To free Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts or deny Tamil Nadu's demand is posing a gamble for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategy ahead of the Lok Sabha elections 2019. With 40 seats on offer, along with one Puducherry seat, Tamil Nadu is a major state being eyed by the BJP to offset any losses it could suffer in North India on account of united Opposition parties in a Mahagathbandan. Which is why the BJP wants to make a difference in the state and secure a good alliance partner which can shore up the party’s numbers in the Lok Sabha from the state.
In the last general elections in 2014, the BJP had won one seat and another by its alliance partner, the PMK. The alliance partner has since parted ways with the BJP few years ago. The BJP, perhaps, would like an alliance with either of the two Dravidian parties as it is a straight fight between the two, despite the emergence of new political forces in the state. Other than coming to an understanding with superstar Rajinikanth, who is soon coming out with his political party, the BJP is hoping for a tie up with the ruling AIADMK and other smaller parties. As it is, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the AIADMK to fight the perception that it was only fronting for the BJP.
The regional political formations and pro-Tamil organisations have managed to paint the BJP as an anti-Tamil Nadu in its outlook and approach and cite instances like NEET as a shining example. Jayalalithaa had held strongly against the BJP-led central government on a host of issues, including the GST but the AIADMK government that ensued after her death capitulated to the Centre – leading to the perception that the BJP was remote-controlling the state government.
But now, the Edapaddi Palaniswami government has lobbed a very tricky issue for the BJP to handle – release of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. His cabinet resolution advising TN Governor Banwarilal Purohit to release all the seven convicts is something that puts the ball firmly in the Centre’s court and can also be seen as a move to show that the AIADMK was standing up to the BJP.
An AIADMK leader summed up the new-found confidence of the party thus: "If the governor refuses to accept the government decision, we will approach the Supreme Court again. As it had said the TN government had the power to take a decision in the matter.”
The central government had, during Jayalalithaa’s regime as well, not accepted with the TN Assembly resolution on Rajiv killers and going by the statements of BJP leaders, the Centre may be averse to accept the TN cabinet resolution.
Purohit is authorised under Section 161 of the Constitution to take a call on the cabinet resolution. But he may seek legal advice from luminaries as also may consult with the Union Home ministry which may have a view different and opposite to that of the TN cabinet resolution.
Senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has already declared that the governor will reject the TN cabinet resolution. It is not just Rajiv Gandhi alone, there were 14 others who were also killed and the sentiments of their families should also be considered is his argument.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has already declared that he has no objection to the release of the convicts, who have by now spent 27 years in prison, ever since they were arrested in 1991. While the Congress as a political party joins hands with Tamil Nadu political parties, the BJP now heading the central government has to consider several other issues into consideration.
If the governor rejects the TN government advise, the BJP runs the risk of further losing out politically in Tamil Nadu and can aggravate the prevailing sentiment against the party. On the other hand, if the governor accepts the decision and releases the convicts, the AIADMK can claim political victory. For the BJP too, it will be an opportunity to neutralise the perception against it to some extent, as the resolution passed by the TN Assembly (During Jayalalithaa regime in 2016) and now by the cabinet represents the sentiment of the state, felt perception strategist and political analyst John Arokiaswamy.