Thursday, May 26, 2022

A ‘National’ Pongal In Tamil Nadu This Year

Congress and BJP seek to make their presence felt in election-bound state

A ‘National’ Pongal In Tamil Nadu This Year
Rahul Gandhi (L), JP Nadda (R) PTI

Pongal this year will see leaders of two national parties – the BJP and Congress – spending time in Tamil Nadu as part of their political outreach in the key state that goes to elections in another four months.

BJP president J.P. Nadda would be the chief guest at the annual function of “Thuglak’ magazine at Chennai on Thursday evening. Earlier in the day, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi would be the VIP spectator at the famous jallikattu at Avaniyapuram near Madurai as part of the Pongal celebrations.

While Nadda would be filling in for Home Minister Amit Shah, the original invitee, Rahul Gandhi’s itinerary was fixed just two days ago hoping to showcase the pro-farmers sentiment that every political leader wears on his sleeve these days. The state Congress felt that Rahul’s participation in a community event would help the party reach out to the rural voters since jallikattu has essentially been a rural sport of the farming community.

More importantly Rahul’s presence, even for a couple of hours, would also send the right signal to its political partner the DMK, which has been hoping to whittle down the Congress share for the Assembly elections. The Congress had managed to win just 8 out of the 41 seats it had contested in 2016, losing badly against the AIADMK. DMK leaders feel that the Congress had robbed it of a certain victory and the same mistake of allotting more seats than it deserved should not be repeated in 2021. Its poor showing in the recent Bihar elections where again the party had pulled down its alliance has further hardened the DMK’s stance.

So the state leaders of the Congress felt that Rahul’s presence ahead of the elections and before seat-sharing talks with the DMK commenced would let the DMK know that the Congress can stage its own political campaign in Tamil Nadu rather than ride on the shoulder of the DMK. “The DMK and its leaders have been organizing their own rallies and road shows during the past two months and the Congress has not been part of them. So it only made political sense that we have our own political outreach independent of the DMK,” observed a former MLA. By flexing its muscle and asserting Rahul Gandhi’s leadership image, the Congress hopes that the DMK would not view it as a weakling.

So Rahul Gandhi’s “jallikattu” visit fits into this line of thinking by the Congress. Since bull taming happens to be a youthful sport, the Congress managers also hope that Rahul would be able to connect with the young spectators who would be present at Avaniyapuram on Thursday.

For the BJP, Nadda’s visit is an anticipated follow-up to Amit Shah’s visit to the state capital in early December when in his presence at a government function the ruling AIADMK announced its decision to continue the alliance with the BJP for the Assembly election as well. The home minister had chosen not to respond at that time to the AIADMK’s suo motto declaration on the alliance. One reason was protocol permitted only the party’s parliamentary board or the president of the BJP to make the formal announcement. But the other reason was the imminent arrival of Rajinikanth in the political arena, which has now been ruled out by the film star himself. On Thursday, Nadda would most likely spell out the BJP’s stand, even though it is a given that the national party would only be too happy to join hands with the AIADMK now that the Rajinikanth angle was no longer available.

The state BJP also finally smoothed out an unnecessary irritant over the chief ministerial candidate of the AIADMK led front by its earlier insistence that only the NDA leadership would announce the CM candidate even though the AIADMK had formally stated that the Chief Minister K. Palaniswami would be its CM candidate. After an angry exchange of words between the state BJP and the AIADMK, the BJP’s state in charge C.T. Ravi announced on Monday that being the largest party of the front it was the prerogative of the AIADMK to come up with the CM candidate. Nadda would most likely endorse the candidature of Palaniswami during his Chennai trip.

The AIADMK leaders, who are most likely to meet Nadda, would also insist that more representation be given to Tamil Nadu in the Union cabinet – there is not a single minister from the state – which would see MPs from the AIADMK and PMK becoming central ministers from the state and enthuse the cadres of these parties ahead of the Assembly elections. “A larger representation to Tamil Nadu in the Union government is a just demand which the BJP should fulfill in the larger interest of the state,” said a senior AIADMK MP.