Jayalalithaa does an MGR on Karunanidhi, banishes him from power for a decade
Besides the AIADMK and DMK fronts, there were three more players in the fray this time.
So, finally Jayalalithaa also has done what her mentor and AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran (MGR) had done to Karunanidhi - keep him out of power back-to-back for a decade. MGR had banished him from the chief minister’s office early in his career, and now Jaya has repeated it in his old age.
Probably, the phantoms of the past might have haunted Karunanidhi on Thursday because his wait last time lasted 11 years, and apparently he was really bitter then. His grouse took many forms including sinister parochial attacks on the legendary leader.
In fact, diehard MGR fans and AIADMK supporters love to run Karunanidhi down citing how he could never come back to power as long as MGR was alive. Although Karunanidhi became the chief minister of the state at a reasonably young age of 45 in 1969, his run continued only till 1977, that too with two interruptions. Since then, it was three consecutive terms of MGR until he died in 1987. In fact, Karunanidhi had to wait for more than a year since MGR’s passing.
Since he returned to power in 1991, it was never a continuous run. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa have been taking turns and by past trend and the verdicts of majority of exit polls, he should have been in office this time. But Jayalalithaa has successfully bucked the trend, and five years will be too long a wait for 91-year-old Karunanidhi.
This decade-long banishment from power will be bad not just for Karunanidhi, but for his son Stalin and the DMK as well. Power is the nourishment that political parties grow on. Sustaining a party and keeping it battle-ready, however cadre-based it’s, for ten years without access to power and possible resources that come as veritable entitlements of being in government is difficult.
Jaya’s continuation in office also tells quite a bit about Tamil Nadu politics, the most distinct being how strongly the Dravidian parties dominate the state and how non-strategic the opposition parties are. Whether it’s a landslide for Jaya like last time or a decent victory like the one this time, chunk of the votes are vertically split between AIADMK or the DMK. This bipolarity leaves no scope for a third player, however hard one tries. The 2016 election clearly demonstrated the futility of attempting to expand this space.
Besides the AIADMK and DMK fronts, there were three more players in the fray this time—the DMDK (and its front called the PWF), the PMK and the BJP—all with single digit vote-shares. All of them had some successes in the past when they had aligned with either the AIADMK or the DMK, but the moment they leave the Dravidian fold, they become practically nothing.
Vijayakanth’s DMDK is a classic example. He had allied with AIADMK in 2011 and notched up more than 8 percent vote-share while winning 29 seats. Soon, he fell out with Jaya and exited the AIADMK front and remained a lone ranger. He, however, continued to be very active in politics, fighting Jaya and energising his support-base. Recognising his vote-share and popularity, the DMK was very eager to have him in its front in 2016 elections, but he refused. The DMK made repeated overtures, but he wouldn’t pay attention reportedly because of his chief ministerial ambition. Instead, he joined the ragtag team of MDMK and VCK called PWF. The man who had 29 MLAs last time couldn’t win a single seat, including his own. And his mythical vote-share fell to a dismal 2.4 percent.
The story is the same with the PMK as well. It’s a victim of the same grand illusion that the state has space for a non-Dravidian alternative. Unlike in the past, it refused to ally with not only the Dravidian parties, but also others, and ended up playing solo scoring nothing except a lone seat. The leader of the party and the man who claimed to be the most suitable to become the chief minister, Anbumani Ramadoss couldn’t even win his seat.
Had Vijayakanth been practical, he could have bargained hard and joined hands with the DMK. It could have certainly changed the arithmetic, altered the momentum of the opposition, and tilted the verdict against Jayalalithaa. Everybody knows that electoral arithmetic is not simple addition and subtraction, but an optimisation of circumstances, possibilities and resources. Vijayakanth, Karunanidhi and Stalin running a campaign together also would have appealed better to the people.
In fact, the DMK came very close to defeating the AIADMK this time, but it needed that extra push to tip the balance. The DMDK could have certainly provided that and in the process benefited from access to power and a better vote-share. Most importantly, that also would have kept Jaya out of power.
It’s also time the DMK gave up its age-old tactic of keeping allies out of the government. The Dravidian parties don’t believe in coalition governments and do the necessary engineering during seat-sharing itself. They try to field maximum candidates themselves so that they have enough numbers to form the government on their own. This often is one of the reasons why other parties have a problem allying with them. More over, Vijayakanth, had he joined, would have had to play second fiddle to Stalin. He doesn’t want to be the kingmaker, but the king himself. And that has done him in. His party’s performance in this election has completely deflated the assumption people had about his potential.
Its disastrous show in the elections might not disintegrate the DMDK because its growth has always been stunted, but the going will certainly get tougher. It cannot grow beyond its present strength. Similarly, the PMK also has been stagnating for years and it too scored very low in this election (5.3 percent of the vote-share). Even with its divisive OBC/MBC politics, it’s hard to expand the base anymore. All that both the DMDK and PMK could have done, and should do in future, was to get into mutually beneficial arrangements with the Dravidian parties.
It’s rather strange that both the DMDK and the PMK did not realise about the inevitability of electoral compromises. Both the DMK and AIADMK are strong cadre-based parties and have historically polarised the state. Although it was the DMK which reaped the initial benefits of the Dravidian ideology, there was enough space for MGR, who was also endowed with a cult following, to split this support base.
Trying to make this bipolar state into a tri-polar state is futile unless one of the Dravidian parties meet with some serious leadership/existential crisis or there is an extraordinary idea like that of the AAP that captures the imagination of people. In fact, under the present circumstances, this bipolarity is not a bad idea because it protect the state from the threat of communal politics.
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