The Tamil Nadu Assembly election may be decided by which of the two prevails
"There can be no permanent friends or foes in politics," goes the adage. And political parties in Tamil Nadu only seem to be reinforcing it, changing alliances for almost every election.
Earlier, the Congress was always part of the alliance led by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). But the two parties parted company soon after the 2001 elections and are still in opposite camps. The Bharatiya Janata Party went with the AIADMK in 1998, switched over to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) camp in 1999, came back to the AIADMK for the 2004 Parliamentary polls, and will go it alone in the 2006 Assembly elections.
Among the State parties, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) was in the DMK front for the 1999 Lok Sabha polls. It crossed over to the AIADMK front for the 2001 Assembly elections, rejoined the DMK for the 2004 Parliamentary elections, and is continuing with the tie-up now.
In keeping with the trend, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), which fought the 2001 Assembly elections on its own, joined the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, but has now moved to the AIADMK camp. It had earlier allied with the AIADMK in 1999. The strange feature of the MDMK's 12-year-old poll history is that it has never been with the DMK for an Assembly election. But what was surprising this time was the timing of the switchover.
Even as the DMK was preparing for its conference in Tiruchi on March 5 to announce the sharing of seats, MDMK leader Vaiko met Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on March 4 to cement an alliance.
Under pressure from party functionaries and "unable to digest the humiliation by the DMK," Mr. Vaiko said he was aligning with Ms. Jayalalithaa.
The Dalit Panthers of India, a pro-Tamil Dalit group led by Thol. Thirumavalavan, also moved over to the AIADMK after failing to get the nod from DMK chief M. Karunadhi for an "honourable alliance."
The Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA), formed by the DMK for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, remains intact, except for the exit of the MDMK. In its absence, the DPA constituents found it easier to share the 234 seats. The DPA is now a six-party front, comprising the DMK, the Congress, the PMK, the CPI(M), the CPI and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). The DMK has allowed smaller groups, including the IUML, to contest on its symbol.
In 2001, when the Congress and the two Left parties aligned with the AIADMK, they polled between 43 and 52 per cent in various segments. It was a landslide victory, though the Congress and the AIADMK parted ways soon after. The AIADMK won a comfortable majority on its own, bagging 132 of the 141 seats it contested.
The Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), founded by the late G.K. Moopanar, won 23 seats, the PMK 20 and the Congress seven, leaving the DMK with just 31 (after contesting 183 seats). The DMK secured just 30.92 per cent of the popular vote, while the alliance led by it won a little over 39 per cent.
The scenario changed during the 2004 parliamentary polls, when the DMK formed the DPA and won all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu and the lone seat in the Union Territory of Pondicherry. The TMC merged with the Congress after the demise of G.K. Moopanar, and the parent party aligned with the DMK. This time round, the AIADMK could get only around 30 per cent of the vote, while the DMK-led front garnered over 58 per cent.
The 2004 verdict was not only a clear victory for alliance arithmetic, but also a popular vote against the AIADMK and its Government. The economic reforms, the arrest of Mr. Karunanidhi, and the plethora of defamation cases against the media took their toll on the ruling party.
But since 2004, Ms. Jayalalithaa rolled back all the reform measures, offered sops and concessions to all sections of the population, withdrawn most of the defamation cases, thrown open the coffers for tsunami and flood relief measures, and now cemented a new alliance with the MDMK. Ruling party functionaries hope that the alliance arithmetic will be over-shadowed by popular sentiment in favour of the Government as there is "no anti-incumbency factor now in play."
The DMK's campaign managers insist that not only arithmetic, but the "mood of the people" also is in their favour. The MDMK's volte face, they argue, has dented Mr. Vaiko's image.
The general expectation is that if the voter turnout is high, it will favour the AIADMK. But if it remains low it has been only around 55 per cent in recent elections it may aid the DMK. In that case, it will be interesting to see if the DMK is able to manage a majority on its own or will be forced to depend on allies to form a Government. Political leaders are certain of one thing that the people will be unambiguous in their verdict and give one alliance or the other a clear mandate. No hung Assembly for the State. That's the track record.