Tamil Nadu, the biggest and key state of southern India, is going through a period of political uncertainty. Though the functioning state government is seemingly secure, the undercurrents of dissidence are very strong and can destabilize the status quo. The present government owes is continuance largely to the backing of the Central government. If the Governor had asked for a floor test in the Assembly what would have been the fate of Edappadi E. Palaniswami (E P) government is anybody’s guess.
Before the last assembly elections Tamilian fatigue with the old Dravidian parties was showing. Youngsters were enquiring about Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal’s style of running the Delhi government. Older, educated men were impressed with Narendra Modi. There was an opportunity for national parties to occupy a space in the state. BJP tried its best to align with regional parties to get a foothold in TN. Their hopes of gaining traction in TN were jettisoned when Captain Vijaykanth decided to dump BJP in the last moment. Congress, it seems, had neither intention nor apparatus to increase its base. In the end Jayalalitha managed to come back to power, but with reduced margins and less percentage of votes.
I was in Coimbatore for a family function when Jayalalitha fell severely ill and it became clear that she would not survive. The news generated a debate and raised many questions as to what would happen to All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, AIADMK, the party and its government. Who will take over the party, acting Chief Minister Panneerselvam or Sasikala Natarajan? Will the Sasikala group remove O Panneerselvam from the chief minister’s position? Will BJP try to influence matters, taking advantage of the volatile political situation? How important will be the Governor’s role? And many more such questions.
Almost all the questions were answered in the affirmative. O P was removed, EP was put in as the stopgap in-charge. Sasikala was on the verge of taking total control of the party and government but suddenly the situation took an unusual turn. Divine intervention brought a judgement against Sasikala and she was sent to jail. Dinakaran tried but could not take over the party or the government. O P started playing his own game of ‘not on anybody’s advise especially BJP’. Factionalism in AIDMK came out into the open. The state governor did as he pleased. Dinakaran hid his MLAs but to no avail. All this while BJP apparently kept quiet and the central government exerted no pressure on any group or individual though things played out as suited them best. Can it be anything but divine intervention for BJP?
Today the situation is different. Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam, DMK is quite stable, and transfer of power from Karunanidhi to M K Stalin is taking place smoothly. Alagiri tried to spoil the process but ended up exposing himself as having negligible influence over voters and party workers. There is no anti-incumbency factor working against DMK and there’s a high probability that Congress will align with them.
In the absence of a star campaigner AIDMK may not be able to garner even as many votes as it did in the last assembly election. The faction-ridden party is being pulled in many directions. It will most probably be coerced to concede more than a justified share of seats to BJP in the 2019. But the catch here is that Narendra Modi is currently losing popularity at a rapid rate among the youth, farmers and now the trading class as well. The other factor that may provide ammunition to the opposition is RSS’ vision of India that is ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’.
Congress has been a fringe party in Tamil Nadu for over two decades now. There seems to be no effort on the part of the state leadership to expand its support base. A drastic overhaul of the state unit and the courage to take risk is an absolute requirement if the Congress wants to regain lost ground. The recent and sudden upsurge in the acceptance of Rahul Gandhi across spectrums can play a positive role if the central leadership starts taking bold decisions and spends some time contemplating about Tamil Nadu as a future base.
The most interesting development that is awaited is the initiation of Kamal Hassan into Tamil Politics. The media is busy speculating his entry into politics with Aam Aadmi Party. It may attract young and first time voters in good numbers. If Kamal Hassan’s party, some of the left parties, and other small parties collate to create a broader base, AIADMK and BJP may suffer a huge erosion of support. It will eat into DMK ‘s votes too but not as much as that of AIADMK’s.
There is ample time before the next Lok Sabha elections for the political churning to tilt in one or the other direction. On the surface it seems that BJP may regret not supporting and joining Sasikala who was the best bet on hand in carrying forward Amma’s support base and legacy. In trying to gain control of AIADMK by siding with the EPs and OPs, they have most probably lost their chance of gaining in Tamil Nadu. The outcome of its machinations is the possibility of being faced with a double anti-incumbency – at the centre as well as the state, even though for all practical purposes it’s not really sharing power with AIADMK.
Nawed Akhter is a film maker based in Gurgaon. He is also Associate Editor of The Morning Chronicle.