In one year, Tamil Nadu will witness its first general elections without the two Dravidian stalwarts – M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalithaa. Until 2016, the people of Tamil Nadu never gave successive terms to the same party.
Statistically, the smaller parties like the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M], the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), with vote share less than 10% in the State, would always be on with the winning side.
However, the 2016 election changed this pattern of two decades. The ruling AIADMK was voted to power and got a second consecutive stint.
Political observers said this was because the CPI, CPM, VCK, MDMK, and the DMDK formed a third front while the Paatali Makkal Katchi (PMK) went alone.
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“Had these smaller parties joined the DMK, it would have crossed the halfway mark required to form the government. However, the DMK will not commit the same mistake this time,” M. Satyamoorthy, a political analyst, said.
In Tamil Nadu, ever since former chief minister M.G. Ramachandran parted ways with the DMK and formed the AIADMK, the State saw a switch from policy-centric politics to a personality-centric one.
Since both the DMK and the AIADMK were Dravidian parties and both equally claimed credit for policy decisions since MGR was part of both the DMK and later the AIADMK.
MGR’s larger-than-life image held sway over the people and he was miles ahead of contenders in the personality-centric political arena.
After the demise of MGR in 1987, the people of Tamil Nadu always voted out the party in power, irrespective of how the government performed.
In the 2001 assembly elections, the DMK was confident of coming back to power for a second term as it was deemed the best government the State ever had. However, the DMK faced a drubbing as the smaller parties joined hands the AIADMK led by J. Jayalalithaa.
This appears to be a critical juncture for the DMK as it is ruing the loss of opportunity in 2016 when it failed to rope in the smaller parties. Now, the DMK is being advised by political strategist Prashant Kishor to go it alone in the 2021 elections. This has put the DMK in a state of dilemma.
The poll strategy advice has not gone down well with DMK’s decision-making functionaries. Sources in the know also confirmed that DMK leader M.K. Stalin was also skeptical of the plan.
However, political analysts feel that there is a strong need for the DMK to have stronger alliance partners to take on the AIADMK and its allies, even if there might be anti-incumbency.
“Without alliance, nothing will work for the DMK. It would definitely depend either on the PMK or the VCK to play a safe game in the northern parts of Tamil Nadu. The party requires another Dalit group to secure a win in the southern region. Of course, Congress should also be roped in. Though the Congress vote share is not perceptible, its contribution increases the chance of securing more seats,” V.C. Chandra Bharathi, political analyst, said.
On Prashant Kishor’s suggestion, Bharathi said the primary idea to rope in Prashant Kishor was to build a larger-than-life image and a ‘personality’ for Stalin.
“Tamil Nadu politics has been personality centric. After the demise of Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, Stalin believes that only personal charisma would work. They are in position to bank on their policies and work done 10 years ago,” Bharathi said.
It is also evident that the two actors, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, who now leads the Makkal Needhi Maiam, are focusing on policy aspects as they have a strong personality footprint.
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Speaking to The Federal, one of the executive committee members of the VCK said there were differences with the DMK but the parties would join hands.
“Even if we are asked to go alone or join another alliance, we have nothing to lose, but the DMK will lose another chance of coming back to power,” he said.
CPI(M) leaders did not want to come on record as the party had not started discussions on poll alliances. A State committee member said the CPI(M) thought it was for all liberal parties to come together to take on the BJP and its partner AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.