Amidst all the ideology-driven turbulence that the BJP is setting off in the country, Tamil Nadu seems to be an outlier. Nothing that's presently rocking the country seems to matter to the state, but the tailspin left behind by the untimely death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
It's bizarre, funny and unpredictable.
The BJP is looking to exploit the vacuum created by Jaya's absence, and matinee idol and forever-political-debutant Rajinikanth seems to be preparing the path for them.
A government that was rock-solid before Jaya died is now nervous and hasn't been able to do anything worthwhile, and the AIADMK, which had never witnessed a murmur of dissent in its ranks for nearly three decades, is split into three factions. The BJP is looking to exploit the vacuum created by Jaya's absence, and matinee idol and forever-political-debutant Rajinikanth seems to be preparing the path for them. And most curiously, the family of once-powerful Sasikala, which some even likened to a ruling mafia, has all but disappeared, except for a lone man named TTV Dinakaran.
All these happened in a matter of six months.
As long as Jaya was alive, everything was under her iron control, however unwell she was. But on the day she died, the meltdown began, which ultimately saw Sasikala and Dinakaran in jail and the majority faction of the ruling AIADMK, that ran on their writ, beginning to totter under the fear of probes and raids by central agencies. By then, the party also had split into two with Jaya's Chief Minister nominee O Panneerselvam (OPS) walking away with tacit support from the BJP.
Now with Dinakaran back in Chennai after a month-long jail stint in Delhi on charges of bribing the Election Commission to retrieve the party's original poll symbol of two leaves, the AIADMK has a third faction that has publicly pledged its loyalty to him. If he's even remotely rash, he can bring down the government. A few weeks ago, this man was declared an outcast by the party faction led by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy. The same party faction is now under threat from him.
People who know Dinakaran closely say that he is a very smart man and that's precisely why he remained nonchalant when he was declared persona non grata after his arrest, and could win back a sizeable number of legislators when he came out of jail. He knows that being heroic and hitting back at the people that betrayed him will not help and hence he won't rock the boat. He also knows that it's not a lack of loyalty that compelled the Edappadi faction to disown him, but political insecurity and the fear of raids and probes by central agencies. He would want to wait to see if Edappadi and his group come around.
For the BJP, a weak and splintered AIADMK is necessary for it to find its foot in the door. If the three factions of the AIADMK come together, it would squeeze out the BJP from whatever little space it has gained in the last few months.
Clearly, Edappadi or the people close to him in the government don't have anything against Dinakaran because all of them owe their existence and rise to the Sasikala family. In fact, Edappadi hasn't spoken a word against him or Sasikala. However, he cannot openly accept him, mainly because the BJP wouldn't appreciate that. For the BJP, a weak and splintered AIADMK is necessary for it to find its foot in the door. If the three factions of the AIADMK come together, it would squeeze out the BJP from whatever little space it has gained in the last few months.
Despite the three-way split, the AIADMK government is under no immediate threat of an early exit because neither Dinakaran nor the Edappadi group wants the government, that still has four years to go, to fall. The BJP too wouldn't want it because it's far from ready for a snap poll. It did try to gain a backdoor entry by backing the O Panneerselvam camp, when he mutineered, but the odds were heavily against it. Going by the public mood, it cannot align with either Dinakaran or Edappadi, or both. Till it finds a reasonable combo, the BJP too cannot rock the boat. All it can do is to keep both Dinakaran and Edappadi in check, and from getting close to each other.
The BJP's best and most likely bet will be to use use Rajinikanth's political space as its beachhead. Although he continues to keep his political options ambiguous, Rajinikanth has asked his followers to be battle-ready. Rajini is an old BJP fellow-traveller and hence political observers suspect that his move is to pave the way for the BJP. If OPS, who seems to enjoy public sympathy and the support of the traditional AIADMK voters, also joins hands, the front will be stronger than the Dinakaran and Edappadi factions put together. In the ensuring three-way contest, it can directly taken on the DMK. The BJP never had such a lead opportunity in TN politics.
Rajini is an old BJP fellow-traveller and hence political observers suspect that his move is to pave the way for the BJP.
Despite being cool, strategic and cautious, Dinakaran's choices are extremely limited because there's a lot going against his family, besides Sasikala's jail term and the cases against him. There's more and more muck coming out against their alleged thuggery during the Jaya rule, which incidentally also dents the latter's legacy, and a number of their illegally procured assets are being confiscated by the government based on the trial court order in the disproportionate assets case. Reportedly, he is also isolated within the family because his rise has curtailed the political ambitions of Sasikala's husband and brother.
However, what's most bizarre is that despite all this political instability and opportunism, the government stands still. A curious case of instability manifesting as equilibrium.