The announcement of the AIADMK-BJP alliance at an official function of the Tamil Nadu government in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah was clearly avoidable. But the AIADMK is apparently in no position to avoid an alliance with the BJP which it virtually called a liability after the debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP, after making tall claims of leading an alliance, has no option but to eat humble pie and play second fiddle after actor Rajinikanth made no attempt to meet Shah in Chennai.
Soon after the government function at Kalaivanar Arangam, TN Chief Minister E. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam left for the five-star hotel to meet Amit Shah where follow-up political discussions took place. Ostensibly, the CM discussed a few demands of the State government but the discussions were largely political, according to AIADMK sources.
A preliminary discussion is said to have taken place about seat-sharing, with the BJP keen on contesting at least 50 of the 234 seats in the State. The AIADMK knows this is a wishlist but the number is expected to be brought down considerably as the regional party wants to field its own candidates in over 160 constituencies, leaving the rest to allies.
The BJP wants to settle the issue at the earliest and drive home a hard bargain for seats before other parties like the PMK and the DMDK enter the fray. The BJP realizes that it must conclude its seat-sharing formula ahead of others to secure winnable seats. Any delay could prove costly.
The AIADMK has had to go along with the BJP despite its nominal presence in the State (roughly 3 per cent support) as it needs the backing of the Union government for three reasons – protection from investigative agencies, adequate help during electioneering (including distribution of largesse to voters), and the crucial support of the PMO and the Raj Bhavan during ministry formation in the post-election phase if there is a hung Assembly.
The AIADMK second-rung leaders from the minorities have cautioned their high command of the fallout of a truck with the BJP. They have warned of consolidation of anti-Centre and anti-Modi votes in favour of the DMK-led front. But the AIADMK leaders are not in a position to resist the advances of the BJP for the reasons mentioned above.
The AIADMK high command had kept BJP leaders away from its campaign in the byelections to the Vellore Lok sabha by-poll and 2 Assembly by-polls in the State, when the AIADMK made some gains by giving a tough fight in Vellore and winning the Assembly by-polls. Too much importance cannot be given to by-polls, given the extent of muscle power use by the ruling party. Still, a section of party leaders feel that the AIADMK’s improved performance without association with the BJP should be kept in mind. This section does feel that the AIADMK would be better off if there is no formal alliance with the BJP.
However, the group led by O. Panneerselvam has been pushing the party towards the continuance of the alliance with the BJP. Even associates of EPS have had to go along with this strategy since they cannot afford to antagonize the BJP given charges against several Ministers.
Ultimately, the AIADMK leadership has veered round to the view that it has no option but to sink or sail with the BJP. The Jayalalithaa line of no-alliance-with-the-BJP, which prevailed from 2006 till 2016, has been abandoned by her successors.