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Poaching war deepens rift between BJP & AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, but parties say ‘committed to alliance’

Both BJP & AIADMK, allies in the state, publicly shrugged off the defections as 'routine' in politics, while political analysts say 'poaching' charges are 'distraction politics'.

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Chennai: The rift between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was out in the open once again earlier this week for all to see when the allies in Tamil Nadu poached each others’ cadre, triggering massive protests by party workers on both sides

Five BJP workers — Party’s IT wing chief C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar; S.V. Krishnan of the party’s intellectuals’ wing, P. Dileep Kannan, OBC wing state secretary Jothi, and Trichy rural district vice-president Vijay — were the first few to join the AIADMK between 5 March and 7 March. On 7 March, 13 others resigned from the party and announced they will follow in the footsteps of Nirmal Kumar. 

The same day, over 100 AIADMK cadres joined the BJP in the presence of Annamalai in Madurai.

The fault lines were obvious even as both parties publicly shrugged off the defections as “routine” and said they were committed to stay in the alliance to fight their common enemy — the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). 

However, angered cadres from both sides burnt pictures of the ally party and raised slogans against them.

BJP state unit chief K. Annamalai dismissed his party workers joining the AIADMK as a certificate for the BJP’s growth in the state. Speaking to reporters, he said, “Dravidian politicians who think they run big parties want to poach from BJP”, adding that this only shows the “BJP is growing”.

Former AIADMK MP Dr J. Jayavardhan told ThePrint the party was focused on continuing the alliance with the BJP to fight the DMK and its alliance. Denying charges of poaching, he added, “We welcome any party member who comes to join the AIADMK thinking it is the right party for them. There is no ill intention against the BJP and the AIADMK is not out there trying to poach cadres.”

On 7 March, though, Thoothukudi north district youth wing members of the BJP burned images of EPS and called him a traitor for accepting estranged BJP workers. 

Two days later, on 9 March, 10 AIADMK workers were arrested in Ariyalur for burning pictures of Annamalai. The protesters had taken offence to Annamalai’s recent comment where he said he wanted to be aggressive like former CMs J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. While commenting on his own aggressive stance, Annamalai said he wanted to “emulate” Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. “I am a leader; my behaviour will be that of a leader. A few party decisions might be shocking to some cadres, but it’s fine, we need to cross those things,” he said.

Meanwhile, political analysts feel the “poaching” charges are distraction politics in the wake of the results of the Erode bypoll, held last month, and are a gimmick.

Also read: Call with Bihar CM, Hindi statements — TN govt in damage control mode over ‘attacks on migrants’

The Erode bypoll

The poaching and the protests come close on the heels of a silent conflict between the allies in the run-up to the Erode bypoll. 

The E.K. Palaniswami (EPS)-led faction of the AIADMK had on 1 February announced its candidate for the bypoll without consulting with the BJP. In turn, the BJP took its time to announce its support to the candidate, which irked the EPS faction.

In an indication of friction between the allies, the AIADMK election office inaugurated in Erode had a banner with images of all alliance partners, but none of the BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Additionally, the banner also called the alliance ‘National Democratic Progressive Alliance’ instead of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The AIADMK later rectified the banner, including BJP, and attributed the omissions and addition to a “printing mistake”.

The Erode bypoll results weren’t any easier on the alliance — DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance candidate E.V.K.S. Elangovan of the Congress won by a margin of 66,406 votes, defeating AIADMK’s K.S. Thennarasu.

Not the first time

This is also not the first time that the AIADMK has had ally party members joining it. “During Jayalalithaa’s tenure, several people from Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which was in alliance with the AIADMK, had joined the party. The AIADMK gave a ticket to a PMK leader from Trichy when they were in alliance and took him away,” Chennai-based senior political analyst G.C. Shekhar said to ThePrint. 

The BJP, too, has dismissed the cadres crossing sides as a “common phenomena in politics”. BJP MLA from Tirunelveli Nainar Nagendran, who was earlier with the AIADMK, told ThePrint, “People switching parties have happened for several decades now. Some leave when they lose their hold in the party, few others leave when they think they can’t grow within the party. We don’t know what led to the exit of these people.”

While stating that in “coalition dharma”, switching to ally parties is not encouraged, BJP MLA from Coimbatore South Vanathi Srinivasan told ThePrint that cadres from both parties have been switching sides. The problem with these recent switches, she said, was, “the IT wing president (C.T.R. Nirmal Kumar) has written really bad things about the party president and some section of the party’s youngsters have reacted by burning pictures of EPS (after Kumar joined AIADMK).”

Speaking about the future of the alliance, a former AIADMK MP told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that “The BJP will try every measure to ensure they have us in their alliance. They are trying to hold all their alliances together by any means and try winning 2-3 seats as the projections for them are very tough in the 2024 (Lok Sabha) polls.”

‘Not as big a thing as highlighted by media’

In his resignation letter, Nirmal Kumar called state BJP president — “#420malai” and said “(He) is dangerous not only to the BJP, but also to the state. The party is travelling on the path of disaster due to his one-man show who is not considering the party and its cadres.” 

In the letter, he also accused the state’s top leader of not respecting the cadres and behaving arrogantly with them.

Dismissing the party cadres moving to other parties, senior party leadership who ThePrint spoke to insisted that this will not impact the party.

“I don’t think there will be any effect on the BJP. They are all fourth- or fifth-level office bearers and it is not as big a thing as highlighted by the media,” said BJP state vice-president Narayanan Thirupathy to ThePrint. 

Poaching controversy a ploy?

The alliance partners poaching each others’ cadres, analysts say, is a form of distraction politics. “This looks like a staged drama,” said Priyan.

Analysts add that since the Erode byelection debacle, both EPS and Annamalai are trying to grab headlines with this narrative. “Erode was a clear pointer that EPS as representative in western belt is an exaggerated theme. Annamalai’s claim that he has helped the party grow in the last one-and-a-half years is also defeated. This is a desperate attempt of two people to be relevant but this is not helping either the BJP or the AIADMK,” said A.S. Panneerselvan, author and fellow at Chennai’s Roja Muthiah Research Library.

Political observers also added that the 1 March birthday bash of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, where a call for a united opposition against the BJP was given, also set out different narratives. Panneerselvan said, “They thought attacks on migrant workers in Tamil Nadu would be a good issue. But that fizzled out in a few days. The next one to catch the headline was this. It is all a gimmick, primarily because they don’t have anything substantial to offer.”

This is an updated version of the article.

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

Also read: AIADMK’s Erode bypoll loss a sign for 2024? ‘Shouldn’t be taken alarmingly,’ say analysts


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