Dravidian parties to stay at centre of political discourse

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Similarly, the constituents of the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) had levelled corruption charges against the DMK and the AIADMK.

TIRUCHY: As Tamil Nadu heads towards its first major election without two towering political personalities – M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa – what is perceptible is a marked change in the political discourse of various parties even as they scamper to forge alliances. The most audible slogan of the 2016 elections to the State Assembly was: “Let’s do away with the Dravidian majors (DMK and AIADMK)”. This seems to have lost resonance in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, leaving only late comer actor-politician Kamal Haasan to voice the sentiment and draw flak for it.

In what was primarily a five-cornered contest, 2016 saw the DMK leading one alliance and the AIADMK another while a third front (People’s Welfare Front) of assorted parties, with DMDK’s Vijayakanth as Chief Ministerial candidate, was formed even as the BJP and PMK fought the polls on their own. However, the last two joined the third front in urging people to defeat the DMK and AIADMK combines. That such a defeat did not occur has led to a situation, just three years later, in which most of these parties, including the BJP, are looking to join with the Dravidan majors.  

So, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s May 2016 appeal to the people of Tamil Nadu to liberate the state from the clutches of the two Dravidian parties won’t be heard this time around. After all, the BJP is reportedly vying to finalise either a pre-poll alliance or post-poll understanding with the ruling AIADMK.

Another party that had been chanting the “do away with Dravidian parties” slogan was the PMK with its next-generation leader and former union minister Ambumani Ramadoss writing in the preface to the party’s manifesto in 2016, “In the previous elections, the people had only two options to choose from. That was like a choice between the devil and the deep sea. This time, the people have a third option. They can choose from three options – the devil, the deep sea and the doctor (Anbumani).”

Similarly, the constituents of the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) had levelled corruption charges against the DMK and the AIADMK.

The PWF comprised of Vijayakanth’s DMDK, Vaiko’s MDMK, CPM, CPI, VCK and the Tamil Manila Congress. The leaders claimed the people in the state were frustrated with the DMK and AIADMK and the PWF was the new beginning for people looking for a change.

So what has changed since 2016 that has caused these parties to return to the Dravidian fold? Realisation that the State’s people were not as tired of the two parties as they had hoped? The AIADMK was re-elected in 2016, garnering 40.77 per cent votes with the DMK finishing second with 31.64 per cent votes. The DMK’s electoral ally, the Congress, garnered 6.42 per cent votes. The PWF splintered.

Rajan Kurai Krishnan, who teaches at Ambedkar University, said, “In my view, the PWF formation in 2016 was aimed at proving their vote base to the two main Dravidian parties so the parties in that alliance could increase their bargaining power in future elections... However, the strategy failed.”    

As Punitha Pandian, editor of Dalit Murasu, put it, “The 2016 election results clearly showed that the arguments of the parties that opposed the DMK and the AIADMK did not hold much water. Those parties are now looking for an alliance with the major Dravidian parties because their survival has become a question now.”

Thus, even though the rhetoric against the DMK and AIADMK gained momentum after the passing off Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi with everyone from the BJP to PMK claiming there was a vacuum, as polls near, the reality that Dravidian parties are here to stay seems to have sunk in. Further, leaders of the DMK and AIADMK M K Stalin and Edapadi K Palaniswami respectively have managed to lead the parties with a steady hand and lure other parties towards them.  

“Though leadership definitely had a significant roles, the structures of the AIADMK and the DMK matter a lot. As those structures remain intact, the word ‘vacuum’ had no meaning here. Kamal Haasan is not a serious player in politics and he does not have a base for his party to even think of challenging the Dravidian majors,” Krishnan said.

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