The BJP may be struggling to find its feet in Tamil Nadu, but it was this State that offered the required numbers to A.B. Vajpayee to become the Prime Minister in 1998 and again in 1999.
The shifting sands of politics both in the State and the national level saw the DMK, the AIADMK and the MDMK abandoning their Dravidian moorings and joining hands with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the late 1990s.
In 1998, AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa, smarting under the rout in the 1996 election, knit together an alliance that included the BJP. The front secured 30 Lok Sabha seats in that election.
The series of bomb blasts that rocked Coimbatore on February 14, 1998, just ahead of an election campaign meeting of the then BJP president L.K. Advani also played a major role in the victory of the AIADMK-BJP combine.
Besides the AIADMK, other constituents of the alliance — the PMK, MDMK and Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy, who won the Salem constituency — were accommodated in the Union Council of Ministers. However, the relationship between the BJP and the AIADMK proved to be a roller-coaster ride from the beginning. Jayalalithaa turned sharply critical of the Vajpayee regime after some time. Jayalalithaa also sought to take credit for the formation of the Vajpayee government when she declared that it was the AIADMK that introduced the party to the people of Tamil Nadu. Her remark that Mr. Advani suffered from “selective amnesia” further strained their ties.
Subsequently, a ‘tea party’ hosted by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy brought together Jayalalithaa and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and caused a political storm. Though she withdrew the support of her party MPs, her allies, including the MDMK and the PMK, stayed with the BJP alliance.
Soon after the Vajpayee government fell, losing the trust motion by one vote, the DMK stepped in to fill the gap created by the AIADMK. It was Murasoli Maran who said “No party is untouchable” and cleared the path for an alliance between the BJP and the DMK for the 1999 election. The alliance won 26 seats.