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AIADMK Minus BJP Poses Threat To DMK

September 27, 2023 10:51 IST

From the voter-level, traditionally anti-BJP, anti-Hindutva minorities and other secular voters would have an option, especially in the face of the mounting anti-incumbency against the ruling party -- as it happened in the 2001 assembly polls, points out N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: AIADMK General Secretary Edappadi K Palaniswami, third from right, chairs a meeting of the party's chief club secretaries, district club secretaries, club parliamentarians and assembly members in Chennai after which the AIADMK declared it would break away from the BJP. Photographs: ANI Photo

On the face it, the AIADMK formalising the break in its tie-up with the ruling BJP at the Centre should affect the former in ways that the nation has come to see as 'vindictive politics' of the latter.

On paper, the BJP's credibility, if not 'winnability', under the Modi-Shah regime has taken a bigger hit than may be acknowledged immediately.

After the Akali Dal in northern Punjab, ideological-brother Shiv Sena in western Maharashtra, and the love-hate break with the ruling Janata Dal-United of Bihar, the party has lost the only recognisable ally, that too in the South, from where the BJP had hoped to make up at least a part of the supposedly anticipated yet unavoidable losses elsewhere in the Lok Sabha polls next year, both for the party and the party-led National Democratic Alliance.

Yet, the fact is that not just the two Tamil Nadu allies but the ruling DMK and the latter's electoral combine, which includes the Congress leader of the Opposition INDIA at the national-level, may suffer losses, beginning with the possible reconstitution of the existing alliances and the possible formation of a third one under the BJP.

Such a possibility brings back to mind memories of the 2014 scenario, when the ruling AIADMK dumped the BJP, the Opposition DMK would not touch the party, leaving it to force-form a third alliance, yielding to DMDK's actor-politician Vijaykanth's unsustainable last-minute demands, starting with seat-share, and accommodating the PMK with its proven vote-share, almost half-heartedly.

In the re-constituted NDA that was a last-minute job, the BJP contested seven of 39 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu, preceded by the DMDK (14) and the PMK (8).

The alliance did poll close to a fifth of the vote-share, or 18.5 per cent to be precise, but bagged only two seats -- one each for the BJP (Kanyakumari: Pon Radhakrishnan) and the PMK (Dharmapuri: Dr Anbumani Ramadoss).

Contesting almost alone with a few minor parties fielding their candidates under the party's Two Leaves symbol, the AIADMK swept the poll with the remaining 37 seats and 44.92 per cent vote-share.

The DMK-led Democratic People's Alliance (DPA) bagged 26.8 per cent vote-share, but could not win a single seat.

Contesting alone after the break-up with the DMK post-2011 assembly polls that the alliance had lost owing to what the leader saw as the wasted seats that the national ally forced out of it even while they were in the power in the state, the Congress too drew a blank and could manage only 4.3 per cent vote.

The worst was reserved for the two Communist parties, which had all along piggy-backed, initially on the DMK early on, and alternating with the breakaway AIADMK since its formation in 1972.

The Communists would not touch the 'corrupt' DMK or Congress, AIADMK boss and then chief minister J Jayalalithaa was determined to 'expose' their electoral weakness even while getting away with their ideological baggage through the past decades.

Elections 2014 showed that the two Communist parties together had polled only one per cent vote-share across the state, while Independents had polled 2.1 per cent, and NOTA, 1.4 per cent.

What did the trick in 2014, that too when the rest of the nation was visibly gravitating towards the BJP under a new face, then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi?

The ruling party having decided to go it alone, Amma's catchy challenge, 'Modi-ya, indha Lady-ya?' captured the imagination of the state's mostly 'secular' voters, especially the minorities, who had gone wholesale with the DMK rival in the previous decade after Jaya partnered with the 'communal' BJP -- as she herself ended up acknowledging without condemning the party -- as only the DMK-Congress-Communists combine had been saying then, and saying since after her time.

IMAGE: Palaniswami blesses a beneficiary during the distribution of welfare assistance in Chennai, May 17, 2023.

Today, AIADMK boss and former chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) may not be as charismatic and tough-faced as Jaya was, but he too has proved to be equally decisive.

He has proved to be a Machiavelli in intra-party faction politics through past years, but recognises that unlike Jaya who wielded power from the top, he derived his only from the cadres and voters, upwards.

It thus meant that when the cadres had had enough of the BJP alliance, after the successive defeats in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 assembly polls showed, and more than enough of the current state BJP boss, K Annamalai, symbolised especially by the latter wantonly and repeatedly 'denigrating' their Amma and Dravidian politico-electoral fountain-head C N Annadurai, without feeling remorse or apologetic, EPS did not have a choice.

Learning from the AIADMK ally, and also the DMK rival, which aped the former, the BJP seems to have been expecting/demanding more seats for fielding candidates under its 'Lotus' symbol, even if only for statistical purposes.

According to reports, the issue had come up when EPS met the BJP's chief strategist and Union Home Minister Amit A Shah a fortnight ago -- and politely declined the proposal, purportedly made officially.

