Amit Shah sparks alliance speculations; can BJP find partners in Tamil Nadu?

It will not be easy for the saffron party to find an ally in the Dravidian land

PTI7_9_2018_000205A BJP president Amit Shah with party supporters at Shakthi Kendra meeting, in Chennai on Monday | PTI

A day after BJP president Amit Shah’s visit to Tamil Nadu, the party cadres in the state are enthused. Even as the social media was abuzz with hashtags like #GoBackAmitShah, the BJP's meeting on Monday proved successful as Shah dropped several political hints through his speech on the plans for the next Lok Sabha elections. In a state where the BJP is fighting hard to find its foothold, Shah’s messages to the cadres have made the saffron brigade go back to their booths and step up election work. 

For the BJP, which has been successful in getting its strategies right in more than 19 states, Tamil Nadu has always been a land of embarrassment. Shah’s announcement of the party’s willingness to float an electoral alliance has sparked speculations as who can be BJP’s formidable ally, if at all the party can find an alliance partner in the state. Though the party’s idea of floating an alliance is not surprising, as it had a rainbow alliance in 2014, the announcement has triggered debates and discussions within the party itself as Shah is focusing on an anti-corruption plank. 

The optics were on full display when Amit Shah landed in Chennai on Monday. The entire party machinery was in full swing, with more than 20,000 Sakthi Kendra office bearers on the ground, hearing and cheering Shah’s address. The golden beach resort venue turned into a sea of saffron with every single cadre sporting an orange shawl. To the party seniors, office bearers, the Sakthi Kendra representatives and to the cadres, Amit Shah’s was a strong political message that the BJP and its potential allies will harp on the anti-corruption theme and it will be a “corruption free alliance.” 

Says BJP’s state president Tamilisai Soundararajan, “We will discuss alliance after we strengthen our party base. Alliances will be discussed during the elections. The BJP is strong at the booth level and with our president’s visit we have started out election work at the ground level.” 

The possibilities of BJP floating an alliance in Tamil Nadu are more, given the fact that the party in 2014 had floated a rainbow coalition giving a run to the DMK-Congress combine and winning two out of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state. This time, too, except the Left parties and the Congress, the BJP can find a partner in the fractured AIADMK or even the DMK or the newly floated T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s party or it can even retain its erstwhile ally in Vijayakanth’s DMDK and Dr S. Ramadoss’s PMK. But BJP’s idea of catching fish in troubled waters, by floating an alliance at a time when Tamil Nadu is witnessing a leadership vacuum, may not be easy. 

“Tamil Nadu in the past four years, since Modi came to power at the Centre, has seen it all. The state which fought the Centre under Jayalalithaa is now politically unstable with a puppet government in place. This happened at the behest of the BJP,” says a DMK MLA. 

Unlike in other states, where BJP’s strategies won, in Tamil Nadu the anti-Modi wave has grown over the days. “Amit Shah’s visit is not going to make any difference in Tamil Nadu in the prospects of the party. After issues like Cauvery and NEET, the image of the BJP has reached a rock bottom level. If anyone travels across Tamil Nadu he or she can feel for themselves there is a probable anti-Modi wave in TN. Moreover, unlike 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has to scout very hardly to cobble up an alliance with a few other political parties. We have to wait and watch,” says R. Mani, a senior journalist. 

The PMK, DMDK and MDMK, which were part of the rainbow alliance formed by the BJP in 2014, are not with the saffron party now as it was only an electoral alliance. Moreover, their vote share, compared to 2014 is much lower. In the past five years, DMDK has been virtually wiped out. MDMK, too, has lost its ground. The PMK, which contested alone in 2016 with a slogan “Anbumani for CM”, may not once again look for an ally in BJP as senior Ramadoss is quite often seen taking a dig at Modi and the central government schemes.  “If they come together,  it will not have any impact. As of now, only a section of the AIADMK and Rajinikanth’s yet to be formed party are the likely choices for the BJP,” says Mani. 

Though the national parties, be it the Congress or the BJP, have done a  piggyback ride on the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu for the past four decades, this time it is not just the sheer arithmetic or the alliance that will work. More than these, the consequences of a leadership vacuum and the unpopularity of the ruling governments are likely to determine the victory of any party.