Ritesh K Srivastava
With the Election Commission of India sounding the poll bugle, the southern state of Tamil Nadu is set to witness a big political battle between the two major ‘Dravidian’ parties – the DMK and the AIADMK- to secure people’s mandate to form a government.
As the stage is set for the April 13 Assembly Election, the effort for securing a seat-sharing arrangement among the like-minded parties and the race for rival alliances has gained momentum. Like previous elections, this time also the major political players will try to woo millions of Tamil voters by announcing freebies and sops to seize power. Although, development and good governance will remain major poll planks, inflation, freebies, anti-incumbency, plight of Tamilians in Sri Lanka, the concerns of fishermen and the internal feud in Karunanidhi’s family will be other factors that will decide the outcome of polls in the state.
Anti-incumbency has always been an important characteristic of elections in Tamil Nadu. The voters in Tamil Nadu have a tendency of voting against the party which is in power and thereby benefitting the one sitting in the Opposition. Be it the local municipal elections, Assembly Elections or the General Elections, the ruling disposition generally gets wiped out, while the main opponents make a clean sweep. However, the 2009 General Elections, in which the ruling DMK-Congress secured a landslide victory, has remained an exception to this rule.
Since electoral battle in this southern state is held on various other factors, it will be hard to say whether the clean sweep factor would hold. However, in view of AIADMK’s strong pitching against Karunanidhi’s party combined with people’s disenchantment with the DMK over Sri Lankan Tamils issue, 2G scam, fishermen row, the octogenarian chief minister would be fighting hard to retain power this time.
The alleged involvement of former telecom minister and powerful DMK leader A Raja in the 2G spectrum allocation scam, estimated to have caused the loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crores to the national exchequer, has come as a major embarrassment for the DMK-Congress alliance. The sequence of events related to the 2G scam, rising opposition pressure and the subsequent arrest of A Raja by the CBI has made it a national issue.
The 2G scam badly damaged the Congress-led UPA government’s reputation among the masses and severed the seven and half years-old DMK-Congress alliance at the Centre. The flames of the 2G scam soon engulfed the DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi’s house when his daughter Kanimozhi’s name figured in the scam. Worried over losing the Congress party’s support ahead of the elections, Karunanidhi, who was otherwise defending Raja, was forced to say that he will hesitate in throwing him out if he is found guilty.
All this is a win-win situation for the Congress party, which has used DMK’s poor image to bargain more seats for the Assembly Election. The DMK, which had been dictating terms to Congress and threatening to pull out of coalition government, was suddenly left with no option but to concede to the Congress party’s demand. The Congress` tough talking with its ally, the DMK, yielded positive results and it not only withdraw its threat to pull out of the UPA coalition, but also conceded to the former’s demand to allot 63 assembly seats.
As the situation stands, Congress stands to gain from a DMK decline. The Congress thinking is that after the polls if neither DMK nor AIADMK is able to get an absolute majority, its role will be crucial in such a scenario. Lending credence to this idea is the fact that Congress vote-share has been steadily increasing in Tamil Nadu as voters are fed up with both the DMK and AIADMK.
However, the main opposition, AIADMK led by J Jayalalithaa has fully utilised this opportunity and stepped up attack on the DMK-Congress combine for cheating the nation and being power hungry. Not satisfied with Raja`s resignation, the AIADMK has demanded that the beneficiaries of these kickbacks must be booked behind bars. Jayalalithaa already has the support of two Left parties and DMDK to form a broader anti-UPA alliance in the state.
Freebies and Governance
Tamil Nadu is also famous for the Santa Claus politics and the freebies given by the political parties in order to woo voters and win elections. It is believed that the DMK won the 2006 Assembly Election by offering a host of freebies (the free Colour TV) to voters in the state. As the elections are round the corner, all eyes are now waiting for their political masters to announce the next round of freebies in lieu of their votes.
DMK has doled out a lot of freebies – free colour TV, gas stove, 2 acres of land, free housing for the poor in last 5 years, some announced by AIADMK in its earlier regime (like the free gas stove). It will be interesting to see what the Karunanidhi camp has to offer to its supporters this time.In 2006, the DMK’s poll-sweeping manifesto also promised rice at Rs 2/kg, but what actually turned the table for the party was the ‘idiot box’. As the debate over the legitimacy of freebies continues, the Karunanidhi camp is open to the idea of giving free gifts in the pretext of helping the poor.
On the other hand, AIADMK leader blames the DMK leadership for promoting Santa Claus politics for petty gains. As far as the development is concerned, Tamil Nadu is today counted among the most developed states in India. It is the fifth largest contributor to India’s GDP. It has the highest number (10.56%) of business enterprises and stands second in total employment (9.97%), against a population share of 6%.
But there are far less flattering figures as well. Over 24% of the people in rural areas and 11% in the urban live below the poverty line, on less than Rs 40 and Rs 55 a day respectively. One-third of the population survives on 1,632 calories a day (below the all-India BPL cut-off of 2,100 calories). One in every three children suffers from malnutrition-stunted growth. Only 23.13% of the households have toilet facilities.
