A week ago, the alliance between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Tamil Nadu ran aground with the AIADMK spokesperson and former minister D Jayakumar announcing there was no alliance at present – and that the matter could be decided at the time of elections.
Since then, there have been hectic confabulations within both parties about the pros and cons of the alliance, and also about whether the union was well and truly off.
Finally, on Monday, 25 September, a formal declaration of the alliance being broken was made by the AIADMK leadership.
Former chief minister and AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K Palaniswamy (EPS) had earlier asked his party leaders not to speak in public about the alliance or the BJP for a few days.
A delegation from the AIADMK went to Delhi, ostensibly to meet Home Minister Amit Shah. They also met party president JP Nadda and Minister Piyush Goyal and apparently conveyed their displeasure about BJP state president K Annamalai's constant criticism of those whom the AIADMK leaders and cadre revere – former chief ministers CN Annadurai and J Jayalalithaa.
Even as EPS called for a meeting of all senior party leaders, MPs, and MLAs of the party to take a final call on Monday, Jayakumar, over the weekend, had reemphasised that the alliance was off.
The meeting itself was called by EPS to ensure that a consensus was obtained among the senior leaders of the party on the decision to break the alliance – and that he was not seen to be taking a unilateral decision.
A senior leader at the meeting told this author that the overwhelming mood was in favour of quitting the alliance.
There was also the possibility of delaying a final decision and passing a resolution leaving it to EPS to take the final call, but the strong sentiment within the meeting convinced EPS that this was the time to make the break.
Annamalai's Attempt To Break Alliance
While the relationship between the AIADMK and the BJP has remained good overall (a point that both sides have emphasised), the problem that the AIADMK faced with the repeated barbs of the BJP state president seems to have finally tested its patience.
Annamalai is believed to have told his party colleagues at an internal meeting a few months ago, that he would resign if the alliance with the AIADMK continued. Since then, he has been on a one-man mission to wreck the alliance with his utterances.
The silence of his senior colleagues in the state unit of the BJP to his statements against the AIADMK has been deafening, but that has not deterred him from going the distance.
The BJP in Tamil Nadu is very much a divided house with a sizable section of the senior leaders biding their time and hoping that at some stage, Annamalai, a former IPS officer who is all of three years old in the party and was parachuted in as state president, will overplay his hand.
The AIADMK suspects that the BJP high command is playing a double game. An AIADMK senior leader told this author that the BJP high command may have overlooked one or two of Annamalai's abrasive comments about the AIADMK.
But even after they had pointed out the issue and after EPS's Delhi meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah a few days ago, Annamalai continued in the same vein.
"We are no longer willing to believe that the BJP high command is simply unaware of what is happening. It is now clear that they are deliberately allowing Annamalai to insult our leaders," the senior leader said, adding, "That is why we need to take a call."
Assertion of AIADMK's Independence
The AIADMK is caught between a rock and a hard place. It is no longer the party that once commanded almost 45 percent vote share under J Jayalalithaa that decimated all its opponents in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and managed to retain power in the 2016 Assembly elections on its own steam.
The internecine squabbles in the party have led to a significant decline in the vote share and a resurgent BJP has been quietly chipping away at the Dravidian party's base. It needs every vote it can get and the BJP having grown in public perception to the status of the third largest party in the state can deliver an additional 7-10 percent vote share to the alliance.
Also, in the absence of the alliance, who will the AIADMK project as PM candidate for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
All these factors were in favour of the alliance continuing.
On the other hand, those pushing for a break argued that the AIADMK has lost a sizable part of the minority vote after its alliance with the BJP, and while the minorities still remain overwhelmingly with the DMK combine, there is a possibility of wooing at least some of them back.
The general negative perception that the BJP still carries among a sizable section of the electorate in Tamil Nadu means that the AIADMK, minus the baggage of the BJP, may be an attractive option for these voters. The presence of the BJP was also a deterrent for some parties who may want to tie up with the AIADMK.
Also, the rise of the BJP seems to have plateaued in Tamil Nadu over the last few months, and the threat of the AIADMK vote being completely consumed by the BJP seems a little less likely than it looked a year ago. EPS has also successfully fought off the challenge from former chief minister O Paneerselvam, and the party, once predicted to implode, has stayed largely intact under his leadership.
All things considered, the AIADMK remains – by some distance – the principal challenger to the ruling DMK, and the attempt by the BJP to downsize its prominence has not been taken kindly. It is in this context that the decision to call off the alliance is a step towards asserting the AIADMK's independence.
Ever since the demise of Jayalalithaa, the DMK and its allies have referred to the AIADMK as a slave of the BJP. The decision to break the alliance is an attempt to shake off the shackles of the BJP and correct this perception.
The AIADMK now needs to go to the people and reclaim its dented image as being the principal Opposition to the DMK in the state. Its performance as the largest Opposition party has been lacklustre at best and many feel that EPS ceded space to Annamalai in taking on the DMK government. He will now be keen to correct that error.
True leaders are those who take bold, decisive decisions when needed and make them count. Edappadi Palaniswamy has just made one and staked his political future on it. Can he script the revival of the AIADMK? Time will tell.
(Sumanth C Raman is a television anchor and political analyst. He tweets @sumanthraman. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)