Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent call on DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi in Chennai to enquire about his health has triggered speculation that the BJP may be trying to keep its Tamil Nadu options open ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls. For many years, the BJP was cosy with the AIADMK, which was in power in the state and is the DMK’s traditional rival. The late J. Jayalalithaa’s death and the toxic intra-AIADMK dynamics that followed have evidently persuaded Mr Modi that the state’s ruling party may not be a safe enough vehicle to launch the BJP in Tamil Nadu as a coalition partner. Only this can explain the overture to Mr Karunanidhi.
Of course, the success of this will depend largely on the Modi government’s stock as the 2019 parliamentary election approaches and on how the DMK and the Congress — allies in the last election — see each other. Mr Modi’s Tamil tango has as its backdrop the recent snub the BJP got from the Shiv Sena, its coalition partner in the governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra. The Sena is the BJP’s oldest ally in the country. But the relationship has become prickly with the BJP covering electoral ground nationally and elbowing out the Sena from its regional perch in the Mumbai area.
For some time now, the Sena has been sharp in its criticism of the BJP, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and Prime Minister Modi. Fed up with this, the CM observed recently that the Sena should make up its mind whether it wishes to remain a partner in the state government and for the 2019 election. This drew a stinging rebuke from a top Sena leader, who went to the extent of saying that of late Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had emerged as prime ministerial material.
The warring between two saffron parties — one with long-term national ambitions and the other keen to recover its hegemony in the Mumbai region — has rarely been so intense. On his part, NCP boss Sharad Pawar, who doesn’t mind obliging the BJP from time to time though he is with the UPA, went on record earlier this week saying he would not form a government with the BJP or the Sena, indicating that the NCP wouldn’t bail out the Fadnavis government if the Sena pulled out. The BJP has also suffered a setback in Punjab where it was rolled over by the Congress along with its ally Akali Dal in the Assembly election earlier this year. Also, the prognosis for the saffron party isn’t healthy for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where state polls are due in 2018. The effects of demonetisation and GST aren’t very comforting. This is the backdrop to the new footwork seen in Tamil Nadu.