The whole of Tamil Nadu would be eagerly awaiting the political moves of Sasikala Natarajan when she walks out of the Bengaluru prison next week after serving her four-year prison term in the disproportionate assets case.
Whether she would be willing to make peace with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leaders, who had dumped her unceremoniously after she went to jail with the sole aim of retaining power? Will the AIADMK leadership be ready to patch up with Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran to ensure that the anti-DMK votes do not get split?
An indication about such development was available on Thursday evening during the 51st Anniversary of Thuglak magazine in which BJP president J.P. Nadda was the chief guest. Asked by a reader if the AIADMK would stand to benefit by allowing Sasikala back into the party, Thuglak Editor S. Gurumurthy had replied “When a house is on fire you do not wait for water from the Ganges to put out the fire. You will even use sewer water for the purpose. Similarly, whether it is Sasikala or anyone else when you gather as an alliance or a front you can't wait for Ganga water, you have to accept all kinds of water."
That such an observation came from Gurumurthy is significant since he was the solitary voice who had opposed the elevation of Sasikala first as AIADMK general secretary and then almost becoming Chief Minister before being sent to jail by the Supreme Court in 2017 after Jayalalithaa’s demise. Equally significant was that he made those comments in the presence of the BJP president and watched by state BJP leaders from the audience.
It is clear that the BJP is now working to bring the AIADMK and Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam (AMMK) led by Dhinakaran together ahead of the Assembly elections. The first indication was available when the AMMK was allotted the “Cooker” symbol by the Election Commission, a symbol with which Dhinakaran had won the RK Nagar Assembly by-election in December 2017 as an Independent after he had broken away from the AIADMK. The symbol allotment was BJP’s signal to the AIADMK that there was a softening towards Dhinakaran and the AMMK. Dhinakaran's had also reportedly met some top BJP leaders at Delhi sometime in November.
Though the AMMK failed to win any seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections or in the 19 Assembly by-elections, the party still managed to win a vote share of six per cent and dented the AIADMK’s chances in some of the Assembly seats. “If we contest separately in 2021 the DMK will win easily in at least 50 assembly seats in the southern districts. Similarly, we will not win a single seat in the Thanjavur delta region as AMMK will walk away with at least 10,000 to 20,000 votes in each Assembly seat. They may not win but will definitely spoil our chances,” admitted a senior AIADMK leader. AMMK is expected to wean away from a sizable chunk of the Thevar votes in the South and the delta region which traditionally has gone to the AIADMK.
In such a scenario the BJP, in the absence of the Rajinikanth impact, now has to settle for the Sasikala effect. “Since our sole aim is to stop the DMK from regaining power we need to accept this compromise. But we are trying to work out an arrangement that may not give much leverage to the Sasikala family in running the AIADMK or its government,” admitted a state BJP leader in the know of things.
Even if the AIADMK and the AMMK manage a quick merger ahead of the Assembly elections, Sasikala could be given only a ceremonial post with no real powers. Her nominee Dhinakaran might be accommodated at the top of the party hierarchy but behind OPS and EPS. If Sasikala demands a new chief ministerial face instead of EPS as the price of the merger then OPS could emerge as a consensus candidate, since he belongs to the same Thevar community as Sasikala. “Well, the moves are definitely on but the final shape will emerge only in February ahead of Jayalalithaa’s birth anniversary,” admitted a confidant of Dhinakaran.
OPS as a CM candidate will also suit the BJP since he has always enjoyed a close rapport with the BJP’s national leaders. While EPS has been pushing his case through an advertising blitz in the mass media, OPS has also been projecting himself as a leader of the masses by TV and print media ads possibly in anticipation of the coming merger. The coming weeks may witness an interesting turn of events ahead of the Assembly elections.