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Pressure builds on Annamalai as rifts in BJP Tamil Nadu unit surface

Pressure builds on Annamalai as rifts in BJP Tamil Nadu unit surface

With a large section of the party in the state ranged against him, Annamalai must count on the support of the BJP high command.

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Last Updated : 15 June 2024, 05:05 IST
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On June 12, as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu took his oath of office, social media was abuzz with scenes from the stage where dignitaries and guests were seated. The scenes were not of the swearing-in itself, but that of Home Minister Amit Shah’s conversation with former Telangana Governor and senior Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Tamilisai Soundararajan. From Shah’s expressions and gestures, it appeared he was admonishing Soundararajan.

A good 30 hours later, Soundararajan, who was the former Tamil Nadu party president, put out a post on X, saying that Shah had asked her to work hard in her constituency, and that there was no need to speculate on what he told her. By then the damage had been done, turning the spotlight yet again on the faction feuds within the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit.

Soundararajan, after losing in this general election from the Chennai South constituency, said that an electoral alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) would have paid the BJP rich dividends, and it was state president K Annamalai who did not want such an alliance. She also warned the BJP IT cell against putting out memes of her or criticising her on social media.

Following her statements, the rift in the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit which was an open secret has now come out in the open. Some leaders stayed mum but others started to take sides. That several senior leaders were unhappy with the decision to break ties with the AIADMK was spoken about in the run-up to the elections. Though the AIADMK walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), what forced their hand was the constant humiliation of the party and its leaders by Annamalai. The BJP High Command woke up late to this reality and tried to woo the AIADMK back, waiting almost until the election dates were announced with ‘open doors’.

The results of the general elections in Tamil Nadu are a setback to the BJP. After investing so much into the campaign, including over a dozen visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the marginal increase in vote share should come as a disappointment.

The 11.24 per cent vote share the BJP claims to have won also includes the votes of non-BJP leaders who contested on the Lotus symbol. This includes former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, educationists A C Shanmugham and Paarivendhar, and Devendrakula Vellalar leader John Pandian.

After contesting in 23 seats and winning none, the pressure has increased on Annamalai. With a large section of the party in the state ranged against him, Annamalai must count on the support of the party high command. His supporters rejoiced at the perceived rebuke to Soundararajan and gloated that he still enjoyed the confidence of Modi and Shah. Some see Modi referring to the BJP’s increase in vote share in Tamil Nadu at the NDA meeting as a sign that Annamalai is not on his way out.

The photo-op between Soundararajan and Annamalai, on June 14, is unlikely to improve things for the state unit.

With the next Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu in May 2026, there is no urgent need to discuss alliances. The AIADMK and the BJP, battered by the recent losses, will focus on rebuilding their parties. But both sides know that they do not have the power to individually take on the formidable Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance. The DMK never fights elections alone and has a phalanx of parties including the Congress, the Communists, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), and a few others on its side. To take them on, former chief minister and AIADMK chief Edappadi K Palaniswami and the BJP leadership in Delhi know that coming together is necessary, sooner or later.

The more immediate decision for the BJP is taking a call on whether to persist with Annamalai. While he has undoubtedly brought greater attention to the party, and with it a rise in its vote share and public perception, it appears likely that an alliance with the AIADMK will not be possible as long as he is in charge.

Many of the cultural issues Modi was advised to take up in Tamil Nadu as potential vote winners fell flat during the campaign. In the caste stakes also, the BJP failed to get a sizable share of votes from any dominant community. The BJP needs to reorient its pitch in Tamil Nadu. It needs to get the Union government to open the fund tap to the state. The big question is: does Annamalai still figure in its plans to revitalise the party in Tamil Nadu?

(Sumanth Raman is a Chennai-based television anchor and political analyst.)


Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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