In the run-up to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s official visit to Chennai on November 21, there were several fiery exchanges between AIADMK and the BJP, particularly over allowing the controversial Vel Yatra. While the BJP indirectly called the AIADMK anti-Hindu, the AIADMK shot back calling the Vel Yatra a communal political tool. This animosity even led to a few leaders in the ruling party even believing that they might not ally with the BJP for the upcoming Tamil Nadu Assembly polls but the announcement took many by surprise. Insiders tell TNM that it was not an option the AIADMK was very enthusiastic about but were compelled to go with.
Many in AIADMK see the BJP as an ideological and electoral liability in Tamil Nadu. Their alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where the DMK swept the state, reinforces that. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP continues to be a fringe party, at best, with the party’s vote share in the last Assembly elections being a meagre 2.84% and most of their candidates even losing their deposits. But many believe that their leaders were under immense pressure- direct and indirect- by the BJP to continue the alliance for the upcoming elections too.
Those who were privy to the discussions before and after the announcement tell TNM that one of the primary reasons for allying with BJP was to keep the highly fragmented AIADMK from splintering. With no towering leaders to hold the ship together, the last four years have seen turmoil like never before. While a precarious power equation has been established now between the warring camps, the leaders felt that with the BJP involved in the equation, walking away from the assigned roles for the sake of ego or ambition will not be easy.
A few leaders like Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam also hope that an alliance with the BJP might secure their children a political future on the national platform. A strong request has been put with the BJP to accommodate Raveendranath with a ministerial berth at the Centre.
In addition, VK Sasikala is expected to get released from jail in January 2021 and senior leaders feel that keeping her at bay just ahead of elections will be imperative. The BJP, with an iron grasp on the central agencies can facilitate this. The possibility of BJP allying with Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran cannot be ruled out, leaders in AIADMK reportedly worried.
While the DMK-led alliance will look to consolidate the secular votes, the AIADMK-BJP alliance can hope to get the majority votes and prevent it from splitting further. With bleak chances of Rajinikanth not entering the poll fray thus far, not even launching his political party has greatly bolstered the AIADMK in this aspect too.
In a meeting held over two weeks ago, AIADMK insiders say that the leaders worried that if they refuse to tie-up with the BJP, then the saffron party might form an alliance against them by luring AIADMK’s past allies including DMDK, PMK and Tamil Maanila Congress (M) dealing a huge blow to the AIADMK. There is also the fear that central agencies will be used against ministers, many of whom are already mired in allegations of corruption.
Sources say that ahead of formally announcing the alliance, leaders of both parties were extremely hostile against each other because of the Vel Yatra fallout. While the AIADMK tried to appear tough and opposed to communal politics, many experts believe it did little to shake off the negativity they have earned in the last couple of years due to their proximity with the BJP. Most of their workers saw through the positioning as a gimmick just ahead of the election, making it a futile exercise.
With the announcement made, now the AIADMK hopes to cash in on their association with the party ruling at the Centre and pitch to their electorate that the state gets to benefit with big-ticket projects with the BJP in the capacity to make these decisions in New Delhi. But in a state that strongly speaks of federalism this too might boomerang according to experts.