Have the ripples of the Narendra Modi wave that began in Uttar Pradesh travelled right up to Tamil Nadu? Here are a few straws in the wind. Modi’s representatives in the past few weeks helped quickly bring closure to at least three major issues — the Neduvasal agitation, unrest following the killing of a fishermen in mid-sea by the Sri Lankan navy and the alleged suicide of a JNU scholar hailing from Salem. Such decisive intervention by the BJP has not happened so far in Tamil Nadu. And remember, the Centre’s assurances have generally evoked more suspicion than acceptance among the agitating stakeholders in the State.
Why, till about a couple of months ago, people sniggered when Central ministers like Prakash Javadekar assured that the ban on the traditional bull taming sport, jallikattu, would be lifted. Another Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan made similar promises, and when he failed to keep it, they decided not to celebrate Pongal. When the jallikattu agitation snowballed in January and the O Panneerselvam government tried to defuse it by issuing a State ordinance to lift the ban, both the Centre and the State said the law was iron clad, but the agitators refused to trust their word. It was only after the State government’s jallikattu law got Presidential assent and the police indulged in some strong-arm action that the agitation was finally broken up.
Given this background, it appeared curious when Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Pon Radhakrishnan met the farmers agitating against a proposed hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal in Pudukkottai district and managed to persuade them to withdraw their protest. For, the protestors had stayed put despite Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s assurance that nothing would be done that goes against the wishes of the farming community. Even if it is argued that there wasn’t anything really to protest about after the CM’s statement, and the Union ministers’ visit served as a face-saver for the agitators, the successful mediation by the duo opened up a political space hitherto denied to the BJP in Tamil Nadu.
Similarly, hundreds of fishermen called off their six-day protest after Nirmala Sitharaman and Pon Radhakrishnan assured strong action over the mid-sea killing by the Lankan navy. Claiming they were sent by Modi to hold talks, Nirmala said: “We will pursue it till we get justice.” Pictures of Nirmala sitting cross-legged with the family of K Britjo, the fisherman who was shot dead, sharing their grief had their own impact.
When the death of JNU scholar Muthukrishnan threatened to snowball into another flashpoint with sections of the social media spinning it as a Rohith Vemula moment, Modi dispatched Ponnar to tamp it down. That he successfully managed to execute the directive, though a shoe flew past his head, showed he had arrived and grown in stature.
It’s no secret that Team Modi seriously started exploring growth options in Tamil Nadu after the hospitalisation of the then chief minister Jayalalithaa last year. That is how O Panneerselvam came close to the BJP leadership but later paid the cost. Jayalalithaa’s demise and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s indisposition created the vacuum for Modi’s party to get some traction in the Dravidian heartland.
Political attention is now focused on the prestigious RK Nagar Assembly by-election that was necessitated by the death of sitting member Jayalalithaa. Among those in the fray are AIADMK’s deputy general secretary T T V Dinakaran, rebel leader E Madhusudhanan and Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa, all three invoking Jayalalithaa and vying for a share of the same party’s vote bank.
The situation in the AIADMK is expected to crystallise on March 22 when the Election Commission will decide V K Sasikala’s position as general secretary and announce which faction has the right to use the party’s two-leaves symbol.
The BJP entered the game by craftily giving its ticket to popular musician Gangai Amaran — brother of the legendary Illaiyaraja — who has animus towards the Sasikala family.
The stakes are decidedly high for Dinakaran, OPS and DMK working president M K Stalin who inexplicably nominated a novice for the seat. For, knives will surely be out against whoever loses RK Nagar.
During a recent talk show on the 100th episode of Koffee with Karan with the Khan brothers Salman, Sohail and Arbaaz as guests, Sohail pointed to Salman as Number 1 and himself and Arbaaz as zeros to sum up what he thought about the century mark. It was not self-deprecation but Sohail’s honesty that shone through. Put in a similar situation, one wonders if Nirmala and Ponnar would have the modesty to describe Modi as Number 1 and themselves as zeroes, since they draw all their strength from the prime minister’s rock star image.
Having acquitted themselves well so far, would the two troubleshooters reach out to a clutch of drought-hit farmers from Tamil Nadu who have been staging an agitation at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi with dug up skulls, seeking a better drought relief package? That could be the next assignment they need to crack.
Deputy Resident Editor, Tamil Nadu