'In the last three to four months the BJP vote share in Tamil Nadu, which was 2.86% in 2016, has gone up to about 5%-6%.'
'The AIADMK will lose the minority votes and others who don't like the BJP and Modi.'
'The AIADMK decided to take the risk to get the 5%-6% votes that the BJP will bring in.'
That the Bharatiya Janata Party has set its sights on coming to power in Tamil Nadu, a deeply religious state that has nevertheless been under the thrall of the two Dravidian parties for five decades now, is well known.
Nevertheless, it came as a surprise when the state's Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam announced on November 21, in Union Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah's presence at a government function, that the alliance between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the BJP, which had a disastrous outing in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, winning just one out of 38 seats, will continue for next year's assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.
This will be the first time that the two parties will be fighting a state election together in Tamil Nadu.
In 2016, AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa had converted the assembly election into a contest between her and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with her 'Modi-ya? Lady-ya?' campaign. The voters, of course, chose her.
With Jayalalithaa's demise in December 2016, her successor Edappadi K Palaniswami chose to come under the National Democratic Alliance umbrella, both to have a central government favourable to the AIADMK as well as to keep the law enforcement agencies at bay.
Over the last few weeks the BJP has been making a concerted effort to steer the narrative in the state with its 'Vetri Vel Yatra' organised by state president L Murugan.
The AIADMK government, however, refused to give permission for the yatra, and would detain Murugan each time he set out. This, it was expected, would drive a wedge between the two parties.
However, Shah's visit to Chennai over the weekend seems to have convinced the AIADMK top brass to throw their weight behind the BJP.
Dr Sumanth Raman, a seasoned observer of Tamil Nadu politics, tells A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com, "My gut feeling is that 2021 looks like a competitive election. It does not look like a one-horse race."
After taking strong action against the BJP's Vetri Vel Yatra, the AIADMK seemed to send signals that it was ready to break the alliance with it. What do you think changed?
Look, I have always maintained that Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and his Deputy O Paneerselvam have never openly come out against the BJP. Neither have Home Minister Shah nor Prime Minister Modi come out openly against the AIADMK.
We had others talking. Both sides held their horses. The BJP never retaliated to the Vel Yatra not being given permission and the arrests.
Do you think the alliance will last till the polls next year, considering the fact that the Vel Yatra has placed them on a collision course with BJP leaders getting arrested every other day?
I don't think so, I think it is orchestrated. They go on yatra. They get arrested. They come out. Again they go.
What is stopping them from taking the BJP leaders into preventive custody to stop them from going?
The AIADMK-BJP alliance won only one seat in the last parliamentary elections. The BJP's vote share in Tamil Nadu too is not impressive, around 3% or so. So why has the AIADMK gone with it?
In the last three to four months the BJP vote share in Tamil Nadu, which was I think 2.86% in 2016, has gone up to about 5%-6%. This is the AIADMK vote.
They will lose the minority votes and others who don't like the BJP and Modi.
I think they have decided to take the risk to get the 5%-6% votes that the BJP will bring in.
Many in the AIADMK believe the alliance with BJP results in the loss of minority votes. So this alliance should be good news for the DMK-Congress, which will bag these votes?
De facto that is already the position, that the minority votes are with the DMK. Jayalalithaa used to get a lot of Muslim votes, particularly the women.
Given that in the Lok Sabha elections they did not get the minority votes, they cannot lose the 5%-6% votes that the BJP brings in.
Given the lukewarm response to the Vel Yatra, do you think the BJP is on the wrong track and has not read Tamil Nadu correctly? That despite its overt religiosity, the state remains a Dravidian stronghold?
I felt it was lukewarm in the first few days, but in the last three-four days they are getting big crowds. In Cuddalore and Tirupur they got a very large crowd.
If they want to win the elections the BJP-AIADMK has to do well in the Kongu region (Namakkal, Pollachi, Salem, Erode and Coimbatore).
For a party which has no presence in the assembly is the BJP punching above its weight in Tamil Nadu?
The last four-five months they have been very aggressive. They are getting crowds. Whether the crowds will translate into votes, we have to wait and see.
Seat-sharing will prove a problem, won't it, especially with the BJP talking about 50-60 seats?
This is all posturing. They will settle for about 25-30 seats. The PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi) will ask for an equal number of seats.
What value does the BJP bring to the alliance, as in votes in Tamil Nadu?
There is still another four months to go for the elections. So we don't know whether the figures will change from about 5%-6% now.
There is a feeling that the AIADMK maintains the alliance with the BJP only to have a central government favourable to it, with cases hanging over many state ministers. What is your opinion?
Certainly, one element of pressure is there. That element cannot be ignored.
What kind of election can we expect next year, the first assembly poll without stalwarts Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi?
My gut feeling is that it looks like a competitive election. It does not look like a one-horse race, like it looked some time ago in favour of the DMK in the Lok Sabha 2019 results.
With both Dravidian parties having a vote share on par in 2016, which side will the swing votes go, according to you?
That is exactly what it was. Jayalalitha had 40% plus votes when she won consecutive elections in 2011 and 2016.
The DMK has a committed vote share of around 30%.
T T V Dhinakaran took away about 5%-6% of the AIADMK vote share, and most of it must have come back to the AIADMK now.
So I see a close contest. It will be interesting.