A rook here, a castle there

By Santwana Bhattacharya| Published: 10th November 2017 04:00 AM

Often enough, in pop analysis, much is made of a politician’s body language, the tone and tenor of his or her speech. If these are indeed signifiers of sorts, then a telephonic conversation with a top DMK leader was a dead giveaway. He laughed out loud with every query, the chuckles adding an extra sparkle to every line spoken. Clearly something had changed for the dreary monosyllables and hollow responses of the last three or four years to be replaced by a new verve. What changed?

There was an unscheduled visit by the prime minister to the residence of 93-year-old DMK supremo M Karunanidhi—a courtesy call to enquire about his health. The gesture was a throwback to the old style of political entente-making that once prevailed all over. Beyond the laughter that lit up photographs—Karunanidhi, ailing that he is, seemed to be the only one not participating in the mirth around him—the moment created a buzz that spilled over even the boundaries of Tamil Nadu. Political silos, after all, are not broken every day.

The gist: the DMK was no longer a political pariah for the prime minister and his party. Whichever way state BJP leaders see this or display its signs, and however M K Stalin—the sexagenarian ‘youth’ leader—explains it away. That the courtesy call happened just prior to Black Day, oops Black Day for Black Money, no, Anti-Black Day—oh, it’s all so confusing a debate (some of us who shifted to plastic money long ago are anyway always in short supply, DeMon or no DeMon)—is no coincidence. With the ‘no change in stance’ chant on their lips, the DMK promptly scaled down its anti-DeMon protests.

Being down in the dumps for three years is an unusual situation for the Dravidian party—for two decades prior to 2014, it had always managed a stake in power, either at the Centre or in the state. DMK supporters have now started dreaming of renewing that lease. The other coincidence around the visit: it became known that the judgment date for the 2G case will be out on December 5. The verdict itself is expected sometime later in December or early next year.

What makes all this seem like a masterstroke is the seeds of doubt sowed in the Opposition—the way it put Congress and Left plans in disarray. A few tactical moves on the chessboard by the BJP, which open up the game and make future moves possible, could skew the Opposition’s alliance-making even before it consolidates. If things transpire according to a design now visible, the Congress may find itself battling to stave off isolation before 2019. Remember, it was after the grand meeting for Karunanidhi’s birthday that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, by then also the JD-U chief, started drifting away from the opposition formation.

Since the late ’80s, it’s been said that whoever gets Tamil Nadu right wins New Delhi. That underlines the importance of the two Dravidian parties in national politics. It’s a message to the AIADMK that it better put its act together fast, or the BJP has options. Unless its internal strife is sorted out, there’s no way the two-leaf symbol can be resurrected. With both the charismatic presence of Amma and the symbol gone, it could be advantage DMK. The kind gesture to Karunanidhi also serves as a teasing, sidelong wink at newbies who want to test the political waters.

The upshot: a BJP that’s determined to make inroads into Tamil Nadu politics can choose its friends. Particularly if it needs to counter any animosity Tamil nationalist groups may have towards its underlying politics. The surprise detour to MK, therefore, was loaded with meaning. No wonder the DMK young turks were laughing.

No one else in the Opposition is laughing. Unless, of course, they are preparing to cross over to the BJP. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, for instance, is not amused. Her one-time right-hand man Mukul Roy, alleged to have profited from the Sarada-Narada scams, has jumped ship. Roy is supposed to know all the political secrets of Mamata—how she transfused entrenched CPM votes with Trinamool blood. Just as an ally in Tamil Nadu is key to BJP’s expansion plan there, in West Bengal, where the BJP can’t go for an alliance to challenge Mamata, Mukul Roy may be the key that can unlock the state—and his own political/workers’ base—for the BJP.

Can Mukul help the lotus bloom in Bengal? Well, not so fast. Mamata is Didi. She never needed Mukul Roy to win elections. But he could certainly be an irritant for her. For Bengal to be won, a BJP veteran says, it needs to find a bhadralok to lead the party. In the absence of a grassroots leader like Didi, or a Dada with suave ways, it’s doing the next best thing, picking mangoes from across the fence. Mukul in the pocket, now it’s tapping West Bengal PCC chief Adhir Choudhury through UP CM Yogi Adityanath. Adhir is what is left of the Congress in West Bengal.

If he goes, the Malda-Murshidabad belt, which never voted for any other party except the Congress through 34 years of Left rule and the Modi wave, will get wiped out. As fellow MPs, Adityanath and Adhir were good friends—that’s the beauty of parliamentary democracy. Ideology no bar, scam no bar. Those must be overlooked in realpolitik—or, rather, used. Look only at Sukhram, once the icon of corruption, and how he is being used to chip away at yet another Congress stronghold in Mandi, Himachal.

All these realignments are well thought out, not just to win elections, but also to dry the bases and resources of the grand old party, state by state, base by base. All when it’s dreaming a difficult dream in Gujarat.

Santwana Bhattacharya

Political Editor, The New Indian Express

Email: santwana@newindianexpress.com

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