Double incumbency, Dhinakaran and DMK: Tamil Nadu LS polls a mess that couldn't be worse for BJP, AIADMK

  • While it was 'Gujarat's Modi versus Tamil Nadu's Lady' for the AIADMK during the 2014 LS polls, it's 'Modi is our daddy' in 2019

  • The AIADMK-BJP combine is facing double incumbency — against EPS-led AIADMK govt in state, and BJP at Centre — in Tamil Nadu

  • The possibility of Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam party cutting into the traditional AIADMK votes is also high

  • Considering bypolls in 22 Assembly seats in Tamil Nadu are also being held along with Lok Sabha polls, the future of EPS-OPS govt is also under threat

  • Besides, an anti-Modi sentiment has been growing in Tamil Nadu in direct proportion to the popularity of DMK

“Who is better...? Is it Gujarat’s Modi or... Tamil Nadu’s lady?” former AIADMK chief and Tamil Nadu chief minister late Jayalalithaa asked at a 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign rally.

“Lady,” the amused crowd roared. It might have sounded to them better than any nursery rhyme they had heard.

Jayalalithaa's All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) swept the poll in Tamil Nadu by winning 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats. She refused to attend Modi’s swearing-in as the prime minister on the excuse that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited.

 Double incumbency, Dhinakaran and DMK: Tamil Nadu LS polls a mess that couldnt be worse for BJP, AIADMK

File image of Prime Minister Naredra Modi, Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami and PMK founder Ramadoss. PTI

But Modi and Jayalalithaa had been dear friends earlier. In 2002, Jayalalithaa had attended Modi’s swearing-in as Gujarat chief minister. In 2008, only a couple of weeks after he took oath as the Chief Minister of Gujarat again, Modi had visited her home in Chennai and had a two-hour-long Pongal lunch with Jayalalithaa. Modi had flown to Chennai in 2011 to watch the AIADMK chief take oath as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. A year later, she was once again a star guest at his oath-taking in Gandhinagar. At some point, the political arithmetic or personal chemistry or both, went awry. It was a love-hate relationship in which the proportion of love declined gradually till only hate remained — or so it seemed.

While it was 'Gujarat’s Modi versus Tamil Nadu’s lady' during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it's 'Modi is our daddy' for the AIADMK in 2019. The party has formed an alliance with the BJP along with other local parties for the 2019 Lok Sabha election in the state on 18 April.

It’s difficult to say for sure whether or not Jayalalithaa would have joined hands with the BJP again if she were alive, but the AIADMK and its main local rival DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) have been flip-flopping between Congress and BJP for reasons that have as much to do with ideology as a watermelon has to do with a nuclear bomb:

Year of Lok Sabha poll Whether AIADMK aligned with Congress or BJP Seats AIADMK won (out of total 39) Whether DMK aligned with Congress or BJP Seats DMK won  (out of total 39)
2019 BJP NA Cong NA
2014 Neither 37 Neither 0
2009 Third Front 9 Cong 18
2004 BJP 0 Cong 16
1999 Congress 10 BJP 12
1998 BJP 18 United Front 6
1996 Congress 0 United Front 17

National parties back in focus

Aside from the fact that this is the first election without AIADMK queen bee Jayalalithaa and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi (who died in August 2018), this is also the first time in 14 years that both national parties — BJP and Congress — are back in alliances with the two main Dravidian parties of the state.

It was in 2004 that the BJP had a tie-up with AIADMK, and the Congress with the DMK. After 2004, this is the first time BJP is tying up with a main Dravidian party though it has been sharing seats with smaller ones. The DMK continued its alliance with Congress in 2009, but abandoned it in 2013, protesting against the Centre’s stand on Sri Lankan Tamils. Having resumed its association with Congress in the 2016 Assembly poll, the DMK is going ahead with it in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as well. So, the state is back to the 2004 kind of situation, though the composition of alliances in terms of smaller parties varies.

Of the state’s 39 seats, DMK and AIADMK are contesting in 20 seats each, leaving the rest to alliance partners. While Congress is contesting in nine  seats, the BJP has put up candidates in five seats in their respective alliances. The 2014 Modi wave obviated the need for the BJP to have any support from Tamil Nadu parties, but the looming uncertainty over the 2019 result makes them once again potential king-makers.

The BJP began eyeing Tamil Nadu early on. Modi’s attempts to woo Jayalalithaa back into the BJP fold, while keeping the option of allying with the DMK open, began not long after his 2014 victory. The BJP’s attitude towards either party was, however, marked by overconfidence in a rising Hindutva that bordered on arrogance. The so-called vacuum caused by the deaths of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi presented what looked like an opportunity. But the opportunity was spotted by three others too: TTV Dhinakaran, the nephew of Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala (now in a Bengaluru jail) who split the AIADMK, as well as actors Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.

Mess that couldn't be worse

Lacklustre governance by AIADMK chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami (EPS) and deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam would have been sufficiently bad enough. To that, add an anti-Modi sentiment that has been growing in direct proportion to the popularity of DMK. Add to that again, the possibility of Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam party cutting into the traditional AIADMK vote. For the BJP, it’s a mess which couldn't be worse.

The only hope for the leaders of AIADMK and BJP seems to come from caste permutations. They hope the combination of EPS' Gounder community, OPS' Thevars and the Vinniyars represented by the Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) party, which is also part of their alliance, will work like a breeze. But they are probably underestimating the double anti-incumbency — against the AIADMK in the state and BJP at the Centre — and also the fact that Dhinakaran too is a Thevar.

The double anti-incumbency comes with double significance, since the by-elections that are also being held to fill 22 vacant seats in the Tamil Nadu Assembly can decide the fate of the EPS-OPS government in the state at the same time.

Reverse sweep?

The DMK alliance is hoping to play a reverse sweep that could make Virat Kohli feel insecure. If the AIADMK did a clean sweep of seats in 2014, the DMK now hopes to do the reverse. There aren’t too many doubts about the edge the DMK combination has. The only discussion that happens centres around the number of seats that the DMK will leave for AIADMK. And if the Modi-Shah duo is looking to make up for losses elsewhere in India with some swashbuckling gains in Tamil Nadu, they must look elsewhere.

The author tweets as @sprasadindia

Updated Date: Apr 17, 2019 10:48:21 IST