The ruling AIADMK, which launched its campaign for the 2021 Assembly elections on Sunday, is facing several challenges in the run-up to its bid for an electoral hat-trick. It has to contend with the “pressure tactics” by its allies, primarily the BJP; the possible fallout of the DMK’s memorandum of corruption charges to the Governor against the Chief Minister and his colleagues; and the likely political impact of the expected return of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s jailed aide V.K. Sasikala in January end.
In recent weeks, the BJP has been ambivalent about acknowledging Chief Minister and AIADMK co-coordinator Edappadi K. Palaniswami, as the alliance’s candidate for the CM post. Though BJP leaders are maintaining that the relationship with the AIADMK remains intact, they appear disinclined to endorse Mr.Palaniswami’s candidature.
There is a feeling that the AIADMK has not effectively countered the issue, though the national party, given its limited electoral strength, will be contesting in much lower number of seats in the alliance. A senior functionary of the AIADMK points out that the present situation is not like the 1980 Assembly election when the DMK and the Congress contested in an equal number of seats together and were briefly sparring over the CM candidate.
The BJP also seems to be promoting the concept of coalition government in the State, an idea that the AIADMK has rejected flatly. A senior BJP leader, also a long-standing member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), expresses the confidence that despite the present posturing, his party will eventually settle for an electoral understanding with the AIADMK.
The DMK’s memorandum to the Governor has evoked sharp responses from the ruling party and Mr. Palaniswami, at the party’s campaign on Sunday, termed it as one “full of lies”. Though the Governor’s decision is not yet known, it is regarded by jurists and senior officials alike as a matter which falls within the “exclusive domain” of the Governor.
At the same time, the development has caused anxiety at least among sections of the AIADMK how it will play out, when the announcement of the election schedule is expected in a few months. Recent months saw a few occasions of subtle differences between the Governor and the government coming to the fore. The issue of 7.5% horizontal reservation in medical courses is one such instance.
Need for unity
The AIADMK leaders are also privately discussing the possible impact of the release of Sasikala, briefly the party’s interim general secretary after Jayalalithaa’s death, on their organisation. While all the speakers at Sunday’s meeting invariably referred to the need for unity among members of the party, this has a special relevance for the AIADMK on account of the Sasikala factor. Perhaps, keeping this in mind, Law Minister C. Ve. Shanmugam, a few days ago spoke of a “big conspiracy” about freezing his party’s symbol, “Two Leaves”.
Notwithstanding all the challenges, sections within the party are confident that the organisation can come out with flying colours, as they feel that the image of Mr. Palaniswami has “changed favourably” in the last four years, particularly in the past year or so.