Important phase of Tamil Nadu electoral politics
Tamil Nadu went to polls on April 18 for its 38 parliamentary seats (total 39 constituencies but one constituency Vellore election rescinded due to money seizures from political parties) and 18 state assemblies by poll seats. Four more by poll assembly seats scheduled to be happening along with last phase of parliamentary election. These Assembly by polls results become important as result of the by poll election may bring down ruling A.D.M.K government. Current parliamentary election has become important phase of Tamil Nadu electoral politics for many reasons. Firstly two major parties of Tamil Nadu, D.M.K and A.D.M.K lost their leaders recently, so both parties view this election as their mandate to prove credibility of their party leadership. For D.M.K, success of leadership happened smoothly as party has its own leadership structure. In case of A.D.M.K, which ran authoritatively by single person Jayalalitha, her demise caused too many rifts and drama within party. Currently A.D.M.K split into two major factions, one faction which currently keeps official party symbol and party name is being led by Chief Minister Edapadi Palanisamy and Deputy Chief Minister O.Panner Selvam . This A.D.M.K faction runs the government despite lack of majority where 18 A.D.M.K MLAs supporting rebel faction of Sasikala and Dinakaran declined to support the floor majority test leading to their disqualification and subsequent by polls to their constituencies. Other faction is led by Sasikala currently serves her 4 years imprisonment in Bengaluru jail after convicted along with Jayalalitha in disproportionate assets case. After her imprisonment, Dinakaran, nephew of Sasikala, former treasurer of A.D.M.K took charge to lead the faction and later became MLA from R.K Nagar constituency by winning in massive margins against both D.M.K and A.D.M.K. Dinakaran who initially claimed to represent A.D.M.K leadership, later created a party naming it as Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (A.M.M.K), has recently registered it as independent political party day after the end of election indicting his plan to unite A.D.M.K with A.M.M.K rather than reclaiming A.D.M.K. In between these chaotic situation within A.D.M.K, B.J.P tried all vitriolic campaign to establish itself as major party in Tamil Nadu but ended up earning double anti-incumbency as all its dubious moves got exposed thanks to vigilante social media. Hence both the parliament election and by poll election of Tamil Nadu has to be watched more closely as it holds crucial stakes for electoral politics of the state. Apart from winning or losing seats other details such as vote percent, win margins and parties that get second and third places also becomes crucial to understand the future course of major parties especially A.D.M.K. More importantly, new political discourse caused by B.J.P entry and its alliance with A.D.M.K alliance and its possible repercussions beyond election has to be analysed to get full picture of B.J.P in Tamil Nadu.
Keeping B.J.P at bay
A friend in Facebook quipped that whenever there is a trending of #gobackmodi in social media she can confirm Narendra Modi is visiting Tamil Nadu. In rest of India where regional parties tried to form big alliance to defeat B.J.P , Tamil Nadu parties saw B.J.P as burden to make ally with it.
With the background of decade long communal tension, B.J.P started its political journey in 1990s making alliance with both D.M.K and A.D.M.K . Fortunately both alliances faced devastating defeats in elections leading both parties to declare no more alliance with B.J.P. Drawing blank from 2004 parliamentary election and 2006 state election, B.J.P went on a mission to create Hindu vote bank. This period from 2006 to 2014, B.J.P tried its best to make it as winnable party. Taking various plank such as corruption free governance, development, alternative to Dravidian parties etc as image makeover nothing worked out except its polarisation and Hindu victim card which mildly improved its vote share from1% to 3% still a poor standard for ruling national party.
