In a huge embarrassment to the ruling government, the Vijayakant-led DMDK which was supposed to finalise its seats in the AIADMK alliance on Wednesday, approached the DMK in a last-minute effort to join their camp. Speaking to the media, shortly after members of DMDK visited his residence, DMK Treasurer Duraimurugan confirmed the request but stated that he had to turn them down because the party had finished distributing seats for the Lok Sabha polls.
This meeting with the DMK leader came minutes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Chennai to address an election rally as well as launch various development projects. A large digital banner of DMDK chief Vijayakant was initially present on the stage, but had to be removed by organisers as the alliance was yet to be confirmed. The DMK had also attempted to negotiate with the DMDK but the party had made it clear then that it was leaning towards the AIADMK alliance.
But now, the sudden change of mind exhibited by the DMDK, has caught both the parties off guard.
"Vijayakant's brother-in-law Sudeesh called me and said he said he wants to come out of AIADMK and come to DMK," Duraimurugan told the media. "He requested for seats but I said our leader (MK Stalin) is not in town and we have no seats to give. I told them they are taking a different tune all the time. Some leaders from the DMDK then came here. But I said the same thing - that there were no seats and that they were too late. I asked why they were coming from there now? But their answer was not convincing," he added.
Shortly after the meeting with the DMK failed, the DMDK did yet another flip. Party leader LK Sudeesh who was closeted in a meeting with Union Minister and BJP leader Piyush Goyal claimed that talks were progressing with the AIADMK.
"We are now in the process of discussing how many seats we are getting and which constituencies. Talks will conclude by Friday," said Sudeesh. When questioned about his conversation with Duraimurugan, Sudeesh claimed it was not a recent phone call.
"We wanted all parties to come together and have talks like in 2014 for the alliance. But that didn't happen and we were upset. So, as DMK called me, I had this conversation with Duraimurugan," he told the media.
But neither the DMK nor the AIADMK is buying his explanation.
After the press conference, Duraimurugan commented acidly, "They talk to me like this, then they go say talks are still on with AIADMK. How can they be trusted? And how can we have talks with them?"
According to sources in the AIADMK, the senior leadership is also furious. Especially considering that Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam confirmed that the DMDK was onboard the mega alliance on Wednesday morning.
"The party leadership is highly offended by this especially after the time we have invested and the kind of respect that we had shown the DMDK. As a party we have acknowledged the reality of this election and are only contesting from close to 20 seats. But a party like DMDK is not letting go of its ego," says an AIADMK source. "We have met them three times already. We understand that they may have concerns regarding the seats given and there are things to be sorted. But that doesn't mean they go to the DMK," he points out.
So does this mean talks with the DMDK will end?
"No, as of now we maintain our offer of four seats," say the AIADMK source. "Even if they have very little to offer us in terms of vote share, we would rather that it is on our side than that of the opposition," he adds.
Political commentator M Bharath, who has been observing the DMDK for the past decade, points out that the party has only used its usual strategy. In 2011 too, they made then AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa wait till the last minute to confirm their alliance. Then in 2016, he says, they kept the People's Welfare Front guessing till the end.
"The DMDK's strategy has always been to delay an alliance confirmation till the very end so that their bargaining power will increase," says Bharath. "But this time, things have turned ugly for them and they stand exposed. But it is the AIADMK and DMK which are to be blamed for their inflated sense of importance. One leader after another was making a beeline to meet Vijayakant, from Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Congress' Tirunavakkarasu, DMK's MK Stalin and then Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam," he adds.
Despite this, however, the AIADMK is ready to keep alliance talks going.
"We were all upset. But we can't go by emotions," says an AIADMK leader. "The political game is very different."