The bonhomie between the BJP and the AIADMK has soured in Tamil Nadu with the parties who are in a national alliance deciding to contest separately in the local body polls. According to sources who have followed the developments in both parties, the BJP was demanding 20% of the seats for the upcoming elections, but AIADMK refused to concede — especially after their alliance with the BJP was dubbed as one of the crucial reasons for their drubbing in the Assembly elections last year. “They were ready to give only 10% of the seats to the BJP. This was the major bone of contention which resulted in the split of the alliance,” a source told TNM.
The BJP’s demands included four of the mayoral posts, particularly in the western belt (Coimbatore, Karur, Erode, Krishnagiri etc) where the party is gradually increasing its presence. But the AIADMK did not want to give up these posts as the party had done exceptionally well in this region in the 2021 Assembly elections, says R Ramasubramanian, a senior journalist from Chennai.
In fact, the AIADMK did not wait for the talks with the BJP to end, and announced its first list of candidates for the Cuddalore corporation and the municipalities of Cuddalore, Villupuram and Dharmapuri, giving a clear message to their ally that they were in no position to bargain. However, TN BJP chief K Annamalai said the decision was because the party wanted a ‘respectable number of seats in the local polls.’ He also said that contesting alone would help the BJP realise its strength in the state and plan for the future
Though the AIADMK is in no position to break up with the BJP at the national level, at the local level many AIADMK leaders felt that they would become answerable to voters for the Union government’s decisions and policies. “This is because of BJP’s national policies,” a source tells TNM. “The DMK is always grilling the BJP on various issues, such as banning the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test, which is a hot topic in Tamil Nadu, and the Union government not releasing funds to non-BJP ruled states. Contesting separately will relieve the AIADMK from carrying this baggage,” they said.
AIADMK sources said that many party leaders were of the opinion that they should not concede their place as the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu, and distancing from the BJP was important for that.
Both parties also had a disconnect when it came to recent local issues. While the BJP went hammer and tongs on the forced conversion allegations in the Lavanya suicide issue, the AIADMK did not focus much on the issue. The BJP held a protest in Chennai after it was reported that the student was allegedly asked to convert to Christianity by nuns in her hostel in Michael Patti, Thanjavur. However, most AIADMK leaders chose to stay silent on the issue. AIADMK Joint Coordinator O Paneerselvam was among the few leaders who issued a statement asking for a legal probe into the issue. Without referring to the allegations of conversion, OPS wrote that there were “several versions of the reasons for her suicide”.
According to Ramasubramanian, the BJP would require the cadre support and grassroot infrastructure of a party like the AIADMK to stand a fighting chance against the DMK. The split in alliance has robbed the BJP of this massive advantage. “The BJP commands only 2% of votes in Tamil Nadu. While the party says it has grown in the last few years, its electoral clout is still negligible compared to the AIADMK and the DMK,” he says.
The scenario is, however, different for the AIADMK as the national alliance with the BJP is still intact.