Just weeks ahead of assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has said it is open to a prospective alliance between its alliance partner, the AIADMK, and the party’s breakaway faction the AMMK.
The AMMK is headed by Jayalalithaa aide and former AIADMK General Secretary VK Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran, which commanded a small vote share of 8.46 percent in the 2019 general elections. The party has been in focus since Sasikala’s release from prison, after serving a four-year sentence in a disproportionate assets case.
“There are speculations that the AMMK may merge their party with the AIADMK. If that happens, it is well and good,” said BJP Tamil Nadu spokesperson Narayanan Thirupathy, speaking to CNBC-TV18.
Narayanan’s views seem odd in the contest of the BJP having fought elections on an anti-corruption plank. After all, Sasikala is a recently released convict in a disproportionate assets case, where she was infamously denoted as A-2 or Accused#2 along with former chief minister J Jayalalithaa.
However, the BJP says that is a matter that should concern only the AIADMK. “Why should we bother whether Sasikala joins the AIADMK or not?” he said, “Our alliance is only with the AIADMK.” On being probed as to whether the BJP would approve of their alliance partners joining hands with someone convicted of corruption, Narayanan replied: “For which, she has been punished.
A week ago, former AIADMK general secretary VK Sasikala was released from a Bengaluru prison after serving her sentence in the case in question. While the former Jayalalithaa aide is no more a member of the AIADMK, the BJP seems to be warming up to the prospect of a merger between Sasikala and her former party.
On Sasikala’s release from prison, she was greeted by thousands of supporters waving AIADMK and AMMK flags, even as the present AIADMK dispensation has made it clear that isn’t welcome in the party anymore. However, the show of strength has led many to speculate if a merger is on the cards.
With the AMMK’s vote share, and both parties staking claim to the Jayalalithaa legacy, a merger or alliance, experts say, will avoid splitting of votes. As if done on cue, several AIADMK partymen flocked to greet Sasikala on her return. Seven party members have been suspended for attempting to rebuild ties with her, including one for lending her his car bearing the AIADMK flag.
Refuting any possibility of a merger, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Palaniswamy said, “People who have been expelled from the AIADMK are hatching a conspiracy to take control of the party.” However, other AIADMK heavyweights like deputy chief minister and party convener O Panneerselvam have been stoically silent.
The principal opposition, the DMK says Sasikala’s return works in its favour since the AIADMK finds itself on a sticky wicket over its course of action. “It’s a catch-22 situation for the AIADMK. If you take her in, it’s going to be problematic, if you leave her out, that’s going to be problematic too,” said DMK spokesperson A Saravanan.
“After the advent of Sasikala, the AMMK’s vote share might go up a bit,” he added, “But if they take her in, then the question is going to be: who’s going to lead them?”
The bigger fear for the AIADMK is that Sasikala, on her own, could appropriate former chief minister Jayalalithaa’s legacy, and deny the AIADMK that opportunity. If that does happen, there’s every indication that Sasikala could split more AIADMK votes than initially estimated.
While the party is holding its silence, for now, sources say back-channel talks with the Sasikala faction are on, and a merger or an alliance at least could be forged well in time for assembly elections.