It was not supposed to take this long. The TMC was next in line to the PMK and the BJP, which sealed seat-sharing agreements with the AIADMK on February 19.
Senior leaders of the Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar) were enthusiastic. One of the many gambles their president GK Vasan had done over the past two-odd years seemed to have paid off, even if belatedly. The party would get two Lok Sabha seats; a deal was to be signed soon.
Then in walked the DMDK, like Jackson Pollock approaching a canvas, and the TMC’s story has never been the same again. The TMC was asked to wait and shown its place in the pecking order while the DMDK, with the BJP’s support, played hardball with the AIADMK. In between, even the seldom-heard-about New Justice Party walked away with a seat from the AIADMK-led alliance.
Now that the DMDK has been given four seats — the same that was reportedly offered to it at the beginning of negotiations — the TMC can walk in the door again. The party wants either two Lok Sabha tickets or one LS ticket in conjunction with a Rajya Sabha seat from the AIADMK.
Sacrifice of principles
However, this does not mean all the TMC’s problems will go away. It has had to sacrifice a few of its foundational principles to get to this point. In 1996, Vasan’s father and party stalwart GK Moopanar walked out of the Congress and formed the TMC protesting his party’s decision to ally with the ‘corrupt’ AIADMK.
The TMC aligned with the DMK; their alliance worked for the 1996 and 1998 general elections. In the 1999 general elections though, the TMC left the alliance over the DMK’s decision to ally with the BJP; Moopanar had firmly placed his party on the two legs that sought to kick out corruption and communalism.
Come the 2001 assembly elections, Moopanar signalled that communalism was a bigger threat than corruption by choosing to partner with the AIADMK over the DMK as the latter was still in an alliance with the BJP.
Secularism continued to be a key driving force of the party when Vasan relaunched it in 2014. This February, when it seemed that his party was close to joining the National Democratic Alliance – it was unclear at the time that the AIADMK, not the BJP, would emerge as its leader – The Federal asked a senior TMC leader if a party of former Congress members had any qualms about working with the BJP. “Our alliance is with the AIADMK. We are talking only to the AIADMK; the BJP is not our concern,” came the answer, given on the condition of anonymity.
A more revealing answer came when prodded: “There are only two alliances this election. We have to go somewhere!”
Series of missteps
This existential crisis the TMC finds itself in is the result of a series of missteps since the 2016 assembly elections. The party was in talks to ally with the AIADMK but a deal fell through in the eleventh hour Vasan rejected the condition that the TMC must contest under the AIADMK’s two-leaves symbol. The TMC went on to partner with the People’s Welfare Front, which was attempting to build a third front in the state; none of the PWF’s candidates won. The TMC exited the left-leaning alliance immediately after.
Later that year, Vasan met then-DMK treasurer MK Stalin in an attempt to force through an alliance ahead of elections to local bodies in the state. However, DMK ally Congress stepped in to declare unequivocally that it did not want to work with the party led by its former state president. Stalin was overruled; the TMC was turned away.
In April 2017, Vasan – who had boycotted previous by-elections claiming results always favoured the ruling party – decided to support the candidate of the O. Panneerselvam-led faction of the AIADMK in the RK Nagar constituency. The election was held to fill the seat left vacant due to former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s demise. However, only three days after Vasan came on board, the Election Commission of India cancelled the RK Nagar elections.
When the same election was held again, the TMC had no role to play: Panneerselvam, who had merged his faction back into the AIADMK, did not reach out for another alliance.
However, that relationship seems to have come in handy now. Panneerselvam, officially the leader of the AIADMK, is reportedly the driving force behind the TMC’s efforts to hold hands with the same party which was the reason for its formation.
In joining hands with the AIADMK, Vasan also risks handing over a slice of K Kamaraj’s legacy to the BJP by association. The BJP, which has a significant presence among the Nadar community of the state, has been making a push to appropriate the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and a Congress leader, who belonged to the community. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a March 5 rally in Kancheepuram district, even alleged that Kamaraj had been insulted by the Congress leadership because of his opposition to the same family’s dominance in party affairs.
The TMC was founded by Moopanar, promising a return to the politics of his mentor Kamaraj. The BJP will welcome with open arms any opportunity to be seen closer to the Kamaraj Government, whose reputation for probity in public life and implementation of far-sighted policy has reached near-mythical proportions in the state.