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Former minister and AIADMK Organizing Secretary Ponnaiyan seems to have created a stir within his party with his strident attack on the BJP. He has charged the latter with trying to gobble up its ally and declared that its growth would “not augur well for the AIADMK, Tamil Nadu or Dravidian policies.”

It is difficult to guess what game he is playing. After all the party’s survival has seemed dependent on Prime Minister Modi’s goodwill.

If Sasikala’s conviction in the disproportionate wealth case left the party in control of lesser leaders, and the EPS-OPS duo could manage to hold on to power for the remainder of the term, with all the attendant benefits, and without any major hiccup, the credit should indeed go to Modi only – he knew what was best for his party and had little hesitation in doing whatever was required to do in the circumstances.

Ponnaiyan

AIADMK organizing secretary C Ponnaiyan said in a party meeting that the BJP was trying to gobble up its ally

Surely if, say, Manmohan Singh had been in command, he would not have been able to bulldoze his way through – no pun intended here please!

The AIADMK’s electoral record since the death of Jayalalithaa has been patchy. The party  did win a few seats in the 2019 by-elections, though it had been routed in the Lok Sabha polls a little earlier.

It was humbled in the last year’s Assembly polls, still it could manage 66 seats and emerge the major opposition party, and thus without any charismatic leader to boast of.

Edappadi Palanisamy, O Panneerselvam and their associates had learnt their lesson well from Amma (aka Jayalalithaa), who had time and again tapped into the anti-DMK sentiments built among large sections of the people by her mentor MGR.

But EPS-OPS would not have been able to achieve whatever they have but for their relatively unimpeded stint in power, and for which they should be grateful to Modi.

It is indeed true that the BJP is steadily making inroads into the AIADMK’s own base, but what would come of any confrontation with a ruthless Modi?

Not wanting to set off an inner party war, other AIADMK leaders might not like to be seen differing with Ponnaiyan.  But they also should be worried over the BJP’s steady growth, hence they might be smiling to themselves at the attack on the BJP.

Only what their cupboards bursting with skeletons, they would rather not antagonize the ruling party at the Centre.

All the same they should be painfully aware that the party’s days are numbered and the BJP could be a natural option for many of them.

Of course the path is bound to be rocky.  After all the Tamil soil is not conducive to growth of Hindutva politics.

Periyar EVR, the late Dravidian savant, had succeeded in painting the entire Hindu religion as a dastardly Brahmin design to keep out the other castes from the power structure.

Also barring the 1998 Coimbatore blasts and some occasional assassination, nothing much has happened to make the non-Brahmin masses view Muslims with hostility.

Well, there is quite a tension between the large Christian population and the Hindus in Kanyakumari district and where, from the Jan Sangh days, saffronites have enjoyed some hold, but they have not been able to take their ideology elsewhere.

Still fighting it alone the BJP could make some impact in the recent local body polls and generally it is thought to be gaining strength everywhere – this phenomenon could be attributed to the relatively comatose state of the Congress and the charisma of Modi across the spectrum.

Particularly with actor Vijaykanth’s DMDK almost extinct and the AIADMK itself rudderless, it is not that surprising the BJP is moving forward, far more rapidly than one would have suspected, and thanks to the aggressive leadership of the young Annamalai, a former IPS official.

History could also be on the side of the BJP. When they floated their own outfit, the DMK, Periyar’s disciples started softening from day one, whether on the front of Hindu beliefs or even lashing out at the Brahmins as the source of all evil. Anti-god rhetoric has been thrown out of the window. Many functionaries did not care to hide their caste or religious affiliations, more so now. Chief Minister Stalin’s wife Durga is an avid temple-goer.

All the same, as a party the DMK officially remains wedded to Periyar’s ideals, but the AIADMK’s story is very different.  MGR also sought to project himself as a true disciple of Periyar EVR when it came to promoting the interests of the non-Brahmin masses, but he was a believer, some even say he was pious, and anyway many among his associates were.

Caste marks  began to appear in a big way during the time. Still he kept his temple visits under wraps and was not seen in the company of priests except when so necessitated.

It is indeed true that the BJP is steadily making inroads into the AIADMK’s own base, but what would come of any confrontation with a ruthless Modi?

In a striking contrast, Jayalalithaa’s piety was quite ostentatious, with havans, frequent temple visits and so on.  Predictably other AIADMK leaders and the cadres followed suit – images of their solemn prayers when she lay dying in the hospital went viral.

And on the political front too she kept close to the BJP right through, despite a rather chequered course. Indeed she was the first mainstream Tamil leader to strike an alliance, that was in 1998. And she was the first political leader in the country to derisively dub her Sonia Gandhi as Antonia Maino, in an obvious reference to the Congress president’s Italian roots.

She might have toppled the Vajpayee government in under a year, but her right wing inclinations were never in doubt. While addressing the National Integration Council back in 1992, she had stressed the need for “respecting Hindu sentiments” in relation to the Ayodhya controversy.

She also assiduously courted Modi, refused to condemn the 2002 killings, attended his swearing-in functions and hosted him in Chennai. She even introduced an anti-conversion law as well, but retracted post-haste after her debacle in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

In effect then she has left behind a party that is quite comfortable with the Hindutva politics, even if not assiduously promoting it. So switching to the BJP will make eminent sense. Cho Ramasamy once said MGR did not want his party to survive him. He would rather people bemoan, “Oh with the man party too gone…”

Jayalalithaa was only an interregnum perhaps. With her passing away, the MGR’s “wish”  might be coming true, and the BJP could be the gainer in the process.

The DMK too might relish such a prospect as a party with tenuous roots would be easy to vanquish, say some observers.

 


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