Misreading Modi's DMK Visit In Chennai

Published: November 08, 2017 10:00 IST
A serving Prime Minister paying a courtesy call on an ailing state patriarch is hardly breaking news. Yet, every attempt is being made to read hidden meaning into a ten-minute encounter (some accounts say "12 minutes") in Chennai, where Modi had gone to attend the platinum jubilee of a major Tamil newspaper.

Indeed, for a while a rumour was circulated that as a result of the meeting, the DMK leadership had decided to entirely call off the 18-party DMK-led demonstration in every district of the state that was scheduled for the forenoon of 8 November, the anniversary of Modi's self-goal of demonetisation. This seems to have sparked a Times of India story proclaiming in its headline, "DMK Calls off Demonstration" that, happily, seems to have since been deleted. While the misleading TOI item appears to have been withdrawn, YouTube is still carrying, at the time of writing (4.45 pm, November 7), headlines that claim not only that "DMK calls off demonstration protests in Tamil Nadu" but also that "This happened a day after PM Modi met Karunanidhi".

The fact is that even before the courtesy call, the DMK leader, MK Stalin, had ordered the calling off of the proposed demonstration in eight of Tamil Nadu's 29 districts owing to heavy rain lashing coastal Tamil Nadu, threatening cyclonic conditions. While heavy downpours had earlier rendered Chennai water-bound and dysfunctional, as widely reported, it was the districts of Nagapattinam and Thanjavur that were now the most seriously afflicted by the relentless downpour. My constituency of Mayiladuturai is divided half and half between these two districts. I had spent eight days there between October 27 and November 4, and my tour programme had almost been washed out by very heavy rainfall and intimations of a coming typhoon. Remember, the Nagapattinam coast was the worst-hit part of southern India in the tsunami disaster of 2004. That is what necessitated the calling off of the demonstration in Chennai city and eight districts along the coast, including one or two adjoining inland districts. Indeed, the DMK orders included the direction that party workers in these exempted districts "should wear black shirts to show their opposition to the note ban" as they would be doing in the other 21 districts. It is important to note that even in these eight rain-hit districts, the demonstration has only been "deferred" not "cancelled".

The spin sought to be given that the Modi magic had beguiled Kalaignyar Karunanidhi into signaling support to the BJP is precisely the kind of "fake news" indulged in so wantonly by the BJP and its minions. The Indian Express, which claimed in its headline that the demonstration has been called off in "Tamil Nadu" (without mentioning that this was only in eight rain-hit districts) cited unnamed "BJP sources" as saying the meeting was intended to "keep the window open" for 2019. It also commented that the meeting has "triggered speculation that the BJP has softened its stand against AIADMK's principal opposition, the DMK". None of this constitutes the "whole truth", especially as DMK working president, MK Stalin, had clarified immediately after the meeting that "the PM did not come with any political intentions, nor did he talk politics". Yet, the claim was made on another news website that "political observers" are seeing this "as a major development ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections". It is not. Stalin himself is leading the protest in Madurai (in view of rains having washed out play in the capital), while 20 other top DMK leaders have been designated to lead the Black Day demonstrations in each one of the designated districts.

Perhaps the most informed instant assessment has been made by the always well-informed N Sathiya Moorthy, who heads the Observer Research Foundation in Chennai, that the BJP "seeking to reposition itself to the middle-path between the 'Big Two' Dravidian parties" is, in fact, "an admission that their purported strategy... does not have much chance of success, even if it were to piggy-back on either the AIADMK or DMK".
modi karunanidhi pti 650

PM Narendra Modi met M Karunanidhi at the DMK chief's Gopalapuram home in Chennai

Far from breaking through into Tamil Nadu, the BJP finds itself hoist with its own petard. Given the strong DMK-Congress alliance, the BJP thought it could play the post-Jayalalithaa factions of the AIADMK against each other, thus ensuring that whichever faction came out on top would render space to the BJP for ensuring their success. This, it was hoped by the BJP, would enable the BJP to make its debut in the state. But the BJP was not deft enough to give either faction a decisive majority. Therefore, resort was had to the ruse of getting the Speaker to dismiss 18 elected AIADMK members of the state assembly, even before they had actually defied the whip on the floor of the House, which is the basic requirement of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution.

The BJP further complicated matters for itself by not appointing a resident Governor in Chennai for months on end, so as to give itself time to work out other strategies. The only consequence of such opportunistic tactics is that the Tamil Nadu state assembly has not been called into session since the AIADMK split down the middle soon after Jayalalithaa's death. Speculation is that the BJP is hoping to keep the state assembly in suspension indefinitely, so as to link state assembly to Lok Sabha elections. Were these to be held together, it is certain that the BJP will come a cropper in both elections.

Moreover, with the High Court deciding that the long-deferred local body elections must be held, the popular sentiment is likely to be tested much sooner than later. And with the DMK triumphing in the panchayats and municipalities, confusion in AIADMK ranks will only be compounded. At that stage, either the assembly would have to be called (and thus the life of the assembly jeopardized), or Governor's rule be imposed for a year. With the infighting in the AIADMK, whenever elections to the state assembly are held, the DMK is bound to come out the winner.

Until the BJP starts trying to build up the party from the grassroots, it cannot become a Tamil Nadu player. And becoming a Tamil Nadu player means abandoning its core agenda for the Dravidians contemptuously dismiss the Hindutva brigade as a "saamiyaar katchi", that is a party of sadhus and sants!

And so long as the BJP is not a Tamil Nadu player, the state's 39 seats are in the gift of the DMK. The BJP may, therefore, crave the TN bonus to make up for its expected losses in other states, but, in all likelihood, almost all, and perhaps even all, of 39 TN seats are going to be added to the Opposition's score in 2109. Tamil Nadu will thus ensure that Modi does not become PM again. So, however frantically Modi might flail around the state, it is not his for the asking. Especially as his partymen (and women) continue to do stupid things like protesting a few one-liners in the hit film, Mersal, and try to impose Hindi by the backdoor on a state that prides itself on its Dravidian origins.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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