Gnanadesikan recently said Congress won't hesitate to go it alone

After a gap of 16 years, the Congress in Tamil Nadu is facing the prospect of contesting parliamentary polls without either of the two major Dravidian parties in alliance. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president B.S. Gnanadesikan on Tuesday said that the party would field candidates in all 39 seats if it cannot find allies. But the previous time it did so in 1998, it drew a blank.

Often, the Congress’ vote strength in the State is rated only behind the two principal Dravidian parties. Hence, a notion persists that the front that included it had better chances of victory.

But the reality is that the TNCC has not faced a single election without either of the two Dravidian majors in the last 16 years. In fact, even senior leaders in the party admit that they are unable to gauge its current strength.

The last time the party faced the election without a substantial ally was in 1998. Two years earlier, a vertical split in the TNCC saw G.K. Moopanar forming the Tamil Manila Congress (TMC)

The DMK, TMC and Communist Party of India (CPI) constituted the United Front in the State in the run up to the 1998 polls, whereas the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress was left with two small outfits as partners.

Data from the Election Commission of India (ECI) showed that the Congress fared poorly, losing deposit in all the 35 seats it contested. Its vote share dropped from about 18 per cent in 1996, when it allied the AIADMK, to a mere 4.8 per cent.

Though it ended up with only three of the 20 seats it contested, the TMC, in alliance with the DMK, polled in 20 per cent of total votes in 1998 elections.

But the TMC, which merged with the parent party in 2002, too had to face a rout when its turn to fight the elections without the DMK and the AIADMK came in 1999.

Head of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Madras, Ramu Manivannan, said the Congress faced an even steeper climb in 2014 given a wave against it in Tamil Nadu on numerous issues. The benefit of the TMC merger no longer existed. “The Congress compromised its own organisational strength by counting on the two Dravidian parties. The effect of this laxity would be visible if they go it alone this time,” he observed. Also, Mr. Manivannan said the party no longer had a leader of the standing of Mr. Moopanar to rally the cadre.

A senior TNCC leader said despite the heavy loss in 1998, the party was wooed by the AIADMK for the 1999 elections. Despite losses, the loyal cadre of the party had not deserted it.

The trend would continue to provide the Congress a substantial vote bank.

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