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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2954

Tamil Nadu poll 2016: Congress and DMK to revive alliance!

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

In IPL style of auctioning cricketers for huge sums and playing joint cricket exercises by using them to make India, albeit shamelessly, shine at least as a mere show, Tamil Nadu is getting ready to face the forthcoming state assembly poll in three months from mow. There are many chief ministerial hopefuls in Tamil Nadu as well who in fact think very little about the people as their only goal is to become the CM.

Two national parties, pseudo secular Congress and Hindutva BJP have very high stakes in this South Indian state where these two major parties controlling India politics do not have any strong base. Both depend on two major regional parties for their survival and seats for assembly as well as parliament: Dravidian parties AIADMK and DMK ruling the state for decades almost alternatively.

Assembly strength in the state is 234. Congress is out of power in the key southern state for nearly five decades and has generally been aligning with either of the Dravidian party- DMK or AIADMK. It has contested alone too but without much success.

The Tamil Nadu polls are expected to be a largely three-cornered contest, with the DMK and Congress deciding to join together, AIADMK and allies and a third front the People's Welfare Alliance (PWA). The position of another ambitious but without Dravidian back up BJP party is not yet clear.

At least three alliances are fighting alone: the PMK, MNK and the BJP. There's a desperate bid to rope in actor Vijayakant's DMDK, which won 29 seats last time in alliance with Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. DMK Treasurer and former Deputy CM and now probably a CM candidate, M K Stalin said, "We have already invited Vijayakant. We would take this forward."

The recent inauguration of a third front by many small parties in Tamil Nadu with sizeable votes to their sides should have prompted Congress and DMK to forge an electoral understanding to overthrow the incumbent Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK government.

While the ruling AIADMK is still working for an alliance but without any positive “calls” from other parties, the Congress party and DMK on February 13 have already entered into an alliance to face the coming Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, joining hands after three years. Senior Congress leader and leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad met DMK president M Karunanidhi at his residence and announced the tie-up with the regional party which he described as “the most dependable partner”.

Congress leader Gulam Nabi Azad formally announced that the party will fight the Assembly polls in an alliance with the DMK. Our main goal is to put in place a government led by the DMK," he said after meeting DMK president M. Karunanidhi at his residence in Chennai. Azad said the DMK leadership will identify other potential allies and initiate talks. After parting ways before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the two parties announced their coming together.

Azad told reporters after meeting the DMK patriarch here that issues such as seat sharing and being part of the DMK led government were not a priority now and that the main goal was to ensure that DMK comes to power. He said that the election would be fought under the DMK leadership and put on Karunanidhi’s party the responsibility of roping in more constituents into this alliance, including DMDK.

In the last Lok Sabha polls the Congress and the DMK drew a blank in the state. Battling storms over multiple corruption scandals and flagging economic growth, the Congress was then was seen as a politically untouchable and was short of allies in the state. Now both have come together.

The DMK-Congress split had also come against the backdrop of the arrests of former Union Minister A. Raja and Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP, in the alleged spectrum allocation scam. Congress had contested the last Lok Sabha elections on its own and had drawn a blank. It had contested the last Assembly elections along with DMK but secured just five seats. On whether there would be a coalition government after polls, he said such "small things" do not matter at the moment. On seat sharing, he said further talks would take place with DMK. DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin said "Congress has promised full cooperation. Karunanidhi has already given an invite to DMDK. We are hopeful of a positive response".

Unlike in the past, the Congress is frantically sought link with DMK and apparently had no preconditions for joining the alliance this time, especially since the DMK is likely to apportion seats keeping in mind the need to accommodate more parties such as DMDK, IUML and perhaps other smaller outfits. As to what had changed between 2016 and 2013 when DMK snapped ties accusing the Congress of betraying Sri Lankan Tamils, Azad said that there were “compulsions and pressures” in politics and that the two parties had won elections together in the past also. Three years after the DMK walked out of the Congress-led Central government over what they had then called an "anti-Lankan Tamil" stand, the two parties have patched up to fight assembly elections together.

The nitty-gritty of power sharing, if any, would be worked out after elections now about three months away. The deal was sealed today by senior Congress Leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. "DMK is a trusted partner and we want them to win elections. Other things are minor," he said today meeting DMK chief M Karunanidhi.

Since former AIADMK’s founder and Chief Minister M G Ramachandran's tenure in the 80s there has been a change in guard in the state after every election. Though it would traditionally be the turn for the DMK to capture power, this time the opposition is fragmented, giving an arithmetic advantage to ruling AIADMK.

AIADMK as well as DMK are known for their corruption instincts. DMK leader Karunanidhi and ADMK leader Jayalalithaa have spent jail terms for their corruption practices.

The AIADMK hopes corruption allegations against DMK leaders in central government would help them win a second consecutive term, while DMK hopes people would people would throw the Jaya government and replace it with DMK rule. The DMK however is banking on the anti-incumbency and the ruling party's alleged apathy during recent floods would return them to power.

