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Ahead of crucial general elections next year, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s partner in the key southern state of Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or the AIADMK, broke the alliance and walked out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) this week, taking the BJP by surprise. The move comes after controversial statements by the state BJP chief K. Annamalai on Dravidian patriarch C.N. Annadurai and former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa. Annamalai has been needling the AIADMK for nearly a year.

The alliance with the BJP has not helped the AIADMK, whose internal assessments show that they have lost the support of minorities. They have also lost every election since allying with the BJP, including the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, the 2021 assembly, and the 2022 local body elections.

Why allies are deserting BJP

With an eye on the state election in 2026, the AIADMK wanted to get rid of the baggage that came with the BJP. An AIADMK leader told The Indian Express, “If we had contested with the BJP in 2024, our Dalit and minority support base would have gone forever. Our move now enables us to reclaim our support base”. However, the BJP has left a door open, and reports suggest efforts are underway to woo the AIADMK back. The Tamil Nadu party too may not be averse to linking up with the BJP in a post-poll scenario.

Tamil Nadu may not be a big deal for the BJP, which is a very minor player in the southern state. But given that the party expects losses in the north in the next general election, it must gain seats elsewhere. This is why other states and strategic alliances will be necessary, especially in states where it has yet to break ground. It also explains why the BJP suddenly brought the NDA back from the dead after the opposition bloc came together as the INDIA alliance a few months ago. The only problem is key NDA allies have deserted BJP in recent years.

Edappadi K. Palaniswami
Edappadi K. Palaniswami, AIADMK General Secretary and leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. The party has parted ways with the BJP since it didn’t benefit from the alliance. Image Credit: ANI

The Akali Dal walked out over the farm laws and is not returning despite BJP overtures. The Shiv Sena had the infamous ugly bust-up with the BJP, ultimately leading to a split engineered by the saffron party. BJP also lost Bihar’s JDU along the way.

Before the AIADMK-BJP split, the BJP gained a new ally in the JDS in Karnataka. However, the BJP is seen as a party unwilling to accommodate or engage with allies except those it can dominate. This is a far cry from the coalition dharma that former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee so ably adopted.

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When Narendra Modi first came to power, he took smaller allies along despite the BJP’s numbers. Increasingly over the last decade, however, the BJP came to believe it was better off going alone and treated allies with disdain. At the same time, the party also realises it may need the help of smaller parties if the numbers don’t add up in 2024. In that case, the BJP leadership must adopt a more conciliatory approach rather than a winner-takes-all attitude.