Even without, EPS had clarified the position months ago, when he said that the AIADMK would be the one to distribute seats to all allies.

He implied that the BJP was only one of them and was not a more-than-equal ally compared to the rest.

In the past couple of elections, including the 2019 one that the combine lost miserably, a host of minor allies had contested on the AIADMK's symbol.

If they won, their numbers would be added to the party that owned the symbol -- and defection under the law was just out of the question.

In allotting more seats to the BJP, more so to allies that the party wanted to contest on 'Lotus' symbol, the AIADMK faces multiple issues.

IMAGE: Senior AIADMK leaders, MPs and MLAs at the party's meeting in Chennai, September 25, 2023, after which the AIADMK broke away from the BJP.

Unlike the DMK rival, which was ever ready to compromise on its own share of the seats as long as the alliance worked and hoped to win the maximum number of seats -- whatever the final results -- Jayalalithaa, unlike party founder and mentor MGR, has left behind the image of a tough and uncompromising negotiator.

EPS can be seen as compromising on that image only by risking cadre-support across the board and in constituencies that he would have to 'gift away' to the BJP-led sub-alliance.

Two, and more importantly, despite Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's larger-than-life image elsewhere in the country, the BJP continues to remain an electoral burden in Tamil Nadu.

As is often recalled, even the self-proclaimed DMK owner of the Dravidian ideology under the late M Karunanidhi, had aligned with the BJP, led by the Vajpayee-Advani duo for the 1999 Lok Sabha polls.

While the combine did win 26 of 39 seats, thanks also to the five-plus 'Vajpayee vote', just as the rival AIADMK had done in the previous 1998 elections, the ruling party lost the subsequent assembly polls in 2001.

The DMK's internal analysis at the time showed that the party had lost the minorities vote so very completely, especially after the AIADMK had teamed up with the 'secular' Tamil Maanila Congress, a party that had broken away from the Congress parent, and also other identifiable 'secular' forces.

The DMK-led Dravidian group, which included the PMK and the MDMK, quietly quit the Vajpayee government and the NDA, to shake hands with the Congress-UPA, which was still in the formative stage.

Despite being in power, Jaya herself faced the 'secular' music in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, when the AIADMK-BJP combine lost 39-0, to the DMK-Congress combine, and by huge margins.

Her recovery in the assembly elections two years hence was modest as the AIADMK ended up losing power.

It was possibly then that Jaya decided to move away from the BJP -- and for good -- and more so after Modi with memories of the Gujarat riots (2002) became the party's prime ministerial candidate in 2014.

IMAGE: Tamil Nadu BJP President K Annamalai welcomes BJP Chief Election Strategist Amit A Shah in Vellore, June 11, 2023.

The AIADMK's persistent problem is that with more seats going for the BJP symbol, the negative impact for the combine may outdo the 'anti-incumbency' piling up against the ruling DMK in the state.

There is general acceptance that Chief Minister M K Stalin is not as efficient as his late father Karunanidhi and definitely not as tough as eternal rival Jayalalithaa.

Yet, there is equal acknowledgement that he is still seen as a 'sincere leader'.

It is into this scenario that the AIADMK-BJP combine had to make fresh inroads, in what the former sees as a make-or-break election next year.

More the number of candidates with the Lotus symbol, greater exposure would the BJP get, including in constituencies where neither the BJP nor its internal-alliance candidates have any credible electoral presence.

Or, so goes the AIADMK's calculations. Under the party's scheme, their cadres who would have to toil at the grassroots-level would not feel enthused to do so, with the result the alliance may lose more seats than otherwise.

As a party, the AIADMK's vote share would show a deep downward trend, and that of the BJP an upward swing, encouraging the latter to demand unacceptably more seats in the assembly elections two years hence in 2026, citing statistics from the previous poll.

IMAGE: Annamalai and the BJP's state in-charge C T Ravi meet Palaniswami in happier times.

Not all is lost for the BJP, either.

Because the EPS-led AIADMK had refused to accommodate the OPS, T T V Dhinakaran and Sasikala factions of the party one way or the other, with a possible combine vote share of five-plus percentage, especially in the BJP's southern stronghold, the BJP could rope them into the NDA, however its 'incorruptible image' may suffer at the national level.

This, coupled with a split in the minorities and the anti-incumbency votes of the DMK could help the BJP combine to increase the vote-share for Lotus elsewhere, too.

However, there is a problem for the BJP and the AIADMK.

Minus the alliance, they may end up giving electoral space to the DMK alliance in their combined western stronghold, an impenetrable citadel of the party from the MGR days, barring the all-lost elections of 1996, 2004 and 2019.

Whether or not actor Kamal Hassan's Makkal Needhi Maiyam joins the DMK combine -- if not, the AIADMK rival -- contesting alone, even though only against the 'communal' BJP is not an option for him.

Contesting in 180 of 234 assembly seats in 2021, the party polled 2.91 per cent votes, down from 3.72 per cent in Lok Sabha 2019 -- though it is not clear if it could retain the vote in another round, or 'transfer' it to an ally.

