The tumultuous developments in the AIADMK, leading up to the crowning of E Palaniswami (EPS) as the most powerful man in the party and the ouster of O Panneerselvam or OPS, may appear, on the face of it, a setback for the BJP. In the long power tussle between the two leaders, the BJP was seen to favour OPS. However, party leaders insist, a strong, united AIADMK that might emerge after the settlement of the leadership debate, is good news for the BJP.
Senior leaders, who have been closely involved with the BJP’s attempts to gain a footing in Tamil Nadu, say there may be a short-term setback due to the party’s association with OPS. However, the AIADMK emerging as “a cohesive, coherent and consolidated force… would help the BJP in the long run”, said a leader.
“In a state like Tamil Nadu, where the ecosystem is not BJP-friendly and where the popularity of Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) – which is our main trump card in almost all states — is not so deep, we need to have a strong friendly party,” the leader added, particularly as the DMK is scaling up its anti-BJP campaign and growing closer to the Congress.
The leader added that with the BJP prospects in the state still weak — let alone the party emerging as an alternative — the partnership with the AIADMK will continue. The BJP’s first goal would be to win as many Lok Sabha seats as possible as part of that partnership.
BJP leaders also assess that EPS, who has the hard task of consolidating the AIADMK, would prefer a “friendly” BJP at the Centre.
The AIADMK convenor as part of the power-sharing agreement with EPS – before his removal earlier this week – OPS never hid his desire for warm ties with the BJP. In the wake of Jayalalithaa’s demise, when the AIADMK was being pulled in different directions by factions, the BJP had stepped in to work out the distribution of power to keep both EPS and OPS happy.
Unlike OPS, EPS was never as welcoming to the BJP. The EPS-led government was seen to have a role in permission being denied to a BJP proposal to hold multiple election rallies for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the state, to “consolidate Hindus” ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections. Later, AIADMK leaders close to EPS publicly blamed the BJP for the party’s defeat in the polls.
A BJP MP said the party, however, understands EPS’s compulsions. “At a time when the DMK is picking up issue after issue to invoke sub-nationalism and to project itself as a champion of Opposition parties against the Centre over federalism issues, EPS had to play hard. The BJP leadership is conscious of the realities,” the MP said.
The MP said the BJP was also conscious of portraying neutrality between the two AIADMK leaders. “When the two sides were fighting, we played the role of an umpire. Even though OPS approached the BJP leadership several times to support him on policy issues, neither the BJP central leadership nor the government extended unflinched backing. Had the BJP supported him unconditionally, he would not have been so weak now,” the leader said.
BJP leaders said the Delhi leadership were also well aware of the unique anti-unitary political landscape of Tamil Nadu, giving rise to political movements and formidable leaders. A party MP from a neighbouring state pointed out: “The BJP has nothing to lose (in Tamil Nadu). Any growth would be good news. So with a young leader at the top in the state (K Annamalai) and aggressive campaigning, the BJP spike would be no surprise,” a leader said.