Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) leader TTV Dhinakaran has teamed up with the Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) for the Tamil Nadu assembly polls. The two leaders have arrived at a seat-sharing arrangement under which the AIMIM will contest three seats, including Vaniyambadi, which it contested in 2016 as well, and the AMMK will field candidates in as many seats as possible.
What impact will this unlikely alliance have on the poll result? The AMMK-AIMIM alliance certainly has no chance of winning the election, but, by winning a few thousand votes here and there, it could affect the fortunes of others.
High and Dry
Dhinakaran and his once-powerful aunt VK Sasikala were both expelled from the AIADMK after the death of party chief J Jayalalitha. Following his ouster, Dhinakaran soon floated the AMMK. Sasikala, meanwhile, was convicted in a disproportionate assets case and sent to prison. When she returned to Tamil Nadu after completing her four-year sentence in a Bangaluru jail, in February, Sasikala was expected to reclaim what she considers her right: the control of the AIADMK.
Then Sasikala announced her retirement from politics, leaving Dhinakaran, who had been mobilising his cadre in anticipation of a fight, high and dry.
A Chance to Clear Perceptions
Owaisi – a nonentity in Tamil Nadu politics – had been shunted out of the opposition coalition by the DMK’s powerful allies – the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), which both have a strong Muslim base.
The Hyderabad leader is on a pan-India expansion mode. (In 2016 the AIMIM contested the Vaniyambadi seat, which has a 25 per cent Muslim population, and won more than 10,000 votes.) But in the past few years, he has been dogged by allegations of being in the BJP’s pocket, contesting elections solely with the intention of splitting Muslim votes and denting the prospects of “secular” parties. Tamil Nadu offers Owaisi an opportunity to correct that perception, as his senior partner is expected to eat into the NDA (AIADMK + BJP) voteshare. Plus he knows that he anyway has limited appeal in a state with only 6 per cent Muslim population.
Revenge on the AIADMK
Dhinakaran was once one of the most powerful people in Tamil Nadu, on account of his proximity to power. As Jayalalithaa’s close aide, his aunt ran the AIADMK for years as her personal fiefdom. Following Sasikala’s return, Dhinakaran was hoping to get back into the AIADMK. The BJP too was keen to see him return. But Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami refused to entertain the idea. Now Dhinakaran may be aiming to take ‘revenge’ on the AIADMK for expelling him and denying him control of the party. Also, by tying up with Owaisi, Dhinakaran has shown that he is willing to do business with both the AIMIM and the BJP.
The DMK-led alliance comprises all major Muslim parties in Tamil Nadu, including the powerful Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which has substantial base in places such as Kadayanallur, Ramanathapuram and Ambur, and the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), which is strong in some central and northern districts.
Another outfit, the Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi (MJK), which has extended support to the DMK alliance, has a good support base in Nagapattinam.
These groups will provide the DMK a strong bulwark against external threats.
The DMK has traditionally got the Muslim vote as most of these parties have campaigned against the AIADMK in the past, and been critical of the ruling party over its alliance with the BJP.
The AMMK-AIMIM pact could create divisions among the pro-DMK Muslim voters. But the AIADMK would have already factored in that possibility, knowing that a section of Muslim voters would automatically be aligned against it. For now it remains to be seen what difference the Dhinakaran-Asaduddin partnership will have on the final result.