IMAGE: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin arrives to pay tribute to social activist E V Ramaswamy Naicker 'Periyar' on his birth anniversary in Vellore, September 17, 2023.

How then can the AIADMK-BJP break-up affect the DMK-led alliance?

From the voter-level, traditionally anti-BJP, anti-Hindutva minorities and other secular voters would have an option, especially in the face of the mounting anti-incumbency against the ruling party -- as it happened in the 2001 assembly polls.

Two, some allies in the DMK front may have more purchasing power in one of the two rivals of the party if the AIADMK and the BJP fail to patch up in time.

There is then the PMK, for instance, which has a proven five-plus per cent vote-share consistently over three decades, that will now have three alliances to choose from if it decides not to go on its own in the LS polls.

Likewise, actor Seeman's NTK with an introductory 1.06 per cent vote share in 2016 assembly elections to 3.91 per cent in LS 2019 to a 'decisive' 6.89 per cent in 2021, will have options to choose from if he concludes that they have reached a saturation-point as DMDK's Vijaykanth did in the Lok Sabha polls of 2009, with 10.3 per cent votes (no seats), up from a maiden 8.5-per cent vote share and one seat.

From within the DMK alliance, especially, parties like the Dalit-centric VCK and one or both the Communist parties will have another 'secular' option in the AIADMK.

If they are convinced that the AIADMK and the BJP will not patch up for the 2024 polls, one or more of them could begin targeting the state government on what the political Opposition now dubs as 'corruption, collection, commission' raj.

Even some leaders of the Congress ally in the state would start taking potshots at the DMK, with or without the high command intervening.

So would some Muslim parties now in the DMK's alliance.

Right now what does it all mean for the BJP?

To be fair, Annamalai was going down the right electoral path when he targeted the ruling party with his 'DMK Files I & II', the first one more popular than the other -- backed as he was with the unending ED/IT/CBI raids on state ministers, their kith and kin.

The raid and arrest of Minister Senthil Balaji was an early embarrassment for the DMK, yes, but the national leadership deflected the process with the Sanatana Dharma controversy involving DMK Minister and party youth wing leader Udhayanidhi Stalin.

More importantly, the constant raids of the kind have now caused the voter's eyebrows to rise, with a twitch at the end of his lips.

If anything, a section of social media first and pulp media later on, was convinced that the AIADMK, especially the EPS leadership and some of his former ministerial colleagues, would not have the stomach to stand up against the ED/IT/CBI combo, even if they did not care about the BJP as a party, the Modi-Shah strategic team, and the slow yet low incremental electoral advantage accruing to the ally in some parts of the state -- but not all.

Though some individual leaders in the AIADMK were concerned, they could not stop the overwhelming mood of the cadre, which alone forced Team EPS to act.

The argument was twin-faced.

One, whoever was guilty of a crime, let him or her face the law.

The interest, confidence and concerns of the party could not be compromised.

This became more pronounced after a failed unilateral patch-up by a couple of ex-ministers planning a Delhi trip last week, to which EPS uncannily added a couple of more.

Even more than the raids and arrests, the AIADMK should be concerned about the 'freezing' of the party's lucky mascot in the Two Leaves symbol -- but not anymore, it would seem.

But the leadership too does not seem to be too concerned, and also wanted to send out a message to the BJP that they are not afraid.

With the courts deciding that EPS's is the real AIADMK, the EC will now find it difficult to freeze the symbol.

Even if frozen, there is no way the Election Commission or any other authority could allot it to any of the other factions, which the courts have ruled are not the real AIADMK.

If frozen, it means the EPS AIADMK is ready to contest under a new symbol, after all -- and possibly begin a new innings or a new era in the post-MGR, post-Jaya AIADMK.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party supremo Narendra D Modi with Palaniswami at the National Democratic Alliance meeting in New Delhi, July 18, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Two, and equally significant, is the increasing general perception that the BJP at the Centre as is corrupt as any other, only that the early euphoria over the 'Modi magic' had shut everyone's eyes to the reality.

The much-touted CAG reports, based on the kinds of which the BJP had targeted the DMK over the 2G scam earlier, is on Tamil social media.

Stalin too promptly issued a long statement, citing the CAG reports and calling the BJP corrupt.

Does it mean that Tamil voters will condone corruption, or are condoning corruption, already?

The answer to the tricky question seems to be that they do not approve of corruption but he who throws the stone should not be a sinner.

Thus, when MGR with his 'Mr Clean image' called Karunanidhi corrupt, they accepted it, but not when Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa called each other corrupt, later on.

It was thus that contesting the 2021 assembly polls from four constituencies across the state, pending her appeal against her jail-term in the 'TANSI land deal case', Jaya won in all four of them.

The Supreme Court first ruled that the high court stay of the trial court order applied only to her sentence and not to the conviction part, and she then had to quit the lone Andipatti seat that she had retained to become chief minister.

However, Jaya returned after CM a few months later, after the Supreme Court acquitted her in the TANSI case, though after an 11-month delay in delivering the judgment.

She went back to her Andipatti seat, which her political mentor MGR had won even without even campaigning.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/