Tamil Nadu politics at cross-roads

By K R Sudhaman. Dated: 2/9/2019 12:07:14 AM

Two Dravidian politics still call the shots

Mahaghatbandan or not, it has to be fight between BJP led alliance that is NDA or Congress-led alliance, UPA in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections in April-May this year at the national level. Likewise in Tamil Nadu the contest is going to be between two coalitions led by the two Dravidian parties the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). In Tamil Nadu the two national parties BJP and Congress will have to ride piggy back on either of the Dravidian parties
Since 1967 when Congress lost to DMK in Tamil Nadu in the general elections no national party has been able to contest on their own in the state. At times there had been some feeble attempts by national parties to fight on their own but had met with comprehensive failure.
The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is likely to forge an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. According to reports, a formal announcement is likely on February 10. BJP, which has been wooing the party since the demise of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa in December 2016, has no other choice as the other dravidan party DMK led by Stalin has already made it clear it would go with Congress. Still the picture is unclear in Tamil Nadu as this is for the first time an election would be fought without a formidable leader like J Jayalalithaa in AIADMK or M Karunanidhi in DMK.
In Tamil Nadu, there has always been a personality cult in politics. If it was C Rajagopalachari or Rajaji and K Kamraj in congress soon after independence, it was C N Annadorai and M Karunanidhi in DMK. In the case of AIADMK it was first M G Ramachandran and then Jayalalithaa. After India's independence, this will be the first general elections without such stalwarts from the state leading the contest. being in the picture.
Though congress still has some cadre left in every constituency in Tamil Nadu, even though majority of them have moved to AIADMK over a couple of decades, revival of the party in the foreseeable future is just not possible unless some crowd-pulling leader emerges in the state in the coming years. As far as BJP is concerned, it is still considered as a hindi and cow-belt party, even though it is making some small inroads in certain pockets.
Though AIADMK and DMK do not have charismatic and towering personalities now, the two parties still have their cadre intact by and large even though in case of AIADMK, a small percentage of the cadre loyal to Sasikala and her nephew Dinakaran have deserted the party. Still estimates suggest that 33 per cent of the votes in the state are still with AIADMK because of the strong affinity to its party symbol - two leaves. In case of DMK too at lease 25-28 per cent of the votes in the state are with them The Dravidan party, which garners the majority of the floating votes usually manages to capture power. That's why the pendulum swings from one end to another in every elections. The alliances with national parties give some advantage depending upon the mood swing at the national level.
At the moment it looks advantage to Stalin led DMK in alliance with Congress. But there is yet another factor as the April-May elections are only Lok Sabha polls, the voters in the state generally prefer to go with the winning combination at the centre. So the national mood of the electorate at the time of general elections will determine the preference of voters in Tamil Nadu for AIADMK alliance or DMK led alliance.
But the problem in both AIADMK and DMK is that they will not be able to spare adequate number of seats to BJP or Congress as in the past in Lok Sabha elections when the understanding used to be that these two regional parties concede at least two thirds of 39 Lok Sabha constituencies to national parties while the national parties allow the regional parties to retain two thirds of assembly constituencies in the state elections.
After having tasted power at the centre as part of UPA or NDA alliance this fomula no longer works with the two Dravidian parties, which too want to contest as many Lok Sabha seats on their own to have better bargaining power at the centre. This also ensures that national parties do not rough-shod over the regional parties after capturing power at the centre.
In the present scenario, DMK is not willing to give more than 6 Lok Sabha seats whereas Congress wants much more. AIADMK is not willing to give more than 4-6 seats to BJP whereas the saffron party wants at least 8 seats. In Both DMK and AIADMK alliances, there are other smaller parties which too would have to be accommodated by providing 2-4 seats each depending upon their strength. Both DMK and AIADMK want to contest at least 24 seats each on their own with an upper limit of 30 seats. That being the scenario there is bound to be tough bargaining for seats. It is quite possible that Congress may decide to go it alone as in Uttar Pradesh or go with other parties like that of Kamla Hassan and TT Dinakaran's break away group from AIADMK. if the seat sharing do not work out with DMK.
BJP too, there is a remote possibility of contesting with smaller parties like last time, if the alliance do not work out on February 10. But that probability is much less now as there is no powerful leader like J Jayalalithaa in AIADMK to call the shots. AIADMK won 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats last time going alone. This time around both AIADMK and BJP need each other for mutual benefit in Tamil Nadu. All indications at the moment is that AIADMK will contest on at least 24 out of the state's 39 parliamentary seats and the remaining seats will be contested by the BJP, Ramadoss' Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Vijayakant's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), GK Vasan's Tamil Maanila Congress and K Krishnaswamy's Puthiya Tamizhagam, among others.
In case of DMK alliance, clearer picture will emerge only after the seat sharing with congress is finalized. Two communist parties and Muslim league too would have to be provided a few seats as they are also part of the alliance.
One thing is now certain that superstar Rajnikant is unlikely to form a party before Lok Sabha elections. So he is unlikely to contest. Also he is busy with films as he has signed contract for three more mega films. There are also reports to suggest that DMK has won over him to ensure that he does not enter the election fray.
Actor Kamal Hassan's new party Makkal Needhi Maiam can neither join DMK nor AIADMK alliance and he would be forced to go either alone or form a third front with TT Dinakaran and some smaller parties. Congress too may join if its seat sharing with DMK do not fructify. But as things stand today Kamal Hassan is likely to fall between two stools - AIADMK or DMK led alliances.
Dinakaran and S Thirunavakarusu of Congress may come together by splitting congress as both belonged to same Thevar community. If Stalin's elder brother M Azhagiri could play spoil sport in some of the constituencies in Southern Tamil Nadu for DMK, Dinakaran could do so in some constituencies for AIADMK
So as of now, the picture in Tamil Nadu is still murky. A clearer picture will emerge once the elections approach and alliances and seat sharing firmed up. But one thing is clear it is not going to be cake-walk for any party or alliance as there is no charismatic state leader this time around nor an Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi at the national level to influence Tamil voters. Thought it appears to be advantage to Stalin-Congress combine, each of the 39 seats in the state will be hard fought and many seats will be won by wafer thin margins. Selection of candidates and caste factor will play an important role. There is also a possibility alliances taking a different turn in the post-poll election scenario depending upon the election arithmetic.
*(K R Sudhaman, a senior journalist, who has served as Editor of Press Trust of India and Economics Editor in TickerNews and Financial Chronicle)
-- [IFS]



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