AIADMK-BJP Split: Which Way Will Traditional Anti-DMK Voters Sway in Tamil Nadu?

Friends-turned-foes AIADMK and BJP will have a direct contest in 15 Parliamentary constituencies in Tamil Nadu.

6 min read
Hindi Female

For nearly 37 years, 55-year-old Gunasekharan, a Coimbatore-based driver, has supported the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). A fan of former Tamil Nadu chief ministers MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa, Gunasekharan, however, adds that over the last 1.5 years, he has been miffed with the functioning of the party.

"If you see in the last four years, there have been so many issues with the party post Jayalalithaa's death. There were internal conflicts between Palaniswami and OPS (O Paneerselvam) too. The current AIADMK leadership is facing an identity crisis. As a voter, I am not very happy to support a party that is confused and has lost its identity..."
Gunasekharan, a former AIAMDK supporter, to The Quint

In 2018, it was the AIADMK which rushed into an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the tumultuous period after J Jayalalithaa’s death, when the latter promised a steadying hand for the AIADMK, which was facing internal conflicts.

After contesting two elections together – 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 2021 Assembly Elections – and losing both, it was the same AIADMK which took a call to exit the alliance in September 2023, ending a five-year-long marriage with the BJP in Tamil Nadu.

Now, the friends-turned-foes are locked in a direct contest in over 15 Parliamentary seats in a charged-up political atmosphere in Tamil Nadu ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

For voters like Gunasekharan, who has supported the BJP-AIADMK alliance since 2019, it's a cause of confusion.

"It is an extremely poor decision by the AIADMK and will definitely hurt them. They should've stayed with the BJP as they don't have a proper leadership. As a voter, I will place my chances on the BJP... " he said.

Which Way Will AIADMK Voters Go?

The AIADMK’s move is likely to have a substantial impact on the dynamics of Tamil Nadu politics.

The end of the alliance was not completely unexpected. There had been trouble brewing within the alliance for some time now, with leadership constantly at odds over a range of issues – the tip of the iceberg being a purported remark by BJP state chief K Annamalai on former chief ministers CN Annadurai and Jayalalithaa last year.

“We have said it several times. I am clarifying. We will never align with the BJP at any point of time. This is not just my wish. It is the wish of the party cadres," said AIADMK leader Edappadi K Palaniswami in February 2024.

Tamil Nadu-based journalist and political analyst Maalan Narayanan told The Quint that there are two types of traditional AIADMK voters – One, those who voted for the party for the sake of Jayalalithaa. Two, those who are anti-DMK.

"In Tamil Nadu, there have been only two fronts (AIADMK and DMK). So it was easy for the anti-DMK voters to vote for the AIADMK, as there was no other option for them... With a third option available, all anti-DMK votes will not go en masse to the AIADMK. So AIADMK will suffer by that count... similarly all anti-DMK votes will not go to BJP," said Narayanan.

Forty-five-year-old Ranganathan, a Brahmin by caste and an employee at a private real-estate company in Coimbatore, falls under that category. He told The Quint that has historically supported the AIADMK, not because of its ideologies or leaders, but because he is "anti-DMK."

"I believe that the DMK is anti-Hindu and anti-Brahmin. So, my vote was always for the AIADMK as there was no alternative. When the AIADMK-BJP alliance happened, I felt more comfortable as a voter, as I knew that both parties had the capability of fighting out the DMK. But now, I obviously prefer a national party like the BJP which has a PM face rather than a party like the AIADMK."
Ranganathan told The Quint

However, not all voters felt the way Gunasekharan and Ranganathan did.

"Even if I am unhappy with the AIADMK's performance, I will continue to vote for the party. I am an anti-DMK voter. I don't want the BJP to enter south India because of their hate politics, so the AIADMK is my only option," a Chennai AIADMK supporter, who did not wish to be named, told The Quint.


What Impact Will the Split Have on 2024 Elections?

Soon after the alliance broke out, both parties began to scramble to find alliance partners for the 2024 elections.

