The decision of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to snap ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was sudden, given their bonhomie at the highest level. Monday’s decision comes a few days after the Janata Dal (Secular) joined the NDA. Even though the AIADMK hinted recently that the BJP was no longer an ally, it did say that the issue of an alliance would be decided at the time of the Lok Sabha polls, leaving room for rapprochement. An AIADMK delegation’s visit to New Delhi to meet senior BJP leaders did not yield results. What makes the decision dramatic is the nature of the AIADMK-BJP relationship, especially after the passing of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in 2016. The regional party had supported the BJP-led government at the Centre on crucial occasions: the no-confidence motion in July 2018, and the dilution of Article 370 and the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, both in 2019. The AIADMK General Secretary, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, as Chief Minister, defended the three farm Bills of the Centre in 2020; he has also reiterated his support for the idea of ‘One Nation, One Election.’ There is a strong perception that but for the BJP’s backing, many former AIADMK Ministers facing charges of corruption, would have been in legal trouble. For these and other reasons, the Dravidian major came to be seen as subservient to the BJP, an image the AIADMK has now sought to shed.
However, the possibility of reconciliation cannot be ruled out. In a resolution at a party meeting on September 25, the AIADMK’s ire was directed at the State BJP leadership. Even though the resolution did not explicitly refer to BJP State unit president K. Annamalai, its message was clear — enough is enough. The resolution spoke of AIADMK icons being “belittled” by the BJP. Many AIADMK leaders have also begun nursing the feeling that the BJP is gradually bringing other smaller friendly parties into its fold, isolating the Dravidian major. Though it is still too early to gauge the electoral fallout, a three-cornered contest could favour the formidable DMK-led front. One possible impact for the DMK-led coalition in Tamil Nadu is that smaller constituents will now demand a bigger share in the pie as moving to the AIADMK-led front is an option. The DMK might need to do its best to keep its alliance intact, as the party has been out of power at the Centre for 10 years now. Under these circumstances, exiting the NDA in the run-up to 2024 is a tactical gambit by the AIADMK, which is not oblivious to the possibility of unpalatable electoral results too.