Jayalalithaa's self-assured and strong resistance to the BJP-led Centre has slipped through the cracks, to be replaced by a quiet subservience from her successors.

A year after Jaya Has AIADMK gone from resistance to compliance under BJP pressure
news Politics Monday, December 04, 2017 - 16:45

"Sirandha nirvagi yaar? Gujaratai serndha andha Modi ya? Alla Tamil Nattai serndha indha lady ya? Anaithu thirangalilum miga sirandha nirvagathai allithukondiruppadhu Gujaratai serndha Modi alla, Tamil Nattai serndha indha lady dhaan enbadhai therindhukollungal!”

(“Who is a better administrator? Is it Gujarat’s Modi or this Tamil Nadu lady? Tamil Nadu’s lady is better than Gujarat’s Modi in providing better administration in all spheres of governance.”)

It was not long ago that this war cry echoed through Tamil Nadu’s streets as then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa campaigned ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, pitting her administration directly against the then Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, Narendra Modi.

The people of Tamil Nadu endorsed Jayalalithaa’s words not only in 2014, when the AIADMK swept the polls bagging 37 of the 39 seats in the state, but reposed their faith in her administration in 2016 at the Assembly Election.  

Now, a year after her demise, Jayalalithaa’s words appear to have been forgotten by ministers in her cabinet, and those that proclaimed to be her loyalists. Her resounding battle cry has now been replaced by a feeble whisper of subservience, say many.

From resistance to compliance

The AIADMK government under the leadership of Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and Deputy CM O Panneerselvam have been inching closer towards the BJP-led Centre. The creeping influence of the Centre on Tamil Nadu’s affairs is perhaps most evident in the policies that Jayalalithaa had vehemently opposed.  

“Events since December 5, 2016 seem to indicate control that has never been seen in India. One political party having control over another party that runs the government,” observes RK Radhakrishnan, Associate Editor of Frontline.

He points to the last memorandum presented by Jayalalithaa to PM Modi in June 2016, which emphasised the state’s opposition to NEET, GST, and the UDAY Scheme among a host of other issues. 

While Jayalalithaa had highlighted Tamil Nadu’s difficulty in implementing the UDAY scheme without “essential modifications” by the Power Ministry, just a month after her death, on January 9, the government under O Panneerselvam had a change of heart and joined the Centre’s package for reviving state-run electricity distribution utilities. The script has been no different for schemes like GST and NEET, with the state’s resistance under Jayalalithaa making way for compliance under OPS and EPS.

Radhakrishnan says, “The OPS government was the first to concede to the demands of the Centre, going against the 29-point memorandum that Jayalalithaa had submitted to the Prime Minister. The government has changed from OPS to EPS, but the stance of the government and the AIADMK party has not changed one bit. The government of Tamil Nadu has tried to pander to every whim and fancy of the Centre.”

Ramu Manivannan, Professor of Political Science at Madras University, says BJP’s influence on the ruling AIADMK has been largely covert. “It has been more covert than overt. It has been a very deceptive, devious kind of reign. The TN government has given up easily on UDAY scheme, GST issue and many other policies – without debate and discussion. It has been a combination of covert and overt influence by the BJP over the Tamil Nadu government.”  

However, an AIADMK leader told TNM that there has been no direct or additional pressure from the BJP. He added that top leaders of the BJP had reached out to the AIADMK for support in the Parliament on various issues, but unlike in the past, the regional party was finding it hard to say no. "There is fear and respect. Unlike Amma, who could say no to a request from someone like PM Modi or Jaitley, the leaders now cannot afford to do that. So, I don't think the BJP needs to put any additional pressure, as people here are already pliable to them," says the AIADMK leader.

But what is the BJP’s game plan for Tamil Nadu?

S Ramesh, Chief Reporter with the Thuglak magazine explains that the BJP has changed its strategy in the state according to the political scenario. “BJP had started campaigning against DMK and AIADMK before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It was projecting itself as an alternative to Dravidian parties, and formed an alliance with DMDK, MDMK, IJK and others. But after Jayalalithaa’s victory in 2014, criticism against the AIADMK became low.”

Like many other aspiring political leaders and parties, the BJP senses that that it has a better chance now in Tamil Nadu after Jayalalithaa’s demise, he says. But Ramesh notes, “BJP won’t align with the AIADMK in the polls. There are a lot of corruption charges against the AIADMK and that’s why the BJP isn’t eager for an alliance. It will wait for Rajinikanth to enter politics to form an alliance.”

Like Ramesh, Professor Ramu Manivannan observes that the BJP is projecting itself as an alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. “The BJP wants to give the impression that there is decay in the Dravidian parties, although it is not the end yet.” He, however, says, “Their immediate interest is to finish the AIADMK. One way is by attacking the Sasikala faction and the other is by aligning with OPS, they are destroying it from within.”

A source close to the BJP leadership in Tamil Nadu points out that much of the saffron party’s indirect manoeuvrings in the state have been targeted at its arch-rival – the Congress. “BJP will not like Congress to get strengthened in any state. If the DMK is getting strengthened then Congress will benefit from it. BJP will not like it to rise in Tamil Nadu and that’s why they have been indirectly manoeuvring,” he explains.

How the BJP goes forward in Tamil Nadu depends largely on how it plays its cards. “If the BJP is arrogant and is a bully, it will lose the people of Tamil Nadu. But if it is a benign, development-centred party, and tries to project itself as pushing for the needs and aspirations of Tamil Nadu, then there is a chance of BJP jumping from 1% vote share to 4 to 5% vote share,” Radhakrishnan argues.

Political realignments

A direct consequence of BJP’s interest in Tamil Nadu is the political realignment that has taken place since Jayalalithaa’s demise. The bye-poll for the late CM’s constituency – RK Nagar – has witnessed parties such as the Congress, CPI, VCK and MDMK lend support to the DMK. The resolution adopted by the MDMK, founded by Vaiko after he had walked out of the DMK in 1993, reflects the fear over the BJP’s growing influence in the state.

“It is the need of the hour to teach a lesson to the AIADMK government which has lost the confidence of the people. The MDMK has the historical duty to safeguard Dravidian movement. So, the party decides to support the DMK candidate and work for his victory,” stated the resolution on Sunday.  

Ramu Manivannan points out that the political realignment is a sign of the times. He says, “They see the BJP as a party against ideological currents in Tamil Nadu politics. There is a fear that there will be less Tamil Nadu politics if the BJP comes to power. Resisting BJP is part of Dravidian politics. But now these parties have to re-examine themselves once again, their ideological and social base under the DMK, while resisting the BJP.”

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