AIADMK-BJP Split: What Lies Ahead for Politics in Tamil Nadu and at the National Level?

What did Annamalai or the BJP gain by forcing the AIADMK to walk out of the alliance? For five years, AIADMK was seen as a docile ally of the saffron party, which hardly had any presence in Tamil Nadu.

For once, sensational television channels have got it right about ‘breaking’ news. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has broken its ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over its state president K. Annamalai’s vitriolic attack on Dravidian patriarch C.N. Annadurai. Anna, as he was fondly called, is as dear to the AIADMK as to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other Dravidian parties, like Narendra Modi is to the present-day BJP and the Sangh parivar.

Annamalai also made equally disparaging remarks against AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran and his successor and former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa.

Even if there was any merit in what Annamalai said, the AIADMK still would have gone to the extreme step, of snapping ties with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). But, leading newspapers from Tamil Nadu – The Hindu and Dinamani – have dug up their archives to prove that what Annamalai had said was indeed a lie.

AIADMK leader Edappadi K. Palaniswami in front of a picture of C.N. Annadurai. Photo: X/@AIADMKOfficial

At a public meeting in early September, Annamalai said Annadurai had made disparaging remarks against the Hindu faith at the 1956 World Tamil Conference in Madurai, inviting the wrath of Forward Bloc chief and firebrand leader Muthuramalinga Thevar. Thevar had warned Anna that there would be a blood bath if he did not apologise for maligning the presiding deity of Madurai temple, goddess Meenakshi, also known as Uma Maheshwari.

Annamalai said Annadurai was able to leave Madurai after tendering an apology for his remarks. Both The Hindu and Tamil daily Dinamani said Anna never tendered any apology.

Also read: AIADMK Snaps Ties with BJP, Passes Unanimous Resolution to Exit NDA

The Hindu says, “A perusal of reports published by The Hindu during May 31-June 4, 1956, reveals that on the fourth day (June 2) of the golden jubilee celebration of the Madurai Tamil Sangam, Thevar took exception to Annadurai’s speech. But there was no reference in a report carried on June 4, 1956 or subsequently to any statement of regret or apology made by the DMK founder.”

A disclaimer was published by Dinamani that Annadurai neither retracted his statement nor issued any clarification.

Zero-sum game for Annamalai and EPS

If it was a command performance, what did Annamalai or the BJP gain by forcing the AIADMK to walk out of the alliance? For five years, AIADMK was seen as a docile ally of the BJP even when the saffron party hardly had any presence in Tamil Nadu and its vote share was slightly better than NOTA (None of the above).

AIADMK general secretary Edappadi Palalinisamy – who now has the party firmly under his control after forcing his fellow claimant O. Pannerselvam out – had no hesitation in jettisoning the BJP.

True, it was Modi who helped him during the turbulence in the AIADMK after the death of Jayalalithaa in December 2016 after initially backing Pannerselvam. He has since found recognition from the Election Commission that his faction is the ‘real’ AIADMK. He has got the party, its flag, and its symbol. He had paid a price for having carried the BJP, an “excess baggage” as Jayalalithaa used to call national parties.

AIADMK top leadership meeting in Chennai on September 25, 2023. Photo: X/@AIADMKOfficial

The AIADMK lost the support of minorities and Dalits and lost four successive ballot tests: the 2019 general elections, the 2021 Assembly polls, subsequent local body polls, and the local Erode by-election.

Edappadi, who came to power post-Jayalalithaa in 2017, lost to DMK’s Stalin in 2021. Still, he managed to win 66 seats in the assembly to emerge as the main opposition. The BJP, in alliance with the AIADMK, won only two seats.

Its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was equally dismal. The DMK-Congress front swept the polls, leaving just one seat to the AIADMK. The lone seat was won by O.P. Ravindranath, the son of expelled AIADMK leader Pannerselvam.

Annamalai, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer who took over as the BJP’s state president in July 2021, admits that it is a challenging task after losing its only ally. “But, people want change and we have to take up the challenge.” He did not explain why the people wanted change at the state level but wanted status quo at the Centre.

He, however, said it is for the BJP’s central leadership to take a call on the alliance, and it would be taken before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

It’s a zero-sum game for both Annamalai and Edappadi. Edappadi has little interest at the national level. Even in 2019, though formally aligned with the BJP, he focused on over 30 assembly seats in the elections necessitated by expulsions of rebel AIADMK MLAs and won just about enough to get a working majority to rule until 2021.

The ruling DMK, which is a constituent party of the INDIA bloc, will take on the BJP in Tamil Nadu in 2024.

Therefore, it made sense for Annamali to sharpen his attack on chief minister Stalin in the wake of the latter facing allegations of corruption and family rule. By painting the entire Dravidian rule of the last five decades with the same brush, Annamalai has once again proved that he is a novice in the Dravidian political space.

By trying to compete with the AIADMK for opposition space instead of putting up a united front, he has shot himself in the foot. Modi and Amit Shah see the DMK, and more particularly its ally Congress, as the main threat. Edappadi and AIADMK can be brought around before the 2024 elections.

The BJP has already lost Karnataka, the only state in which it has a strong presence in the south. It has never had a presence in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The party believes the notional loss in Tamil Nadu can be made good in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. That is why Stalin called the AIADMK-BJP fight “stage-managed”. But, it is in his interest to let the AIADMK remain his main challenger, as it will otherwise give the BJP a toehold in Tamil Nadu.