It’s Complicated: Is the BJP-AIADMK Love-Hate Alliance Destined to Last?

Politics

It’s Complicated: Is the BJP-AIADMK Love-Hate Alliance Destined to Last?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The wind of change is blowing across Tamil Nadu. As weeks of speculation over the Bharatiya Janta Party and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s “will they-won’t they” situation came to a conclusive end, the parties announced an alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. For now, the national party and the regional one seem to be seeing eye-to-eye, but if they were a couple on Facebook, their relationship status would likely be “It’s complicated”. Over the past few decades the parties have been both friends and foes, and their latest partnership is a rickety bridge over some very troubled water.

Back when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was looking to enter history books by becoming the first non-Congress Prime Minister to serve out a full term in 1998, his dream was derailed by AIADMK matriarch J Jayalalithaa. By 1999, the relationship between the BJP and AIADMK had almost reached a point of no return, when J Jayalalithaa pulled out from the National Democratic Alliance. In retaliation, the Vajpayee government had also withdrawn its support to Jayalalithaa.

In 1999, for the first time, the BJP forged an alliance with the DMK, led by the late M Karunanidhi, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu. The NDA, along with the DMK, won 26 of the total 39 seats, back then. However, in 2003, just a few months before the Lok Sabha polls in 2004, the DMK walked out of the NDA when the BJP tried to shake hands with the AIADMK, which ultimately proved to be an unsuccessful move and the BJP’s undoing.

Meanwhile, the DMK had forged an alliance with the Congress-led UPA. The 2004 Lok Sabha elections proved to be a shocker for the NDA, as it couldn’t even open its account in Tamil Nadu. The DMK started coming out stronger, and swept 35 seats along with the UPA.

In 2014, just before the general elections, the BJP formed an anti-Jayalalithaa and anti-Karunanidhi front consisting of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Kongunadu Makkal Desia Katchi (KDMK), PNK, and Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK). However, the alliance proved to be a failure in no time. The AIADMK bagged 37 of the 39 seats, while the BJP and PMK won one seat each. The DMK was left high and dry.  

This year’s election will be a litmus test for the BJP as well as the AIADMK.

Again, in the 2016 Assembly elections, the BJP tried to forge an alliance with the AIADMK so that the party could have some hold in this elusive state. Once more, it failed. BJP’s repeated attempts at forming an alliance in the South is now history, so are its efforts to make its presence felt in Tamil Nadu.

In the current dynamics of the state, the party is still struggling to get off the mark. But now, the BJP sees an opening. On the evening of February 7, 2017, when the waters in the Bay of Bengal were calm, a political tornado was brewing on the famous Marina Beach of the capital city of Tamil Nadu. Sitting next to the samadhi of one of Tamil Nadu’s greatest leaders, then chief minister O Panneerselvam declared something which the BJP had been waiting for a very long time – a rift within the AIADMK, the ruling party of the Dravidian state. The death of AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa had opened the doors for the saffron party to make inroads into the state, but this time, riding on the party leaders’ political ambitions.

Finally, after 15 years, the BJP again joined hands with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry last week, to contest the Lok Sabha elections and bypolls to 21 state assembly constituencies. If the alliance proves to be a success, it could be a win-win situation for both parties, as after Jayalalithaa’s demise, either party could not have managed to fight the strong DMK-led alliance on its own.

“It is a formidable alliance against the communal DMK in Tamil Nadu,” said BJP spokesperson Narayanam Tirupathi. “This alliance will get the maximum number of seats. It will be a people’s welfare government, where we fill the seats and form a government once again under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

This year’s election will be a litmus test for the BJP as well as the AIADMK.

“It is climbdown for both parties. It is evident that the parties are exhibiting nervousness,” said AS Panneerselvan, Reader’s Editor of the Hindu. Currently, MK Stalin is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable faces in Tamil Nadu, and the DMK is touted to win the state. And an AIADMK sans Amma simply does not have electoral heft, is the rationale behind the new alliance.

This will be Tamil Nadu’s biggest election without their Amma and Kalaignar in the picture. The absence of these heavyweights means the AIADMK needs something to replace the drawing power of Amma, which it is hoping the BJP will be. Meanwhile, the BJP is trying to ensure a foothold in south India, and thinks AIADMK can assist with that. However, given the topsy-turvy history they share, the question must be asked — in this uneasy alliance, who will blink first?

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