The DMK thinks there is nothing to read in the confirmed list of speakers at ‘The Southern Sun — Meeting of National Political Leaders’ in Chennai on 30 August. Notwithstanding the DMK’s attempt to downplay it, the event to commemorate the late M Karunanidhi has raised eyebrows with BJP president Amit Shah expected to attend it.
The DMK leadership was reportedly surprised when it was told that Shah would be representing the BJP at the meet. It had expected the party to send either defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman or Minister of state for Finance and Shipping, Pon Radhakrishnan. Shah’s decision to attend the meet is significant political messaging.
If Shah does make it to Chennai, it will be an important move as far as BJP’s plan for Tamil Nadu is concerned. Whether it is true or not, it will send across the message that the DMK would be open to doing post-poll business with the BJP. At a time when the perception is that south India is anti-BJP, this arrangement would give comfort to Shah and Narendra Modi should the BJP fall tantalisingly short of the 272 mark in the next Lok Sabha election.
The BJP has done business with the DMK in the past though that was in the Vajpayee-Karunanidhi era. It is significant that Modi travelled to Chennai to pay his respects after Karunanidhi passed away, and almost as if to reciprocate, Stalin made it a point to travel to Delhi after Vajpayee’s demise. It would be politically naive to dismiss both gestures merely as political decency.
It will also be a way to show that contrary to perception, the BJP leadership had nothing to do with the manner in which the AIADMK tried to block space at the Marina Beach for Karunanidhi’s final resting place. At that time, RSS ideologue and newly appointed RBI director S Gurumurthy had spoken against allotting space to Karunanidhi’s grave at the Chennai beach arguing that he did not die in office.
With the manner it has remote controlled the AIADMK government, the BJP has sent the message across that it does not care too much for the Dravidian movement and its leaders. If Shah pays homage to Karunanidhi, it will be the BJP’s way to show the party holds Dravidian leaders, especially a founding member like Karunanidhi, in high esteem. It may just help the BJP dilute its Hindi-Hindutva image that is seen as a liability in Dravidian territory.
But it would be naivete to think that Shah is looking only to forge a new political friendship. The BJP knows that in the present context, the DMK is best placed to win most of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu. Should that happen, MK Stalin may well be the kingmaker post 2019.
The aim is to create doubts about the DMK’s real intention, knowing fully well what happened in the bye-election to the RK Nagar Assembly seat in December 2017. That bypoll took place just a month after Modi visited an ailing Karunanidhi and the DMK lost its deposit. Though the weak DMK candidate and alleged bribing of voters were to be blamed, the belief is that the minority vote drifted to TTV Dhinakaran, alarmed at Modi trying to build bridges with the DMK.
The BJP wants to ensure that no regional force is in a position to propel an anti-NDA alliance to power at the Centre. In the past, Tamil Nadu that tends to swing one way, has played a part in formation of governments in Delhi. By creating doubts in the minds of the voters, the BJP could dent the DMK’s prospects.
Stalin too would look to use Shah’s presence, if he does not pull out at the last minute, to use it to his advantage. He would not want the BJP to use his elder brother MK Alagiri to stoke trouble in the DMK, even though he is not part of the party since 2014.
In the past few months, the DMK has not been too pleased with Rahul Gandhi meeting the likes of Kamal Haasan and other leaders from Tamil Nadu. Besides, a section within the Tamil Nadu Congress belonging to the Thevar community has been nudging Gandhi to explore the possibility of an alliance with Dhinakaran instead of the DMK. The argument is that while the DMK will drive a hard bargain, giving very few seats to the Congress to contest, Dhinakaran may be more generous. The event then could be used by Stalin to tell the Congress, that will be represented by Ghulam Nabi Azad, not to take it for granted. As far as the BJP is concerned, if Shah’s presence can put a spanner in the works of the DMK-Congress alliance, its purpose would be served.
Originally, the 30 August meeting was meant to discuss autonomy for states within the Indian Union. The BJP was then not invited as the agenda was to discuss how the Centre was infringing upon the rights of the states. The list was revised after it was converted into a memorial meeting for Karunanidhi. The galaxy of leaders that includes the likes of HD Deve Gowda, Sitaram Yechury, Chandrababu Naidu and Arvind Kejriwal is also indicative of Stalin’s wish to play a more prominent role in national politics, trying to occupy the space Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa did in their heyday.
But while the event would have a bearing on Tamil Nadu politics, no political player from the state will be in attendance. The AIADMK has been predictably ignored given the Marina fracas and even politicians like Vaiko, Ramadoss and Kamal Haasan who have known Karunanidhi closely, are not mentioned in the invite.
Incidentally, the Tamil Nadu BJP is a house divided over whether Shah should or should not attend the DMK meet. All eyes are on this tug-of-war to see who prevails finally.