Tamil Nadu: A Fractured Mandate?
These elections could see Tamil Nadu voters opting for a non-Dravidian alternative
Nikhil Thiyyar Delhi
If the BJP wants to be the most powerful party in the country, it must make inroads into fresh terrain – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha. Of these states, Tamil Nadu must hold special interest for party chief Amit Shah. Can the BJP really hope to unlock the grip that the two Dravidian parties have had over the state since Independence?
If history is anything to go by, the answer is no. In the 2014 general election, the AIADMK alliance swept 37 of the 39 seats while the NDA alliance could manage only two. The AIADMK defied the Modi wave in the rest of the country. However, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. According to a leading poll research site, the collective vote share of the Dravidian parties has been in decline for the past decade. The state may well be looking forward to a non-Dravidian alternative.
The BJP’s dream sequence was to grab 10 percent of the vote share, and play kingmaker, along with a coalition, especially superstar Vijaykanth’s DMDK. It fell flat with the DMDK deciding to go it alone in the May 16 Assembly polls. In Tamil Nadu, every party has a following. Hence, the alliance arithmetic of who gets which seat is crucial. This is the overarching factor in the voting pattern.
In 2011, the AIADMK had a solid coalition with the DMDK, CPI, CPI(M), AIFB and a motley group of smaller, unregistered parties which led to its victory. In 2006, the DMK had the Congress, PMK, CPI(M) and CPI. In 2006, the DMK won in alliance with the Congress, which was doing a reasonably good job in its first term at the Centre. That translated into votes. Plus, the PMK was also a part of the central government. All these were positive factors.
In 2011, the Congress was doing badly at the Centre and the communists had jumped onto the AIADMK bandwagon. Indeed, the most likely result in these elections is a fractured mandate. The following factors could come into play.
The current J Jayalalithaa government has isolated itself in terms of alliances. The DMDK is out of the alliance. The Left parties have aligned with Vaiko’s MDMK, DMDK and other parties, with a chunk of solid support base. The current government, after its gigantic failure during the Chennai/Cuddalore floods, has been seen as ineffective at best, and malevolent at worst. Besides, stories about the lady of Poes Garden having serious health issues have lowered morale.
This does not mean that the electorate will vote for the DMK. Given that the floods affected about 20-25 percent of the state, how the people in these 40-50 seats will vote is impossible to predict. Ideally, the DMK would have cashed in on this, but the pointers are different. People still associate the party with the Congress and corruption.
The AIADMK government is perceived as self-serving and inefficient, while its party members have gone overboard with their public display of total subservience to their leader. Even during the floods, relief packages, when not hijacked, were being marked with Jayalalithaa’s photos. There is mass fatigue over her pictures and cut-outs everywhere, including leaders displaying her photo in a transparent pocket on their shirts. In the pre-election season, this is likely to get worse.
Fed up, voters might opt for a third alternative. The DMK is likely to field M Karunanidhi, 93, as prospective chief minister again. This is to ensure a victory, following which his son, MK Stalin, is likely to rule the state. Karunanidhi might ask people to vote for him “one last time” (as he has done for the past 20 years) and try to garner emotional support from the electorate. The BJP is unlikely to align with either the DMK or AIADMK. It seemed to be drifting towards the AIADMK, but a new war of words has begun. Hence, the party doesn’t seem to be a factor in these polls, in spite of the fringe goodwill for Narendra Modi.