In the last two years, the deaths of AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi have created a vacuum in Tamil Nadu, a state so dominated by the two regional parties and their feud.
In 1967, the DMK, led by its founder CN Annadurai, formed its first government, ousting the Congress. Since then, the DMK and the AIADMK have shared power in the state, keeping out the national parties. The Congress, though out of power in Tamil Nadu, continued to be a force in Lok Sabha elections, winning majority of seats, though in alliance with either the DMK or AIADMK, in 1971, 1977, 1980, 1984, 1989 and 1991 polls. In the 2004 and 2009 elections, the Congressled UPA triumphed in majority of Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu. The national party has been reduced to a position of playing second fiddle to either the DMK or the AIADMK in the state.
In the present scenario, with the principal vote-getters of the DMK and the AIADMK absent, it is natural for other parties and the new entrants like the parties of actors — Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiyam (MNM) and Rajinikanth’s Manram— to look at opportunities and grab political space.
Even the DMK and the AIADMK have realised that the days of single-party rule in the state are over. They are looking at alliance partners right from the 2019 Lok Sabha polls which could set the tone for the Assembly elections in the State due in 2021.
The Left parties could form a third front with Kamal Haasan’s party and others if the national leadership is against any truck with the DMK as it has the Congress in tow but there is a strong undercurrent in the state leadership in favour of a DMK-CongressLeft alliance. This section is confident that the national leadership would permit such an arrangement as a local phenomenon
The DMK, which stood on its own legs and drew a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has virtually finalised its poll partners including the Congress, Indian Union Muslim League, Dalit Panthers of India, Manidhaneya Makkal Katchi (MML), etc., and proposes to expand the front with the inclusion of the Left parties and Vaiko’s MDMK.
The AIADMK, which kept the BJP at bay in 2014, looks to be veering towards the latter, as seen by the party’s support to the BJP-led NDA in the election for the post of Vice-President, Vice-Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and by voting against the no-confidence motion in Parliament. Though officially the AIADMK claims to be independent, in practice, its government, faced with challenges from the splinter AIADMK group led by TTV Dhinakaran, leans heavily on the NDA government at the Centre for its very survival.
With nearly 50 MPs, the AIADMK has a strong presence in Parliament. An alliance with the BJP for 2019 seems to be on the cards, though the BJP is also toying with the idea of its own alliance, including a tie-up with the Rajinikanth party, and hopes to win back parties like actor Vijaykanth’s DMDK and PMK led by S Ramadoss and his son, former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss. It could pull off a coup of sorts with a larger alliance, which includes these parties and the AIADMK. Such an alliance appears to be a tall order at the moment, given the anti-BJP posturing of DMDK and PMK. Rajinikanth is yet to make up his mind about which party to support in the Lok Sabha elections.
One thing is certain. Both the DMK and the AIADMK have abandoned their go-it-alone stand of 2014, and would forge tie-ups with several parties. The AIADMK executive committee met a few days ago and discussed alliances for the Lok Sabha elections but said it would finalise its partners when elections are announced. A discordant note was struck at the meeting when Deputy Chief Minister and party co-ordinator O Panneerselvam expressed his agony over the “humiliation” meted out to him by Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for refusing to meet him though he had an appointment. A few second-rung leaders also conveyed their displeasure over the party extending its support to the BJP in the last few months at the national level when it should have abstained. Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy had to issue a clarification at the meeting that the party was maintaining good relations with the Centre in the interest of the state but was not part of any alliance. Even so, it appears that the two parties could forge an alliance for the Lok Sabha elections as the BJP desperately needs allies in the state.
The entry of new players, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, could cause fragmentation of votes. It is not yet clear if they would join an alliance or go it alone. At the moment, they seem to be in favour of an independent stance. Whose votes will they cut into? There are no definite pointers in this regard yet.
The smaller parties like the MDMK led by Vaiko seem to be gravitating towards the DMK-led alliance.
With Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin taking over as DMK president, the party begins a new era minus Karunanidhi, who was not just a brilliant strategist but also a good orator. Stalin is yet to win a major election for his party, having managed the party in the last two years since indisposition of Karunanidhi. The party even lost its deposit in the RK Nagar by-election at a time when it was positioning itself as being close to power in the state. The 2019 polls could see the first test for Stalin’s leadership. His estranged brother MK Alagiri could form a splinter group of the DMK and create some holes in the DMK vote bank. Though the party is solidly behind Stalin, Alagiri could be of nuisance value.
The Left parties could form a third front with Kamal Haasan’s party and others if the national leadership is against any truck with the DMK as it has the Congress in tow but there is a strong undercurrent in the state leadership in favour of a DMK-CongressLeft alliance. This section is confident that the national leadership would permit such an arrangement as a local phenomenon.
Given several imponderables like the stance of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth, and the fact that there could be a multi-cornered contest, the major parties feel that they need to bring in more allies into their respective folds to win seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The ground level situation is quite confusing. The major parties can do no more than keep their fingers crossed, and hope that the smaller parties do not eat much into their traditional vote-banks.