Divorces are messy and bitter, especially if there is a power imbalance between the contending parties. Strangely, however, after the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) parted ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on September 25, there has been barely a single critical sound bite from the AIADMK leadership about the BJP, while there is near radio silence on the part of the BJP.
On October 2, when AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami finally spoke in his home district, Salem, he did not attack the BJP: “Comprehending the feelings of two crore party cadre, we severed ties with the BJP…. This is not the decision of the general secretary of the party. This is the decision of the cadre. I want to put an end to the claim being made on [news] television debates that I am maintaining silence on the issue.”
Palaniswami did not clarify if he had informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when the two met in New Delhi in July for the hurriedly convened National Democratic Alliance (NDA) conclave. Palaniswami was seated next to Modi at the meeting, which, one BJP leader said, was to show how important an ally the AIADMK was.
More than a fortnight after the AIADMK announcement, the BJP has still not made any formal reaction. It is clear that the central leadership of the BJP was aware that the State unit president, K. Annamalai, and the AIADMK had differences on various issues. It is also clear that the central leadership has not asked Annamalai to tone it down, going by his comments in many press interactions since the break-up.
By all accounts, it appears that the BJP is still searching for a way to frame the exit of what was once its largest ally in the NDA. The AIADMK won 37 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, was the third largest party in the House, and was in power in Tamil Nadu for a decade, from 2011 to 2021. However, in the 2019 general election, the first major election after the death of Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK managed to win only one seat. At formal events and even at a press meet, BJP leaders in the State sidestepped the question of the alliance and resorted to their favourite pastime of bullying mediapersons or deflecting the issue by posing counterquestions.
In the build-up to the AIADMK decision, two party leaders—D. Jayakumar, who has been a Minister in every AIADMK government since 1991, and C.V. Shanmugham, who is usually fielded to speak harshly about opponents—held forth, deliberately using severe language, about how Annamalai was undermining the relationship between the two parties and asserted that as long as he remained the party leader in the State, the AIADMK-BJP alliance would not be possible.
A team from the AIADMK, including K.P. Munusamy, S.P. Velumani, P. Thangamani, Shanmugham, and Natham R. Viswanathan met BJP president J.P. Nadda in New Delhi on September 22 and explained to him why the relationship was untenable in the light of Annamalai talking derogatorily of former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai, in whose name the AIADMK was founded. Later, Munusamy told the press in Krishnagiri: “MGR [M.G. Ramachandran, former Chief Minister] formed the party in 1972 with the image of Annadurai etched on the party flag. It was unacceptable that our leader was insulted.” (In September, Annamalai had falsely claimed that Annadurai had to go into hiding after he insulted the Hindu religion at a meeting in Madurai in 1956 and could venture out only after he issued an apology.)
In fact, on September 18 itself, Jayakumar, who is also the party’s organisation secretary, announced the separation from the NDA. At that time, Palaniswami, who is now the undisputed leader of the party, chose to remain silent, and Jayakumar’s comment was left to speculation. AIADMK leaders believe that although they described the seriousness of the situation to BJP leaders, it was not communicated fully to Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The announcement of the split appeared to stun the BJP leadership. It seemed to have been misled by those in the know that, as is usually the case, the AIADMK’s high-power meeting would end with the party empowering general secretary Palaniswami to take “an appropriate decision”.
The usually scrappy and vociferous Annamalai refused to comment, saying that the central leadership would respond. “We will also talk when we meet the media in future,” he stated with unusual reticence. Amar Prasad Reddy, a BJP office-bearer considered to be Annamalai’s closest ally, posted on X: “Congratulations. Do not come back.” He later deleted the post and apologised.
While Annamalai’s uncalled-for outburst against Annadurai formed the formal basis of the split, one AIADMK leader said that the more problematic issue was that of BJP refusing to endorse Palaniswami as the chief ministerial candidate for 2026. “In Tamil Nadu, Stalin endorsed Rahul Gandhi for the Prime Minister’s post in 2019. The Congress, in return, endorsed Stalin for the Chief Minister’s post. In our case, too, the AIADMK endorsed Narendra Modi for the post of Prime Minister in the [July 18 NDA] meeting. But there was no reciprocal move on their part,” he said.
In fact, many people in the party and outside believe that this is the crux of the problem. Annamalai has been announcing that in 2026, the BJP will come to power on its own in Tamil Nadu, and hence the BJP leadership has not entertained the idea of endorsing Palaniswami as Chief Minister for 2026.
- On October 2, AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami announced that the AIADMK and the BJP had parted ways electorally.
- AIADMK leaders said that Annamalai, the BJP leader in the State, was undermining the relationship between the two parties and asserted that as long as he remained in the party, the AIADMK-BJP alliance would not be possible.
- But one AIADMK leader said that the more problematic issue was that of BJP refusing to endorse Palaniswami as the chief ministerial candidate for 2026.
Other contributing factors
Many other, smaller factors also played a part, including the AIADMK’s loss of vote share after aligning with the BJP, the constant reminder from commentators that the party was not taking up the cause of minorities, and the taunt that the party was ceding ground in Tamil Nadu’s western belt—where it is the strongest—to the BJP because many of its leaders were mired in legal cases.
A senior DMK leader said: “The AIADMK has not said that it is leaving the BJP for its anti-minority stance or any other ideological reason. It has picked a trivial issue. We think the outrage is just a drama.”
But the break does appear to be final. Modi’s BJP has never castigated or penalised a party functionary merely because he or she was criticised by the opposition. In fact, not even functionaries who have used disgusting language or behaved reprehensibly or irresponsibly, such as MPs Ramesh Bidhuri and Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh or Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, have been reprimanded. Given this record, the AIADMK could not have hoped that Annamalai would be replaced or would be made to apologise for his remarks.
Equally important, by picking this issue of Annamalai falsifying history and speaking derogatorily about Annadurai, and by insisting that he backtrack on his comments, the AIADMK has picked its fight very carefully. If the two parties do have to come together after this, there needs to be a public climbdown on the part of the BJP.