The BJP’s gamble in Tamil Nadu

Without the AIADMK, the party may find it difficult to win in at least a few seats

October 03, 2023 12:15 am | Updated 05:00 pm IST

A week has passed since the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) announced its exit from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The BJP’s central leadership has not said anything about the break-up and has also asked its State functionaries not to comment on the issue. The silence of the party, which has often demonstrated its ability to be decisive and outmanoeuvre others, indicates that it was not well-prepared for the AIADMK’s drastic move.

The AIADMK’S professed reason for the separation was that BJP state president K. Annamalai made controversial remarks against its leaders. The AIADMK may have had other reasons too for its exit, including the apprehension that prolonging the alliance may allow the BJP to grow at its cost. But regarding Mr. Annamalai, the AIADMK had repeatedly expressed its discontent, in vain. That the BJP allowed the AIADMK to break ties over this reason indicates that the responsibility lies with the national party.

There is speculation that the BJP’s silence is an indication that a patch-up is still on the cards. However, the chances of this happening are remote. The AIADMK general secretary, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, on Monday said that the exit was not his decision, but that of all the party cadres, as reflected in the party’s resolution, which was final. A volte-face may dent the image of the AIADMK, which has just tried to shed the perception of being subservient to the BJP.

Even if a patch-up is possible, the acrimony that has developed between the two parties would make the vote transfer within the alliance inefficient. A senior BJP leader said that there was a “turf war” between the two in the State’s western region. This is considered the AIADMK’s stronghold and it is also where the BJP is trying to make significant inroads. Also, both Mr. Palaniswami and Mr. Annamalai belong to the Gounder community, which is electorally powerful in the region.

Also Read | Editorial Dramatic shift: On the AIADMK snapping ties with the BJP 

Moreover, any patch-up would necessitate the undermining of Mr. Annamalai’s leadership to some degree. It is doubtful whether the BJP will be inclined to do that, considering the extent to which it has projected him as the face of the growth it is hoping for in Tamil Nadu in the long run.

Mr. Annamalai, who is vocal about his unwillingness to change his “leadership style”, has not made reconciliation any easier. For instance, the historical accuracy of his recent controversial remarks on former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai, whose name and image the AIADMK carries in its nomenclature and party flag, was off the mark. Mr. Annamalai, however, has refused to back down, an approach he sees as his strength.

Consequently, attempting to retain other NDA partners and including a few more seems to be the limited option available for the BJP. It may, however, choose not to attack the AIADMK to leave some room for any manoeuvring just ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections or after.

The BJP may find some solace in its performance in Tamil Nadu in 2014, which it contested in alliance with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), and a few others. It managed to win the Kanniyakumari constituency and secure a vote share of around 24% in the nine seats it contested. However, that was a multi-cornered contest with no alliance between the DMK, Congress, and the Left. The PMK, and the DMDK in particular, held a higher vote share in 2014 than they do at present. The BJP has not been able to win Kanniyakumari since.

In 2019, despite allying with the AIADMK, the BJP increased its vote share only to around 29% in the five seats it contested and did not win any.

The BJP will now primarily bank on the momentum that it believes it has achieved since 2021, besides the possible anti-incumbency against the DMK and what its potential allies such as the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam and the PMK bring to the table.

The only reference point for the BJP’s electoral performance after Mr. Annamalai took over was the 2022 urban local body elections, which the party contested alone. It secured a modest 5.5% vote share. Even if Mr. Annamalai’s ongoing yatra and other factors have boosted the BJP’s support, it is doubtful whether these will be adequate for the party to win at least a few seats. The BJP has taken a big gamble in Tamil Nadu by jeopardising its alliance with the AIADMK.

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