Even as the Indian General Elections are fast approaching, the AIADMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu is playing its cards close to its chest with Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam mulling a partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party. According to party sources, while a dedicated pressure campaign is on from the BJP to publicly force AIADMK leaders to confront the realities of seat-sharing, the multiple factions within the AIADMK are compelling decision-makers in the party to tread carefully.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to visit Madurai on January 28, news of seat-sharing numbers have been flying thick and fast. One BJP leader tells TNM that the Tamil Nadu BJP is working towards including positive remarks about the AIADMKâ€™s governance in PM Modiâ€™s address to the public. The remarks, the leader says, is expected to set the tone on public perception of the AIADMK and the BJP ahead of the elections. However, it has been no secret that both the party in power at the Centre and in the state have enjoyed a cosy yet uneasy relationship ever since the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Speaking to TNM, one AIADMK leader from the Kongu belt explains that the AIADMK has managed to put on a united front, despite frictions within the EPS and OPS factions, dating back to the Dharma Yudham of February 2017. While the two warring factions came together after the ouster and imprisonment of Jayalalithaaâ€™s close aide VK Sasikala, the demise of Jayalalithaa meant multiple power centres within the party.
â€śThings are moving cautiously. There are differences among leaders about issues regarding the conduct of the party. Apart from the EPS and OPS factions, Minister for Electricity P Thangamani and Minister for Municipal Administration SP Velumani have their own influential coteries. There is no denying that the BJP is interfering even in the internal matters of the party. This is worrying. Nobody wants to make a move because at the end of the day, the survival of the current government is dependent on the BJP to a large extent,â€ť says the leader.
Sources say not all AIADMK leaders are in favour of an alliance with the BJP. Though most concede that an alliance is a given, they want EPS to ensure that AIADMK can contest in at least 25 seats. The various factions are already at work deciding their list of candidates and if the party was to contest in less number of seats, the disagreements between the factions are only going to peak.
"The party has 37 MPs. If they decide just 20 seats, that would leave so many disgruntled MPs. Also, all factions want maximum candidates from their list to be given seats," an AIADMK source said.
One of the party's senior leaders and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai has recently made headlines for his critical remarks against the government, both to the press as well as on the floor of Lower House of Parliament. When asked about the multiple voices of the party, one party office-bearer close to Thambidurai says that while his comments have made Chief Minister EPS unhappy, it has been good to gauge the response an anti-BJP stance brings.
â€śIt is good for public perception that we are seen as standing upto the BJP. There is no doubt about that. But it is well-known that Thambidurai has long been loyal to Sasikala and that EPS cannot reign him in, even if the BJP wishes. If he decides to contest elections, then it is likely to be a contest between Thambidurai's faction and the BJP since both would be vying for tickets in the Kongu region,â€ť says the leader.
However, with the partyâ€™s reluctance to face bye-polls in the state and two ongoing CBI investigations of the Chief Minister and Health Minister C Vijayabaskar, the AIADMK is buying time, not willing to let go off existing power in pursuit of parliamentary ambitions.