To defend poor shows in Tamil Nadu election with little or no improvement at all, B.J.P spokespersons in TV news debates often blamed Dravidian parties by accusing it of corrupting Tamil Nadu politics invoking Tamil identity and freebies as important election agenda leaving little room for real issues such as development, unemployment which B.J.P is taking forward. Far from being truth, it is Tamil Nadu that looked forward to the issues of development, unemployment, water scarcity, price rise, fishermen, farmers issues etc thanks to Dravidian parties which did not let communal polarisation sweeping the elections as both parties vying for monitories votes thus leaving that negative tag of communalism to B.J.P further isolating it in the state. For decades, both Dravidian parties and their allies use similar discourse to win the elections. For ruling parties, successful implementation of social welfare measures which is otherwise called ‘freebies’ has been the rallying point to project itself as good governance and for opposition parties, failure of implementation of ‘freebies’, promising more effective welfare measures and issues that affected common people serves as important election agenda. Thus all those empty, illogical rhetoric of B.J.P such as strong India, Islamist threat, Pakistan terror threat, Bharat Mata, Ram Mandir etc that diverting its failure of governance and polarising people which remains till today winning factor of B.J.P in North India couldn’t be used in Tamil Nadu election. On the contrary its 2014 slogan of good governance created some expectation among new voters and all central government policies be it demonetisation, GST reforms or farmers’ issues has been watched more closely and fiercely debated in Tamil Nadu than any other state. Thus it is due to the complete failure of Narendra Modi government that B.J.P is facing worst anti-incumbency in Tamil Nadu.
After the sudden demise of A.D.M.K supremo Jayalalitha, party faced succession chaos and uncertain future. Sasikala group which provided financial backbone to the party owning media outlets appeared as natural successor to leadership ending chaos. As Sasikala faction setting the troubled A.D.M.K house back into normal, frustrated B.J.P which see its future on weakening A.D.M.K party started its malicious plan of removing powerful Sasikala group from A.D.M.K. As all the media providing live breaking news and detail coverage, Tamil Nadu witnessed entire drama closely on day to day basis exposing B.J.P intervention to the public. In past two years, all those nefarious acts of B.J.P exercising undue power over A.D.M.K government became hot topics in media. Many central government bills or projects that faced strong opposition from Tamil Nadu and vehemently opposed during the rule of Jayalalitha were given up easily by current A.D.M.K government with weak justification. At many critical situation such as Tuticorin Protest and subsequent massacre, NEET protest, GAIL pipeline project, Cyclone disasters, Salem Highway project etc A.D.M.K government appeared weak and helpless enraging entire Tamil Nadu. As all these issues created state wide protests where people unanimously charted their demands, A.D.M.K government which supposed to register strong protest against B.J.P led central government rather made mere lip service or toed the line of central government inviting the wraths of public. Adding to these self-harming acts, other acts that debated fiercely in all media and by public includes Income tax raids on A.D.M.K ministers, A.D.M.K leaders meeting B.J.P leaders when party faces faction issues, B.J.P leaders making statements on future course of A.D.M.K party and government actions which subsequently happens as per their statements, at many public meetings A.D.M.K ministers inadvertently admitting the guidance of B.J.P, governor and chief secretary appearing stronger to chief minister etc convinced people that A.D.M.K government is being under undue pressure and directed by B.J.P. Meanwhile, Sasikala faction which is being led by Dinakaran started attracting more support from erstwhile A.D.M.K supporters and general public which got vindicated when Dinakaran won in huge margins against both A.D.M.K and D.M.K in the by election constituency previously held by Jayalalitha. It is at this juncture that A.D.M.K B.J.P alliance happened further confirming the popular opinion that B.J.P directing A.D.M.K party.
