DMK Unable To Cash In On Jaya’s Political Set-Back In Tamil Nadu

The political damage suffered by Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK at the hands of the judiciary should have been a natural political boost for her chief competitor in the state the DMK. That, however, has not happened. N Sathiya Moorthy looks into what parts the players in Tamil Nadu’s political theatre will play in the next assembly polls…


dmk-unable-to-cashIf the already demoralised Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cadre beaten by the shocking parliamentary poll debacle in May 2014 thought that the political set-back suffered by rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, in the light of a Bangalore court ordering a jail-term for her in September was a boon for their leadership, it’s not to be. The party, equally unable to shed its inhibitions after the 2011 assembly poll-rout in the State, has since shown that it’s also unwilling to move forward.
As the local media pointed out, the DMK’s nonagenarian supremo M Karunanidhi, took his time reacting to the Bangalore court verdict. When he did so, he referred to AIADMK cadres’ vandalising public property and not the court verdict per se. His first direct reference to the verdict was an exclusive collation of the comments and criticisms of other political parties and their leaders. DMK cadres are not unwise to Karunanidhi’s personal predicament that has been badgering the party for long. Anticipating the possibility of a court verdict against wife Dayalu Ammal, daughter Kanimozhi and grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran, apart from another party leader and former Union Minister, A Raja, in 2-G related cases in the coming months, the DMK chief is said to be being guarded, to the point of being defensive. The Supreme Court has since refused to hear Dayalu’s discharge-plea, asking her to go to the Delhi trial court for the purpose.

The DMK’s desperation is palpable. Yet, any honest analysis of the results of the 2011 assembly and 2014 LS poll results would show that all hopes had not been lost to the party. Better or worse still, it was only a repetition of the decades-old polling pattern in the State. In theoretical terms, the bad news for the non-AIADMK parties is that they need to stick together, to hope to have the AIADMK defeated in 2016. That includes the BJP and the Congress.

All this, when the rest of the opposition, including the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party and star-politician Vijaykanth of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and Dr S Ramadoss of the Paattali Makkal Katchi, have gone hammer and tongs against Jayalalithaa. Ahead of the Bangalore court verdict, Vijaykanth’s DMDK had backed the DMK in by-elections to scores of local body seats across the State. There were already talks in the air about the DMDK and the PMK possibly joining a DMK-led coalition for the 2016 assembly polls, against the ruling AIADMK.
With corruption being at the Centre of the Bangalore verdict and Karunanidhi’s personal predicament, Vijaykanth has since declared himself as the DMDK chief ministerial candidate in 2016. He has also expressed the hope that the BJP would back his candidacy — implying a BJP-Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance for the assembly polls. Caught in the cleft-stick is DMK’s chief ministerial aspirant M K Stalin. After the party’s poor showing in the parliamentary polls, he got blamed for running rough shod over all other leaders, starting with Karunanidhi — and fielding unworthy and un-winnable candidates at the behest of his loyalist second-line in the districts. He was cornered, and Karunanidhi, who feared losing out to his son within the party for a time until then, hit back.
It was not long after that Stalin silenced critics by declaring that Karunanidhi would be the party’s chief ministerial candidate in 2016. It also implied that the DMK was willing to work with other non-AIADMK allies in the assembly polls, as they all have to accept Karunanidhi as the tallest of them all — but not Stalin. More recently, Stalin told a Tamil television talk-show that he had no personal problems with MDMK’s Vaiko, indicating that he and the DMK were willing to work with the latter in the assembly polls. This was when the MDMK and all other non-DMK parties in the opposition camp required the party more than it needed them.
The DMK’s desperation is palpable. Yet, any honest analysis of the results of the 2011 assembly and 2014 LS poll results would show that all hopes had not been lost to the party. Better or worse still, it was only a repetition of the decades-old polling pattern in the State. In the 2014 parliamentary polls, in which the ruling AIADMK won 37 of the 39 LS seats in Tamil Nadu (and also the lone seats in the Union Territory of Puducherry), the party recorded close to 45 per cent vote-share. Drawing a huge blank in seat-share, the DMK still managed around 25 per cent vote-share. Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi party as the DMK’s ally polled less than two per cent.
The third front under the BJP-NDA, with the DMDK and the PMK in it, polled 17.5 per cent vote-share. The then ruling Congress party at the Centre, without winning a single seat, managed a woefully low four per cent vote-share, followed by the abysmal one per cent vote-share or, even less for the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In theoretical terms, the bad news for the non-AIADMK parties is that they need to stick together, to hope to have the AIADMK defeated in 2016. That includes the BJP and the Congress.
The good news for the DMK is that the party still managed a 25 per cent vote-share, reflecting a higher cadre-strength than in 1991, the worst-ever polls for the party. After the Rajiv Gandhi assassination in 1991, the DMK drew a huge blank in the LS elections and managed just two of the 234 assembly seats. The lowest-ever 22 per cent vote-share included the five per cent that the breakaway MDMK purportedly took away in the even-more polarised polls of 1996.
In the past, both the DMK and AIADMK, mauled repeatedly in polls have bounced back in their time. It mainly owed to a large share of non-committed voters, who have swung violently from one end to the other. It had been close to the half-way mark on occasions. This time, it’s a moderate 20 per cent, if one put the traditional AIADMK vote-share consolidation too at 25 per cent. From the fifties onwards, TN has recorded an average ten per cent non-committed, ‘traditionally anti-incumbent’ vote-share, who have preferred the new guy on the poll block — the DMK, the AIADMK, the late GK Moopanar’s Tamil Maanila Congress and Vijaykanth’s DMDK, in their times. The rest of the ‘non-committed voters’ too have swung with the times, both in terms their numbers and one-time electoral commitment at a time.
Yet, if the DMK cadres’ remain demoralised this time round than it was possibly in 1991, it’s not without reason. The inability of Karunanidhi to distance family members and others who are seen as corrupt from the party by the new crop of young-generation voters until courts find them innocent has undone the party’s surging popularity of the previous decade. It was the same case in the seventies, when handing over power to the DMK in 1967 the voters expected things differently from the party and the Government. The late M G Ramachandran instantly smelt it, broke away from the DMK to found his AIADMK, which cashed in on the DMK cadre aspirations and the support of the traditional anti-incumbent voters, among others.
Similarly, the unwillingness of Stalin to distance his loyalists, known as corrupt and arrogant within the party, from key positions, particularly at the district-level, has added to cadre-demoralisation, which refuses to go away. The only senior DMK leader of his generation to maintain a relatively clean political and public image, Stalin finds ‘personal loyalty’ to be his undoing — but is unwilling to change.
Has Jayalalithaa been able to replicate the ‘MGR magic’ through straight victories in 2011 and 2014? Will she be able to do a hat-trick despite her own current legal and consequent political troubles the latter, if any in 2016 is the question that the DMK cadre is more concerned about than at any time in the past? Luckily for the DMK thus far, Jayalalithaa in power has all along refrained from poaching from the DMK as used to be MGR’s won’t — focussing her energies on the ‘defection front’ to lesser parties like the Congress and ally in the past and the DMDK partner from the 2011 Assembly polls. In doing so, Jaya in her own way, like MGR and Karunanidhi, has stuck to the unwritten script of the DMK and the AIADMK still keeping TN mainly a ‘two-party State’ between them.
(N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation.)

– Source: rediff

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