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Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami (left) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI
Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami (left) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: PTI

BJP plays AIADMK peacemaker with eye on Tamil Nadu political prize

BJP has offered to mediate between the two factions of AIADMK led by Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palaniswami and O. Panneerselvam

New Delhi/Chennai: A politically ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has offered to mediate between the two factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu.

If resolved, not only will it lend stability to the state government, which is little over a year, it will also provide BJP the political space to expand its footprint in the state. It will also pre-empt BJP’s political rivals from taking advantage of the fluid situation in the state.

While one faction of the ruling party is led by chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami, the rival group is headed by former chief minister O. Panneerselvam. Previous efforts at reconciliation have broken down.

“The party is keen that the legacy of the late chief minister J. Jayalalithaa is protected and for that it is important that both Palaniswami and Panneerselvam come together and end their differences. BJP will again play the role of a mediator or facilitator but leaders of AIADMK have to take the final decision," said a senior BJP leader who is part of the BJP’s plan in Tamil Nadu.

The BJP sensed an opportunity after both AIADMK factions buried their differences to back the choice of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for President and vice-president. The BJP is now exploring the option of a formal alliance; greater clarity will emerge once the schedule for local elections is declared.

The municipality civic polls have been due since October and are being viewed as the first test for all political parties, especially AIADMK in the absence of Jayalalithaa, the former CM.

“The upcoming local body elections are the key, we do not know what is the impact of the absence of J.Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu. Since BJP and both factions of AIADMK would contest the local body elections, it would be the first test of strength. The negotiations with the two sides of AIADMK would start only after the municipal elections," the BJP leader added.

However, while senior leaders from both the factions of AIADMK did not comment, a tweet by the leader of the Puratchi Thalaivi (Amma) faction O. Panneerselvam on a possible alliance with the BJP had kicked up a storm in May.

The tweet from Panneerselvam’s official twitter handle @OfficeOfOPS said: “We will take a decision on alliance with BJP once local body elections are announced." It was soon deleted, only to be followed by another tweet: “We mean that only after the announcement of local body elections we will think about the alliance with any political party."

Last week, the Madras high court directed the state election commission (SEC) to submit a tentative schedule for civic body polls in Tamil Nadu by 1 August. With a batch of petitions pending in the Madras high court and the Supreme Court regarding the conduct of the local body elections, on 18 July the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) moved a fresh plea asking the court to direct the SEC to conduct elections immediately.

The DMK has been alleging that the Tamil Nadu government with the backing of the SEC has been deferring the elections for “political reasons."

“The state government is managing the constitutional bodies with the help of special officers under the garb of pendency of writ appeal and special leave petitions before the high court and Supreme Court," said the petition filed by DMK organisation secretary R.S. Bharathi.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the assembly on 10 July to form a delimitation commission that will redraw the boundaries of wards in the state, is expected to delay the process of the local body polls. The DMK petitioner submitted in the HC that the bill is solely intended to delay the elections.

“A few months ago, the local body elections were seen as a threat to the AIADMK factions and the ruling faction made all efforts to postpone it. Today, considering that BJP is in good terms with the AIADMK, if the civic polls are conducted, it is equally a big test for the BJP which is trying to take a position in the state," said N. Sathiya Moorthy, director of the Chennai chapter of think-tank Observer Research Foundation.

Adding that the dynamics of the ruling party’s merger will not be as smooth as the one in 1989, post the demise of AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran, Sathiya Moorthy said, “Whether the AIADMK merger happens or not, the BJP will mostly go it alone, if the local body elections happen."

“However, the options for BJP are very limited. If the party wants to polarise the voters on the religious lines, like Uttar Pradesh, no Dravidian party would want an alliance with the BJP."

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