Tamil Nadu politics found one piece of the puzzle when two old allies, the Congress and DMK, finalized an alliance for the Assembly polls. And that leaves the BJP, not a strong player in the state, with a difficult task of finding an ally. With DMK allying with Congress, BJP's options have shrunk With the DMK opting to go with the Congress; the BJP's hopes now lie with either the ruling AIADMK or Vijaykanth's DMDK, which is known to bag a consistent vote-share in elections in the southern state. The first possibility can be ruled out for if the BJP joins the contest under the leadership of the AIADMK, then the two NDA constituent parties, namely, the DMDK and PMK could opt for a different route, only to strengthen the DMK's side at the expense of the BJP.

If AIADMK goes with Vaiko & others in PWA, BJP will suffer another blow AIADMK chief and state Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's recent act of suspending her party's Deputy Propaganda Secretary Nanjil Sampath for reportedly criticising MDMK chief Vaiko has also given birth to speculation that the former has set her eyes on the People's Welfare Alliance (PWA) comprising besides the MDMK, the Left parties and the VCK.

The issue of deciding on the chief ministerial candidate (both Vijaykanth and PMK chief Ambumani Ramadoss are aspiring for it) could be another major problem since the BJP, as the senior most party of the NDA, could be unwilling to let its own chance go. The BJP will have to finally depend on what the DMDK or PMK leadership decides, given they are stronger players in Tamil Nadu politics. But this dependence on other parties also reflects on the saffron party's poor position in the Tamil Dravidian politics.

With the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) forming alliance for the upcoming polls in Tamil Nadu, BJP is upset and it has a tough task in hand now. NDA minister Prakash Javadekar said 'two zeroes cannot add up to hero'.

The BJP's stature in the state in comparison to the two big outfits is insignificance. BJP just can't bank on local players' help as it makes its helplessness obvious before the election in the state. If the party wants to evolve into a player of influence in this state, it needs to shed its dependence on others and work on its own base with a long-term vision.

Ideally, the BJP wants a non-AIADMK, non-DMK alternative. The poor attendance at PM Modi's recent Coimbatore rally is an ominous sign that the “Modi wave” of the 2014 Lok Sabha election was a mere mirage as he was riding on the anti-Congress wave the Hazare-Kejriwal anti-corruption movement generated. Although the NDA nominee from Coimbatore had garnered 3.89 lakh votes in the 2014 general elections to finish second after the AIADMK candidate by a margin of 42,000 votes, the attendance at Modi's rally in the same place this time was far lesser.

The NDA had garnered nearly 19 per cent vote share in Tamil Nadu in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls (with two seats), after the AIADMK (45% with 37 seats) and DMK (24% with no seat) but the BJP's own share was just below six per cent. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP's vote-share was just 2.3 per cent while in 2004, the year it fought the polls with the AIADMK (30%), its vote-share was 5.1 per cent, which meant the NDA had 35 per cent vote-share. In 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha polls too, the BJP had benefited by allying either with the DMK or the AIADMK. This means that the party has made little progress in Tamil Nadu over the years in terms of its own social and political organisation and depends solely on the likes of Modi or an alliance partner like Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi to put up a show of any relevance.

Even in the Delhi and Bihar elections last year, PM Modi was not enough to get them through in state elections and they need a local face apart from a strong organisation. Poor organisation, lack of local face and ineffective ideology and corruption harm BJP too. The BJP's woes in Tamil Nadu have also been increased by the lack of a third arm of local leadership. Ambitious Vijaykanth and Ramadoss will be extra careful after DMK, AIADMK organize their plans. The BJP's only hope will then be Vijaykanth. Most of the locals are RSS minded spreading hatred in the society. It is a herculean task for BJP today to make a space for itself in a state which the AIADMK and DMK have ruled since the collapse of the Congress in the late 1960s.

Hindutva, the saffron camp's familiar ideology, or the routine appeal to development is not going to help the party in Tamil Nadu since that state isn't really an underdeveloped state in the way some other states in northern or eastern India are. The party of late has tried to appeal to the regional sentiments by backing the banned popular bull sport of Jallikattu to get some returns in the election. But even then, the big players are also doing the same, which might make the BJP look just another vote-seeker. The BJP's electoral success in the state would ultimately depend on its ability to make the Tamils think about their own fate.

People of Tamil Nadu have been frustrated with the politics they have witnessed over half a century and they certainly want change and fresh start. Corruption and communalization of politics for votes have poisoned the minds of Indians, including Tamils.

The new front called the People's Welfare Alliance (PWA), like Delhi’s Aam Admi Party, has a chance now to serve the people of Tamil Nadu by taking the forthcoming poll seriously and facing it unitedly without the usual rifts in such alliances. Vijayakanth and Ramadoss can add further strength to the new front.

- Asian Tribune –

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik and EVKS Elangovan met DMK Chief M Karunanidhi at his residence in Chennai. (PTI photo)
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