My article in DailyO.
On May 11, 2015, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa was acquitted in the disproportionate assets case by a controversial Karnataka High Court order. A day after the order, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on Jayalalithaa to congratulate her on the acquittal.
Why did the “Na khaunga, na khaane dunga” prime minister call to congratulate a person against whom his own department, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), had filed a corruption case? To keep her in good humour as the BJP needs the support of 12 AIADMK Rajya Sabha MPs where it is in a minority.
The bonhomie between Jayalalithaa and the BJP is not new. Modi had attended Jayalalithaa’s swearing-in ceremony in 2011, which she reciprocated by attending Modi’s swearing-in 2012. The BJP has been wooing the AIADMK for almost a decade now to induct it into its alliance in Tamil Nadu. Even before the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, the BJP had made a strong pitch for the AIADMK’s induction into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but Jayalalithaa has constantly ignored the overtures.
There are primarily three reasons for the AIADMK snubbing the BJP:
1. Jayalalithaa doesn’t want to give the BJP a chance to gain a foothold among her Hindu support base in the state as she won’t gain much from this deal.
2. It also helps to maintain her neutral stand and doesn’t close doors on the Congress. After all, Jayalalithaa had fought elections together with the Congress in the state earlier.
3. She herself nurses prime ministerial ambitions. This dream has to be sacrificed if she joins the NDA.
1998 Lok Sabha polls: Amma joins NDA
In the snap polls held in 1998 (after Congress withdrew support to the Inder Kumar Gujral-led government), the AIADMK joined the BJP-led NDA. The NDA had bagged 255 seats with a 37.5 per cent vote share and emerged as the single largest alliance. In Tamil Nadu, the alliance bagged 30 out of 39 seats which contributed significantly to its win at the national level.
However, things soon got sour between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK withdrew support to the Vajpayee government as the prime minister refused to withdraw all pending corruption cases against her and dismiss the DMK regime in Tamil Nadu. As a result, in a vote of confidence, the BJP lost the motion by one vote and the government fell within 13 months of having taken over.
Subramanian Swamy, who is now a part of the BJP also played a crucial role in Vajpayee government’s downfall. He is rumoured to have instigated Jayalalithaa as Vajpayee didn’t make him the finance minister. He arranged for Jayalalithaa’s meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi (whom he now castigates day in and day out) and conspired to bring down the NDA government.
1999 Lok Sabha elections: DMK joins NDA
In 1999, the BJP forged an alliance with the DMK which supported the government in the vote of confidence. The NDA again swept the state of Tamil Nadu (winning 31 of the 39 seats) and this performance propelled it to form the government at the Center, bagging 299 seats (a gain of 44) with a 40.7 per cent vote share (a gain of 3.2 per cent).
2004 Lok Sabha polls: NDA lost because of one of the biggest blunders by RSS
In December 2003, the DMK walked out of the NDA, just months before the Lok Sabha polls in 2004 as the BJP started flirting with the AIADMK. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) felt at that time (as it has always felt and even feels now) that the AIADMK was a natural ally as it was ideologically closer to the BJP.
Moreover, the AIADMK had won the state elections in 2001 defeating the DMK and the RSS felt that the AIADMK would sweep the Lok Sabha polls as well. Among other things, the lack of the BJP’s support to curb the alleged use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) by Jayalalithaa on DMK and MDMK leaders irked DMK patriarch Karunanidhi.
The BJP struck an alliance with the AIADMK, the same AIADMK which had led to the downfall of the 13-month-old Vajpayee government in 1998. The DMK joined the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). They were not natural allies as the Congress always felt that the DMK was sympathetic towards the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which was responsible for killing of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. In fact, the Congress pulled down the Gujral government in 1998 for his refusal to remove the DMK from the ministry as demanded by party.
The results of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls were a shocker for the NDA. The UPA swept Tamil Nadu winning 35 of the 39 seats, and the NDA and Jayalalithaa drew a blank. The NDA won 189 seats and the UPA 225 seats overall. If the BJP had remained with the DMK, it could well have swept Tamil Nadu and bagged those 35 seats. Then the NDA tally would have been 224 seats and UPA’s tally 190. The NDA would have emerged as the largest alliance and who knows, may even have formed the government with the support of regional parties. The momentum with the NDA may have prompted smaller parties in the UPA to defect as well.
This is one of the best kept secrets – that of the failure of the RSS machinery. RSS supporters would argue that the efforts of the organisation have led to many wins for the BJP, and sometimes things may go wrong. I won’t disagree. But it’s also amply clear that the BJP lost in 2004 despite the aggressive “India Shining” campaign owing to RSS’ tactical mistake to ally with AIADMK instead of the DMK.
Fondness for Jayalalithaa has left the BJP without any allies in Tamil Nadu for the 2016 polls
In 2014, the BJP formed an anti-Jayalalithaa/ anti Karunanidhi front comprising of the DMDK, PMK, IJK, MDMK, KMDK and PNK. The alliance bagged two seats, posting 18.5 per cent vote share in an election where the DMK failed to open its account. In many decades, the BJP was able to lead a formidable Third Front against the two Dravidian parties.
As Assembly elections approached in 2016, the BJP fell for its long-time fetish of trying to again forge an alliance with the AIADMK. The same AIADMK which had caused the Vajpayee government to fall in 1999. The same AIADMK with which a tie-up in 2004 led to its defeat. The same AIADMK which has constantly snubbed the BJP and snubbed it again. This led some of its allies in the Lok Sabha (DMDK) to rock the boat and join the PWF alliance.
The BJP was not able to keep its Lok Sabha alliance intact as the MDMK and PMK left the NDA after the Lok Sabha polls. Though the job was easier said than done as both Anbumani Ramadoss and Vijaykanth aspired to be the chief ministerial candidate of the NDA.
The BJP’s failure in stitching together a grand alliance and keeping it intact will go down in the history as a missed opportunity to create a space for itself in the state. Given the current dynamics, the BJP will struggle to open its account in the state and for this it has to blame its one-sided love for Amma.