It was only a matter of time before the AIADMK-BJP alliance in Tamil Nadu snapped. And it came to pass Monday, 25 September. There are a few questions the episode throws up.
The BJP national leadership did not make serious efforts, at least overtly, to save the alliance with the AIADMK. Why, when the party is nationally geared to prepare for the general elections in 2024?
In South India, the BJP has just one tenuous relationship with the JD(S) in Karnataka, where it only recently surrendered power to the Congress. Its efforts in Kerala have come to nought. Karnataka’s alliance is one-sided, more to benefit the BJP than both. In Telangana, it is nowhere near a tie-up. In Andhra, BJP’s prospects of an alliance are currently in a mess.
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Sanatana Dharma conundrum
Did the BJP bite what it could not chew in the Sanatana Dharma matter? The Sanatana Dharma vs Dravida issue is not new to Tamil Nadu. Knowing this, the DMK raised it through the younger Stalin, ensuring it received publicity.
Was it to lure the BJP into a debate it would not win in the state?
It put the BJP on the back foot on what it sees as its religio-ideological base. It generated much tension within the AIADMK ranks, which would not take a political risk by joining issue with the DMK over Udhayanidhi’s statement or continuing to back the Sanatana Dharma-oriented BJP. The alliance, already strained, broke.
Since 1998, the BJP has tried all possible alliance routes in Tamil Nadu. Thrice with AIADMK, once with DMK, once as a third front with smaller parties. Except in 1998, the tie-ups never helped it electorally.
Since early 2023, the BJP has tried to use every trick, including the Kashi Tamil Sangamam adventure and rumours about making Union ministers hailing from Tamil Nadu contest from the state. Nothing worked.
But what explains its soft approach to state chief Annamalai, who seemed intent on aggressively pursuing his party’s politics, oblivious to the sensitivities of ally AIADMK or the people of Tamil Nadu it was out to woo?
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And what of the AIADMK?
What happens to the AIADMK? After much tug of war, the AIADMK appears to have seized the political initiative by severing ties with the BJP (even though, in Delhi, the news was out last week itself that the alliance was dead).
How does the party exploit the situation now that it has jettisoned the “baggage” straining its politics? It is neither in the NDA nor in INDIA. Will it explore the proverbial third front or try its chances alone? By snapping the alliance, does the AIADMK feel it has gained moral stature to take on the DMK on its own?
The answers to these questions will unravel as the BJP and the AIADMK play out their roles as new-found adversaries. Annamalai’s “padayatra” will be closely watched by the DMK and the AIADMK.
Upper caste support base
Would the latter’s supporters, especially from the upper castes, be enthused to see an alternative to the AIADMK in the BJP? The aggressive tactics of Annamalai and his forthright religious thoughts could be the just-needed shove for such supporters. The party may try to create a perception that it has as much stakes as the AIADMK in a catchment of votes up for grabs following the alliance’s termination.
The BJP knows it can attract no other segment of the state’s population. The AIADMK knows it too. That is perhaps why severing ties with the BJP was the only option to save its cadre and show that it did not give in to forces challenging Dravidian sentiments.
Its current standing in the Lok Sabha says it all: 0 to the DMK’s 38 (after the Madras High Court recently annulled the 2019 Lok Sabha election victory of AIADMK’s OP Ravindranath Kumar from Theni constituency as the candidate had suppressed information regarding his assets in the election affidavit).
Perhaps the AIADMK finally sees merit in treading the same path as Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSRCP, in the sense of no longer being open to any alliance but keeping its options open after the elections.