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Why BJP-AIADMK Impact Will be Limited in TN's First Election Without Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi

Given that actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth has refused to enter the fray in 2019, it is now clear that the battle in Tamil Nadu will be a direct two-way fight between the AIADMK-BJP alliance and the DMK-Congress alliance.

Veeraraghav T M | TMVraghav

Updated:February 21, 2019, 1:05 PM IST
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Why BJP-AIADMK Impact Will be Limited in TN's First Election Without Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi
BJP leader Piyush Goyal and AIADMK ministers O Panneerselvam and E Palaniswami meet reporters after agreeing on the alliance deal. (PTI photo)

The BJP alliance with the AIADMK was on anticipated lines given the latter’s dependence on the Centre for the survival of its government in Tamil Nadu. This alliance was expected to be formalised despite serious reservations from a section within the AIADMK.

Further, given that the DMK has allied itself firmly with the Congress and even taken the lead in projecting Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidate, the AIADMK, which has been in turmoil since Jayalalithaa passed away in 2016, had to take the BJP. It does not have the stature that it had under Jayalalithaa who went alone in 2014 and won 37 of the state’s 39 Lok Sabha seats.

However, the question now is what impact this alliance can make.

Given that actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth has refused to enter the fray in 2019 and has declared that he will not support any side, it is now clear that the battle in Tamil Nadu will be a direct two-way fight between the AIADMK-BJP alliance and the DMK-Congress alliance.

It must be pointed out that the other AIADMK faction, led by TTV Dinakaran who split from the parent party after the demise of Jayalalithaa, is unlikely to close ranks with the ruling faction. The dispute between the two factions is bitter and each would like to use the 2019 Lok sabha elections to establish their credibility as successors to Jayalalithaa.

In this scenario, if the AIADMK vote is split down the middle, the going will be very difficult for the alliance it is part of. The BJP, by itself, has only a pocketed presence in the state, especially in Coimbatore in western and Kanyakumari in southern Tamil Nadu. However, it cannot win any of these seats on its own and needs the alliance vote base to transfer for a victory.

In 2014, the BJP had forged an alliance with the PMK and MDMK and polled just 5.5% votes to win one seat, whereas the AIADMK went on its own to win 37 seats with a 44.3% vote. In fact, without an ally, the BJP has never won a seat in Tamil Nadu and its best performance in the state was four seats in the 1999 general elections when it was in an alliance with the DMK.

In terms of the AIADMK, the BJP has gone into a general election twice before in an alliance with the Dravidian party. In 1998, it won three seats and the alliance included parties like the PMK. The alliance won 30 of the 39 seats in the state. However, the second time the BJP went with the AIADMK was in 2004, and the two-party alliance was routed 39-0 by the DMK-led alliance.

In fact, the BJP walked out of an alliance with the DMK just ahead of polls in 2004 and this was seen in party circles as a disastrous mistake in hindsight.

However, the political realities of 2019 are very different in Tamil Nadu as it will be the first election in three decades without both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.

In this scenario, it must be pointed out that the demise of Jayalalithaa and the anti-incumbency faced by the ruling dispensation are certain to bring the AIADMK vote share down from 2014. It is not clear how much the vote share will fall, but even a 10 percent fall would mean a decisive defeat in Tamil Nadu where the winner, literally, takes it all.

Also, 2014, in the backdrop of the 2G scam, was the worst ever election for the DMK. It went without the Congress and its vote shares dropped to an abysmal 23.6 % resulting in a complete rout in terms of seats. The Congress polled just 4.3% votes. The DMK and the Congress are expected to recover from that nadir and try and regain their 2009 vote share of around 44 percent. If this happens, it would be trouble for the AIADMK and BJP.

However, with the PMK and the DMDK on their side, the BJP-AIADMK alliance hopes to put up a fight. But their impact and fighting chances may be confined to less than 10 parliamentary seats. The PMK has a powerful base in the Vanniyar caste belt of about five seats in northern Tamil Nadu and this area also has a DMDK vote base.

This is the region where the fight between the two formations will be interesting. But the PMK would demand contesting most of these seats and so will the DMDK. Hence, gains for the BJP or AIADMK will be marginal.

Apart from this region, the BJP may hope to put up a fight in Coimbatore and Kanyakumari where it has a small presence on its own. Here, it may hope to make some gain, but the DMK-alliance will put up a serious fight.

In fact, the DMK is keen to repeat a 2004-style sweep of all 39 seats and that is seen as the best way for MK Stalin to assert his leadership in the state.

In the final analysis, the AIADMK-BJP alliance may not have an impact across the state, but has the ability to put up a serious fight only in a handful of constituencies. As far as the BJP is concerned, any seat from Tamil Nadu will be seen as a gain and as an effort to build its base in a state which has, to date, been a fortress it could not breach.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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