B.J.P A.D.M.K alliance
Not surprisingly B.J.P which faces strong anti-incumbency in Tamil Nadu stitched unpopular alliance bringing together regional parties which do not share good relations with each other. After big tussle over seat sharing and other alliance deals, NDA alliance in Tamil Nadu includes A.D.M.K contesting 20 seats (won 37 MPs ),B.J.P contesting 5 seats, P.M.K contesting 7 seats, D.M.D.K contesting 4 seats and four small parties contesting one seat each. As both P.M.K and D.M.D.K started their political outfits as alternative to Dravidian parties, especially P.M.K which until a week before alliance has had a vigorous anti A.D.M.K campaign for over a year this unpopular alliance caused public embarrassment and huge black lash in social media. For A.D.M.K, despite aware of strong anti-incumbency against B.J.P, more possible of getting negative vote sharing by allying with B.J.P as it offers little vote shares in return may takes away huge vote shares of A.D.M.K especially minorities votes (combined vote share of Christians and Muslims voters proven to be deciding factor of winning elections) and finally with 37 sitting MPs A.D.M.K made to contest for 20 seats in nda alliance. All these above factors gives hint that A.D.M.K was forced into alliance by B.J.P, reinforcing commonly held belief that A.D.M.K being controlled by B.J.P. The only party who has nothing to lose but gains huge windfall profit from this alliance is B.J.P. All the 5 seats which B.J.P contesting are their strong hold areas. Apart from Coimbatore, which B.J.P has its highest vote share rest of the seats B.J.P contesting are surprisingly strategic coastal areas. The other four seats B.J.P contesting are Kaniyakumari, Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga and Tuticorin. Thus winning in these any of these commercial hub areas may give B.J.P a disproportionate stronger image and leverage in dealing with big business and dominant caste communities.
Repercussion beyond election
B.J.P alliance with A.D.M.K should worry the people of Tamil Nadu not that alliance may win election (thankfully not this election with strong anti-incumbency, prospect of winning seats appears to be less than 5 seats) but it may cause irreversible repercussion beyond election. Firstly unlike previous alliance with B.J.P where Dravidian parties being stronger and B.J.P as a junior partner, Dravidian parties set the terms of discourse of campaign thus restricting polarisation attempts of B.J.P. Whereas today A.D.M.K party at its weakest phase may give free hand to B.J.P to set the agenda of election campaign. As above mentioned, many issues that affected Tamil Nadu such as NEET, GAIL pipeline project, Tuticorin Sterlite closure etc where entire Tamil Nadu parties including A.D.M.K opposed unanimously except B.J.P, this alliance may break that consensus allowing unpopular, isolated opinion of B.J.P as mainstream opinion. Another worst impact of the alliance which can bring long term effect is the possible infusement of Hindu nationalism to cadres and leaders of A.D.M.K, D.M.D.K and PM.K. All those empty slogans of B.J.P such as strong India, Pakistan terror threat, bharat mata ki jai etc which is unheard and irrelevant to Tamil Nadu has been made to hear during poll campaigns of A.D.M.K and D.M.D.K. These internal changes happening within A.D.M.K and D.M.D.K are the real purpose and victory of B.J.P alliance. One important factor that halted the growth of B.J.P is the disproportionate presence of Brahmins in party leadership whose scattered population of less than 2% of total population has any electoral dividend in any pockets of Tamil Nadu. B.J.P being aware of this drawback has been keen on bringing dominant obc caste people in leadership position making gradual inroads albeit with little success exception being nadar caste. With tags of ‘hindi party’, ‘Brahmin party’ it could not penetrate other dominant castes as they count on D.M.K, A.D.M.K as road to power. This time B.J.P can actually make inroads into dominant obcs as the alliance already brought them closer to B.J.P, if returned to central power there can be possible poaching of A.D.M.K heavy weights to B.J.P ending its long term quest of strong obc backing. Performance of Dinakaran faction, A.M.M.K, plays a crucial role to thwart the shifting of A.D.M.K vote base to B.J.P. Dinakaran faction, A.M.M.K which is contesting in all seats except one which is allotted to its ally S.D.P.I (S.D.P.I is contesting in Central Chennai constituency where D.M.K heavy weight Dayanithi Maran is contesting) is the dark horse holding future of A.D.M.K.
Future of Tamil Nadu politics
As Tamil Nadu developed its own discourse of social justice, development and Tamil identity, B.J.P being a Hindi, Hindu, One India party is innately antagonistic to Tamil Nadu unless or until it changes the notion of Dravidian social justice, development and Tamil nationalism. Thus the defeat of B.J.P lies at not limited to poor shows of B.J.P in election but denying space to agenda that B.J.P sets for Tamil Nadu politics. Hence it is important for Tamil Nadu to take forward the politics of social justice through diverse democratic platforms.
Umar Faruk is doing his M.Phil in Political Science in University of Hyderabad.