A Tamil tale of mismatch and misery in a marriage of convenience as BJP & AIADMK strive to make it work
The BJP also tried to go alone in 2016 because it didn’t find any suitors. Congress had tied up with the DMK and Jayalalithaa did not deem it necessary to deal with the BJP
MGR and Amma taught us not to seek a confrontation. But if we are dragged into one, we will not go down meekly,” asserted the burly, mustachioed D Jayakumar, Tamil Nadu’s fisheries minister. He was playing upon a popular Tamil saying, ‘Don’t go looking for a fight, but if one is thrust upon you, take it head on.’
He echoed AIADMK spokesperson Kovai Sathyan in warning the BJP not to violate ‘alliance dharma’. They were responding to BJP state vice president VP Doraiswamy declaring that the BJP would lead the alliance in the 2021 Assembly elections
There have been other recent signs of friction. One was the state government’s refusal to allow Vinayaka Chaturthi idol immersion processions because of the pandemic; another was police action against a crowd gathered to celebrate IPS officer K Annamalai’s induction into the BJP.
There was a row over a Dalit group’s denigration of the Skanda Sashti Kavacham, a collection of devotional hymns to the god Muruga, or Karthikeya, the draping of a saffron shawl on a statue of MGR, and the disquiet over the new National Education Policy, which envisages a 3-language formula.
The fault lines in the alliance( they combined for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, when AIADMK won one seat out of 39 up for grabs, with the DMKCongress-Left alliance sweeping the polls) are coming out in the open following BJP leaders and AIDMK’s ministers slugging it out in the media, with each accusing the other of political oneupmanship.
In Tamil Nadu BJP has not been a major player historically, though this could be changing. Its record has been patchy so far. The BJP won the Padmanabhapuram Assembly constituency on its own in 1996; in 2001, it won four seats together with the DMK; in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, it won 3 and 4 seats in alliance with the AIADMK in 1998, and the DMK in 1999. In 2014, it won the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat after tying up with some of the smaller parties.
During the last half a century since Congress was ousted in 1967 by DMK which rode on anti-Hindi sentiment, both Congress and the BJP have had to seek alliance with one or the other regional titans, DMK or AIADMK even for Lok Sabha elections. The only exception was in 1989, when Congress decided to go it alone under the youthful Rajiv Gandhi. He put in a big effort, making several trips to the state to stump for the party, driving down rural highways and fields himself in his Range Rover, but the results were disappointing. The party though managed to win 26 seats with a very respectable vote share of about 20 per cent. That was probably the high watermark for the party.
The BJP also tried to go alone in 2016 because it didn’t find any suitors. Congress had tied up with the DMK and Jayalalithaa did not deem it necessary to deal with the BJP. BJP, however, won 2.8 per cent of the votes cast, probably because of its small, but strong presence in the southernmost and western districts of the state (Kanyakumari in the extreme south, and Coimbatore in the west).
Notwithstanding the caustic exchanges, therefore, BJP has little option but to keep the alliance with AIADMK alive. Although Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami and his deputy O. Paneerselvam are said to have divergent opinion with Palaniswami wanting to break ties, they are unlikely to do anything to invite the ire of the ruling party at the Centre with elections due next year.
AIADMK’s Dravidian ideology sits uneasily with the BJP’s strident Hindutva. Several AIADMK leaders have pointed this out; in fact, many AIADMK members admit to misgivings about the alliance, since they feel it is a millstone round their neck, given that minority Muslim and Christian votes will automatically migrate towards the DMK.
The BJP’s primary goal is to expand its presence and its state president L Murugan has called upon party men to target at least 25 Assembly seats, going so far as to promise a Toyota Innova car to functionaries in districts where the BJP wins.
What about Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan? Kamal already has a political party, the Makkal Needhi Maiyam, which contested the 2019 parliamentary elections without success; it did get about 3.7 pc of the votes. Rajnikanth has kept everyone guessing about his intentions; he has not tilted one way or the other, other than to indicate that he stands for good governance. Given his maverick nature, it is not clear what he will do; he could well steer clear of taking the plunge as he has done so far.