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Iruvar, the Mani Ratnam movie about the MGR-Karunanidhi relationship, has a scene where the estranged friends and collaborators meet. It’s a wedding and there is still the old, easy familiarity that comes across when they sit next to each other. MGR, played by Mohanlal, says the two should not show the world they are pally because elections were coming and their rivalry was key to their success and failure in the polls.
In real life though, the two did show more than just familiarity during the wedding. They were seen laughing together, and a video that captured their camaraderie is available on YouTube. The occasion was the wedding of a Congressman’s daughter – who was as much a part of Tamil Nadu’s political scene as any other. A Nadar from Kanyakumari, Kumari Ananthan, the son of a freedom fighter, was a Kamaraj acolyte who stayed true to his nationalist notions. His caste group has been as much on the side of the Congress and later on the BJP as it has been supporting the Dravidian parties, unlike other caste groups in Tamil Nadu.
The woman whose wedding was an occasion for MGR and Karunanidhi to be seen publicly together was Tamilisai Soundararajan, now Governor of Telangana and a probable for the position of President of India. Ram Nath Kovind’s tenure is coming to an end this year and he may well be a one-term President. One man, one post, one time is an RSS principle, although that doesn’t seem to apply to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Tamilisai is as good as the BJP can get in the state. Having her would be a recognition of the support the party has received from the Nadars – a caste group akin to the Banias for a Brahmin-Bania party that the BJP originally was.
Kovind, projected as a Dalit representative, may well have served his purpose. For the BJP, it may be time to play the symbolism card again – a President from Tamil Nadu where the saffron party continues to struggle to make an impact and build a voter base. It may be time to show that the BJP cares for Tamil Nadu. Having a President from the State may not increase the party’s vote share in the state but it may help indirectly in striking post and pre-poll alliances in 2024.
The problem is that the BJP sorely lacks experienced hands in Tamil Nadu. La Ganesan, the present Governor of Manipur, has some experience and stature. But he is a Brahmin and making him President would backfire on the BJP in Dravidianist Tamil Nadu. Pon Radhakrishnan, a Nadar, may work.
But Tamilisai is as good as the BJP can get in the state. Having her would be a recognition of the support the party has received from the Nadars – a caste group akin to the Banias for a Brahmin-Bania party that the BJP originally was. While a section of the Nadars converted to Christianity and the Church started becoming a powerful force in Kanniyakumari, the Hindu Nadars gravitated towards the BJP increasingly.
Kanniyakumari and Coimbatore are two districts where the BJP has made some headway. Scholar Narendra Subramanian theorizes that the BJP has got space in the south and the west where the moderately Dravidianist AIADMK and the Congress were strong traditionally.
By herself, Tamilisai has had a rather undistinguished political career. She doesn’t have the gravitas that one may want in the President of India. Images of her serving dosa to current BJP state president K Annamalai have only served to strengthen the perception that she is happy to play second fiddle or no fiddle at all.
Tamilisai, the non-controversial lightweight on whose shoulders Constitutional issues would sit lightly, would probably suit the Modi regime. If Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Pratibha Patil could be President, why not Tamilisai?
I had done a video interview of her after the 2019 elections for an English website. I started with a question that had two purposes: throw her off the edge but at the same time get her on my side. I told her that she is from here and has strong family roots in Tamil Nadu politics. She continues to have family in the Congress. But the BJP leadership doesn’t seem to get the state. She was taken aback for a second but recovered and blamed the party’s showing on what she called DMK’s lies and false propaganda. She came across as ready to smile, girlish and mild mannered. During a break in the recording, she requested that we wrap up the interview soon, as she had been invited to attend a DMK event at their party headquarters Anna Arivalayam.
It was probably fitting that bitter rivals MGR and Karunanidhi had a reunion of sorts during Tamilisai’s wedding. She is a threat to no one and would just serve as decorative wallpaper.
Tamilisai, the non-controversial lightweight on whose shoulders Constitutional issues would sit lightly, would probably suit the Modi regime. What has generally worked for the BJP is that the Congress has set the bar so low that the BJP couldn’t go lower. And that could work in BJP’s favour again, while choosing the next President. If Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Pratibha Patil could be President, why not Tamilisai?
Non-threatening lightweights who don’t perform typically get kicked upstairs. Tamilisai may get kicked all the way up.
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