Sri Lankan Tamil issue
The alleged human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan forces against the Tamil community and the gruesome killing of Indian fishermen by the island nation’s Navy is likely to have an adverse effect on DMK’s prospects in the Assembly Elections. The opponents of Karunanidhi have always accused his party of doing nothing to stop the Sri Lankan government’s offensive against the LTTE. The main opposition AIADMK has charged the DMK government of taking no concrete steps to mitigate the sufferings of the ethnic Tamils.Even after the end of the bloodiest conflict between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE rebels, the discrimination against the minority Tamil community and their continuous suppression by the powerful monks in the island nation has drawn flak from across the globe.
The pathetic condition of Tamils in Sri Lanka has become a major poll issue in Tamil Nadu and parties have used this for strengthening their vote base. Similarly, the alleged atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan Navy against the Indian fishermen, who strayed in the Sri Lankan waters by mistake, has evoked huge protests in Tamil Nadu and in Delhi. The blame game continues between the major Dravidian parties for failing to use its influence in the central government in pressurising Colombo over the issue.
A section of Tamil voters are dissatisfied with the DMK rule and think that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime must not go scot-free with regard to human rights violations allegedly committed by the Lankan Army against Tamil civilians.The Congress-led UPA coalition also faces allegations of helping the Island nation’s forces in wiping out LTTE completely in the last leg of the civil war.
DMK, after threatening to break its seven and half years of alliance with the Congress, managed to repair its severed ties with the latter, and reached a seat-sharing agreement for the April 13 assembly polls. Under the deal, DMK will contest 121 seats, PMK 30, Viduthlalai Chiruthaigal Katchi 10, Kongu Nadu Munnetra Kazhagam 7, IUML two and Moovender Munetra Kazhagam one, the last two seeking election on the DMK symbol.
The Third Front
Alliance wise this is by far the most powerful coalition in the state. After initial twists and turns, AIADMK concluded seat sharing arrangements with the Left parties and other minor allies for the April 13 Assembly polls. After hectic negotiations, Jayalalitha’s party signed a seat sharing accord with the CPI-M, under which the party, which had been allotted 12 seats, would retain most of its sitting constituencies. AIADMK has also signed a similar accord with the CPI. The AIADMK has also opened talks to identify seats for DMDK, second largest partner of the alliance, which would contest on 41 seats. Jayalalitha’s effort to take the MDMK-led by Vaiko on board has suffered a setback as the latter parted ways with AIADMK in view of a disagreement over seat sharing. Vaiko`s MDMK has now decided to boycott assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
Hurt by the `arrogant attitude` of AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, Vaiko said it was not feasible to remain in the AIADMK-led alliance. However, the MDMK also ruled out the formation of a third front or contesting alone. MDMK actually asked for 35 of the 234 seats to contest and later reduced it to 30. But it was turned down by Jayalalitha’s party, which offered only six seats. As the situation stands, the AIADMK has sealed seat-sharing agreements with 10 parties for 74 seats and announced its candidates for the remaining 160.
In the rainbow alliance led by opposition AIADMK, Manitha Neya Munnetra Kazhagam three, Puthiya Tamizhagam two, Samathuva Makkal Katchi of actor Sarathkumar two and Natalum Makkal Katchi floated by actor Karthick, All India Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam, AIFB, Kongu Makkal Ilaignar Peravai and RPI one each.
BJP has announced it would go it alone, projecting itself as an alternative to the two major Dravidian parties DMK and AIADMK and has already named its candidates for over 130 seats.
The succession war in DMK
The promotion of MK Stalin, Karunanidhi’s younger son, as his political heir has irked his older son MK Azhagiri in the past. After working from behind the scenes for more than two decades, Azhagiri’s ambition to get more prominence in the DMK hierarchy led him to raise the banner of revolt against the DMK patriarch. His decision to contest Stalin’s succession and demands for a bigger share party hierarchy divided the party in two folds - with the one camp siding with Azhagiri and the other supporting Stalin.
Karunanidhi’s nephew and late Union Minister Murasoli Maran’s two sons –Kalanidhi Maran and Dayanidhi Maran- sided with Stalin. Seeing Azhagiri as a threat to his heir-apparent, Karunanidhi sent him to Madurai anticipating that he would not come in the way of his plans. However, Azhagiri created a fiefdom for himself in the southern districts and now controls 110 seats in the southern region of the state.
There is also a third aspect of this feud in the Karunanidhi’s family. The rise of Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi in state’s political scene and her elevation as the Rajya Sabha MP has irked many in the party. After taking over from Maran as the party’s link person between Tamil Nadu and Delhi, she is now the new face of party in the national capital. The 2G spectrum scam accused A Raja also belonged to the Kanimozhi faction. However, after Raja’s arrest and Kanimozhi’s name figuring in the 2G scam probe, this camp is now in isolation, but has the firm backing of Karunanidhi. His second wife Dayalu Ammal holds 60% stake in Kalaignar TV, which was started to counter the Sun TV network owned by Kalanidhi Maran.
Kanimozhi also holds 20% stake in Kalaignar TV and the channel is now the mouthpiece of the DMK. As the situation stands, Karunanidhi, who is now 86-year-old and due to retire in June, aspires to hand over the reins of his party to his heir-apparent in his lifetime. Although, the warring factions within the DMK are rallying behind Karunanidhi just ahead of elections, a single mistake from the veteran politician could still prove fatal for his party and widen the internal family feud.