roots in Tamil Nadu, though one could see party flags flying everywhere and functionaries zipping around in glitzy four-wheelers. The Dravidian soil is not exactly conducive to the growth of Hindutva.

But things could be changing. K  Annamalai, a former IPS official and now the president of the state unit of the BJP,  is going all out to take on the ruling DMK. Not a day passes without a statement from him on some issue or other, and he is ensuring the party is in the eyes of the media all the time. Even more important,  he is not taking any communal position at all, knowing well perhaps it might not help in Tamil Nadu.

What if his stances catch the imagination of the people , especially so when most of the opposition parties are virtually comatose?

Back in 1997 Suresh Nambath, presently editor of The Hindu, had written a piece in the newspaper saying that the Tamil Maanila Congress led by G Karuppiah Moopanar was leaving the opposition space to the AIADMK,  by its omissions and commissions.

The TMC had made a stunning debut the previous year, winning all the 20 seats it had contested for the Lok Sabha and 41 seats in the Assembly – the party founded  in protest against the official Congress’s decision to go with the then totally discredited Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK  had entered into an alliance with the DMK in the elections.

While the DMK refused to form a coalition at the state level as it had an absolute majority for itself, it did join the United Front government  at the Centre. Moopanar’s position in Tamil Nadu became dicey, though he was a key player in New Delhi.

Unless the TMC was active on the ground in the state, it would not be seen as an alternative to the Dravidian parties. Previously he himself had been stressing the need to project the Congress as an option for the people and tell them it was not an appendage of the DMK or the AIADMK , as it had become since 1971 when Mrs Gandhi broke away and her Cong-I was allowed by a crafty Karunanidhi to contest as many as nine seats to the Lok Sabha in return for agreeing to keep off the assembly polls altogether.

With Kamaraj alive, it was the Congress (O) that was lording it over, and Mrs Gandhi had little base to speak of. In the circumstances, she had to agree to the humiliating terms imposed by the DMK.  The notional alliance swept the polls, essentially on the strength of the DMK’s own popularity, though Mrs Gandhi’s charisma might have contributed a bit.

Thus having won all the nine Lok Sabha seats her party contested, Mrs Gandhi didn’t seem to care one whit about the fate of her followers in the state.  When  Kamaraj died,  the rest of the party trooped forward  to  Mrs Gandhi’s Congress ,  and  so she had little reason to rack her brain on what to do with the Tamil Nadu unit.

What if Annamalai’s stances catch the imagination of the people , especially so when most of the opposition parties are virtually comatose?

There was some structure of sorts, she  was perhaps happy with that. Come any elections she could lean on either the DMK or the AIADMK to win some seats.

Such a pathetic situation Moopanar seemed intent on changing. After all he did persuade Rajiv Gandhi to visit the state as many as 13 times during the elections held after MGR’s demise. The party did manage a relatively decent 26 seats alright, but obviously Rajiv was not impressed and moved over to the AIADMK again.

Given such a background, Moopanar should have gone for the kill after the rout of Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK , but he didn’t dare as it might have meant destabilizing the United Front set-up. He went on to have a seat-sharing deal with the DMK for the local body poll, which again proved beneficial.

So then Moopanar chose to lie low. The slogan ‘From Rock Fort to Fort St George,’ coined during the TMC meet close on the heels of the 1996 triumph, was given a quiet burial. Someone like Chellakumar, a fire-brand youth leader and who used to enjoy Moopanar’s blessings, was pulled up in public by him for organizing a demo against a senior DMK minister.

Mind you all this happened when there was no opposition worth mentioning, Jayalalithaa had been routed in the previous year’s polls and was excoriated widely for corruption and gangsterism. So much was the revulsion , many AIADMK candidates studiously avoided mentioning her name or displaying her portrait during the local body elections.

So then with Moopanar dragging his feet and a vacuum enveloping the opposition, Jayalalithaa herself slowly but steadily clawed her way back. Her relentless barrage of statements attacking the government, justified or not, made people turn their eyes in her direction. It was in such a backdrop Nambath chose to write his analysis.

I thought at the time it was just a space-filler. Having been asked to write something for a lean Sunday, he chose that angle was my reaction, But no, he proved right eventually. Karuppiah Moopanar lost his moral high ground and oppositional zeal too. What happened to him subsequently is not relevant here.

Given such a background, Moopanar should have gone for the kill after the rout of Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK , but he didn’t dare as it might have meant destabilizing the United Front set-up.

I recalled at length other developments only to show the striking similarity between the two scenarios, 1997 and now. Moopanar didn’t want to be seen taking on Karunanidhi then, the Congress won’t dare offend his son now.

The party is not in power in Delhi and any comeback for it should take a while, most observers seem to feel. In the circumstances it might not be desperate for DMK support , but at the moment the TN party seems to be firmly with the UPA, and any realistic chance next time could hinge on Stalin’s preferences . And even to win a decent number of seats to the Lok Sabha, the Congress badly needs the DMK’s support. Inevitable then they have to do a Moopanar all over again – not that Stalin himself has done much to invite flak, but the point is an opposition party has to keep heckling to remain credible among sections opposed to the ruling party.

The rump AIADMK minus Jayalalithaa might still command some following, but the ground is slipping from under its feet. The PMK’s best bet is joining hands with the winning side, so it won’t antagonize the DMK much. Parties like Naam Thamizhar or actor Kamal’s Makkal Needhi Maiyam don’t seem to count for anything at all, though Seeman is getting some traction.

If the Congress sticks to its strategy of waking up only during elections and the AIADMK is obliterated altogether, surely the BJP stands to gain. More so if Modi’s rule continues for a couple of more terms – and Annamalai could be their man.

Where does it all leave the BJP? Dividing people on religious lines might not work as of now. But by fashioning its own version of OBC-upper caste alliance and tapping into whatever still remains of the anti-DMK constituency, the BJP could seek to insidiously promote its Hindutva agenda. That’s a long shot yes, but still feasible. If the Congress sticks to its strategy of waking up only during elections and the AIADMK is obliterated altogether, surely the BJP stands to gain. More so if Modi’s rule continues for a couple of more terms – and Annamalai could be their man.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Chennai)


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