The South could spring a surprise

A strong showing by the BJP-led alliance in Tamil Nadu could upset many a calculation

Sanjay Kapoor Coimbatore 

In Tamil Nadu, politics appears to be in order when the two Dravidian parties — the AIADMK and DMK — are in an alliance with a national party. When they are not, it becomes difficult to predict which way the wind blows. Exacerbating the confusion is the fact that voting in this key state has touched a historic high in these elections. Is a new political competitiveness bringing in new voters or is it serious anti-incumbency against the AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa?

It was comparatively less turbulent in the run-up, when the business of putting alliances in place was taking place. Jayalalithaa seemed a front-runner and likely to walk away with a majority of the 39 Parliamentary seats. Some observers even estimated the AIADMK would get 33 seats as the rival DMK appeared a sorry mess.

In 2009, the AIADMK had linked up with the communists. Jayalalithaa first got the CPI and then the CPI(M). The early stirrings of a Third Front that could win all the non-BJP and non-Congress seats were felt. CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat  even announced that the combine could form the next government. Although it would be suicidal within this space to name anyone as the Prime Ministerial candidate — so sensitive are the egos of all the other regional party leaders — it was generally felt that Jayalalithaa’s ambition to be PM might be realized.

However, before the front could make an entry on the national stage, it began to come apart. Actually, it collapsed in a heap. The alliance broke down over seat distribution. Jayalalithaa was unwilling to give her allies more seats than in the previous election. It was a rude shock for the Left parties, who had been hoping to improve their performance arithmetically by riding on the AIADMK. The incident, in some ways, reordered Tamil Nadu’s politics in a manner that threw up new possibilities.

The most visible opening available was for the BJP and its Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, who never shied away from declaring his friendship with Jayalalithaa. Nearly every political observer predicted that Jayalalithaa would eventually go with the BJP and her parting of ways with the Left would facilitate this transition. But Jayalalithaa was reluctant to give the impression that she would be an electoral ally of Modi or even cosy up to him, owing to the atheistic character of the Dravidian movement. Although she is a Brahmin, the social coalition of the Muslims and the lower caste have been forged against Brahminical domination. All this prevented her from aligning with the BJP.

The DMK, which had an alliance with the Congress in the 2004 and 2009 elections and had contributed substantially to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), decided to sunder ties with the Congress. The incarceration of its supremo, M Karunanidhi’s daughter, Kanimozhi, and the former telecom minister, A Raja, were the main reasons for this rupture. Also, the DMK realized that an alliance with the Congress might not yield enough electoral dividends. Karunanidhi’s  son, Stalin, was adamant that his party would have nothing to do with the Congress.

So both the DMK and AIADMK were without their respective allies and clueless about how the Congress and other caste-based parties would stack up. The Congress tried to woo film star Vijaykanth, but he demanded a daunting price. He finally went with the BJP that seemed to have given him and his party, the DMDK, a good deal.

The BJP also stitched up an alliance with Vaiko’s PMK and A Ramadoss’s MDMK. Although they are marginal groups, this tie-up began to acquire strength from the media blitz and enormous financial power the BJP and Modi brought into the election campaign. As this alliance cranked into motion, it began to upset settled notions about Tamil Nadu politics. A north Indian party that was so Brahminical was trying to reorder the politics of the southern state. 

The Congress, that had always aspired to regain the stature of the Kamraj era, when it contested alone, seemed to have gone into battle without real preparation. It was contesting alone for the first time since 1967. Some of its key leaders opted out, showing the party in bad light, but there were others who stoutly decided to contest — such as Mani Shankar Aiyer and former minister R Prabhu, who tried to make a go of a difficult five-cornered contest.

In Coimbatore, this writer found Prabhu getting rapturous support from ordinary people who have been reeling under a serious power crisis. Although it is a tough fight, he is the lone Congressman who stands a chance of winning — if the dice rolls in his favour. Coimbatore, an industrial town, and its nearby industrial enclave, Tirupur, have been ravaged by this power shortage.

The two Dravidian parties have been trading allegations over the issue, giving Modi an opportunity to accuse them of sniping at the expense of the state. Jayalalithaa reacted sharply, claiming that the Tamil Nadu model was far superior to the Gujarat one. She brought to the fore an issue that was eloquently discussed in Hardnews by MSS Pandian in its December issue last year. Pandian’s article provided content to this raging debate about why the Tamil Nadu model had an edge as it promised growth with equity, unlike the Gujarat one. Even Rahul Gandhi stated that he backed the welfare aspect of the TN model.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2014