While the BJP managed to form an alliance with Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and AIADMK rebels, like TTV Dhinakaran and O Paneerselvem, which could help the party in the northern and southern parts of the state, it hopes to make inroads into western TN on its own as Annamalai himself hails from the region.

The AIADMK, meanwhile, looks to retain the western region, which has predominantly remained its bastion.

In the 2021 Assembly elections, the AIADMK alliance secured 75 seats. Out of this, 40 seats were from the western region alone. Out of the four seats that the BJP won in 2021, two (Coimbatore and Modakkurichi) of the seats were from the western region.

This time the BJP and the AIADMK will witness a direct contest in Chennai North, Chennai South, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Namakkal, Nilgiris (SC), Pollachi, Coimbatore, and Perambalur, Tenkasi (SC), Chidambaram (SC), Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Sivaganga, Madurai, Tenkasi, Tirunelveli,, Tiruppur, Tiruvallur, Karur and Pondicherry.

Dr Arun Kumar G, a political science professor and analyst at the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), said, "Both the AIADMK and the BJP have sought to strengthen their connections within the Gounder communities, assigning key positions in both the party and government to individuals from this demographic/region."

According to Arun Kumar, caste plays a major role in deciding which way the traditional voters will swing.

"Before the Modi era, upper caste voters, who make up 2-3% of the population in Tamil Nadu, used to vote for Jayalalithaa. Even when they did prefer BJP then, they choose AIADMK, as they thought the chances of the former winning was less, so they wanted to play it safe. But now, upper caste and backward caste voters like those in the Goundar community have gotten attracted to the BJP," he said.

Ramu Manivannan, a political analyst and former Head of Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, told The Quint:

"The traditional vote bank of AIADMK in northern and western parts of Tamil Nadu will not switch for sure. But in the southern districts, due to the caste denomination, there will be a certain shift. The AIADMK has to swallow the fact that the Mukkulathor caste votes, and votes in favour of TTV Dhinakaran, Sasikala and OPS won't go to them this time."

Who Will the Split Hurt More?

Both the AIADMK and the BJP believed that the split of the alliance will not affect them in any way.

"In 2016, the BJP contested all alone in Coimbatore South and received 22% vote-share... in 2019, despite an alliance with the AIADMK, we lost badly. So, this doesn't matter really... people know the work the BJP and Modiji have been doing for them over the last 10 years. That's what matters."
Coimbatore MLA and national president of BJP's Women's Wing Vanathi Srinivasan

"The BJP has a vote share of less than 3%. They won four seats in 2021 only because of us, so how can they split our votes?" asked an AIADMK leader.

Meanwhile, when asked if the DMK will benefit from the AIADMK-BJP split, DMK MP Kanimozhi told The Quint:

"If the BJP won seats in Tamil Nadu, it's because of the alliance with the AIADMK. It's not on their own merit. I don't think there will be any change because AIADMK and BJP have split."

Political analysts told The Quint that it would be an exaggeration that there will be a huge split in the votes polled.

Even if a split between the AIADMK and the BJP results in a division of the anti-DMK vote, the AIADMK sees gains for itself in the long run if it can reclaim its traditional vote bank, they believed.

According to Arun Kumar, the AIADMK is depending on its core vote bank, which is about 30 percent, and the “anti-incumbency” against the DMK dispensation which will aid its performance. 

"A traditional AIADMK voter will definitely not go against the two-leaves symbol. Even if EPS contests against two-leaves symbol, voters won't go against the AIADMK. There is a compromise amongst AIADMK cadres/leaders, but not voters. Leaders might shift to the BJP, but core and traditional voters will not because they strongly believe in the AIADMK's ideas. They also believe that the AIADMK is the only party to pose a threat to the DMK."
Arun Kumar to The Quint

"The BJP will only have an advantage of vote split in constituencies in areas where there is a weak AIADMK candidate, like in Coimbatore, Chennai South, Chennai North and Chennai Central. But apart from that, I see no big change..." he said.

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