Striving to repair strained ties

The BJP and AIADMK know that if they contest polls separately, the DMK will win

Updated - March 14, 2023 05:53 pm IST

Published - March 14, 2023 12:15 am IST

C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar who quit the BJP joined the AIADMK in the presence of interim general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami, in Chennai.

C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar who quit the BJP joined the AIADMK in the presence of interim general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami, in Chennai. | Photo Credit: ANI

In the last five years, the alliance between the AIADMK and the BJP has never been free of controversies. But the recent developments in Tamil Nadu have been markedly different from the earlier spats between the two parties.

Over the last couple of weeks, the AIADMK has admitted nearly a dozen members and functionaries of the BJP, including the national party’s State IT cell and social media unit president C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar. This might not have generated much heat had Mr. Nirmal Kumar quietly joined the AIADMK. In fact, no one raised their eyebrows when P. Saravanan, former Tiruparankundram MLA and a party hopper who was fielded by the BJP in Madurai North in the 2021 Assembly elections and who quit the national party in August last year, joined the AIADMK two months ago. But Mr. Nirmal Kumar chose to express publicly his disenchantment with the BJP State leadership and even insinuated that BJP State president K. Annamalai was “secretly bargaining” with a DMK minister.

This is not the first time that Mr. Annamalai is at the receiving end; a few other office-bearers in the BJP State unit too have left the party. One of them also made sensational charges against the State president. But what has upset the BJP is that the AIADMK is admitting members from its own ally unfazed, losing no time while doing so. The BJP said this was an “act of poaching.” This interpretation was rejected by the AIADMK, which has maintained that it did not make any effort to woo anyone. Those who were joining the Dravidian party were doing so of their own free will, it said.

The BJP State president of the Sports and Skill Development Cell, Amar Prasad Reddy, publicly expressed his disapproval of the AIADMK’s action. He also pointed out the difference of margin with which the Dravidian major lost in the byelection to Erode East saying, “The voters showed the exit [door] to those who considered the ‘Kongu’ region [western districts of the State] their fort.” Mr. Annamalai warned that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When it looked like the war of words was going out of control, the AIADMK’s secretaries of its district units and other key office-bearers met last Thursday and decided to douse the fire. They announced that the party’s alliance with the BJP “remained intact.” A couple of mid-level leaders of both the parties reportedly brought about the truce, though the reasons for the differences have not become irrelevant.

The BJP, which is keen to open an account in the 2024 general elections in Tamil Nadu after a gap of more than 20 years, wants to face the electorate with the AIADMK and all the groups associated with it. This includes the camps of former AIADMK coordinator O. Panneerselvam and former interim general secretary V.K. Sasikala, as well as the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam led by former MP T.T.V. Dhinakaran. In the run-up to the Erode East byelection, the BJP’s prabhari (in charge) for Tamil Nadu, C.T. Ravi, told the media that he tried to convince both AIADMK interim general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Mr. Panneerselvam of “the need to work together in the interests of Tamil Nadu.”

However, the position of Mr. Palaniswami, as articulated by the party’s organisation secretary D. Jayakumar, is that there is no space for Mr. Panneerselvam, Ms. Sasikala and Mr. Dhinakaran. Without them, he said, the party can win the Lok Sabha polls as there is “enough discontentment” among the public with the DMK regime. Many of the AIADMK’s leaders also believe that the party can hope to regain the support of religious minorities in the State if it distances itself from the BJP.

Notwithstanding their public statements and their tense equation, the AIADMK and the BJP know that by contesting the Lok Sabha elections separately, they will only be facilitating a total sweep by the DMK-led front. Even in 2019, the AIADMK managed to bag one seat — Theni. This time, even that constituency may go the other way if there is a split in anti-DMK votes. Besides, despite the talk of some of its constituents not being happy, the coalition led by the ruling party seems to be in the driver’s seat as it is more cohesive than its rival. The chances of dramatic exits from its side appear dim. Under these circumstances, the AIADMK and the BJP seem to realise that it would be better to bury the hatchet, at least for the time being. And this is what they have done.

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