From Kamaraj to Stalin, alliances a constant theme in elections in T.N.

Since 1977, when the AIADMK emerged as a key player, only once has either of the Dravidian majors gone to the polls without an alliance; members of the parties in the State have also been part of the Union Cabinet; this time around, the BJP too has managed to stitch together a coalition

April 13, 2024 11:23 pm | Updated April 14, 2024 11:55 am IST - CHENNAI

C. Rajagopalachari, founder-leader of the Swatantra Party, and K. Kamaraj, Organisation Congress leader, at an election meeting on Marina beach in Chennai on February 25, 1971.

C. Rajagopalachari, founder-leader of the Swatantra Party, and K. Kamaraj, Organisation Congress leader, at an election meeting on Marina beach in Chennai on February 25, 1971. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Archives

Despite being the homeland of the two main Dravidian parties, Tamil Nadu has been the battle ground for coalitions led by the DMK and the AIADMK. Since 1977, when the AIADMK emerged as a major player, either of the parties has gone solo only once in the Lok Sabha election. This happened when the AIADMK, headed by the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, put up its nominees in 40 constituencies, including Puducherry, in 2014. On all other occasions, both parties struck a deal with smaller parties. The situation is no different this time. However, what is new is that the BJP is leading a front comprising the PMK, the Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar) (TMC (M)), and the AMMK.

Bereft of alliance

A look at the Lok Sabha elections since 1952 reveals that the first three elections — held in 1952, 1957, and 1962 — were generally bereft of pre-poll alliances. The Congress was the dominant force. Under the leadership of K. Kamaraj who was the Chief Minister during 1954-1962, the party did not feel the need for any alliance. But his opponents, including C. Rajagopalachari or Rajaji, felt the importance of an alliance. The DMK-led front in the 1967 election was the first successful case study for the Index of Opposition Unity. Apart from Rajaji’s Swatantra Party, it included the CPI(M) and the Muslim League.

The split in the Congress in 1969 compelled Kamaraj to change his strategy; he struck a deal two years later with the Swatantra Party. At that time, the other Congress group, comprising the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, C. Subramaniam, and R.V. Swaminathan, joined hands with the DMK and the CPI. The demise of Kamaraj in October 1975 sent one clear message to the Congress leadership: partnership with either of the Dravidian parties is inevitable for an electoral success in the State. This norm was breached only twice in the last 50 years: in 1998 when Jayalalithaa preferred the BJP to the Congress and in 2014 when DMK leader M. Karunanidhi chose to have no truck with the Congress.

Though the Dravidian parties had an alliance, between 1971 and 1996, with national parties such as the Congress, the Janata Party, and the Janata Dal, the idea of sharing power at the Centre was not a major issue in the run-up to the elections. However, in the 25-year period, there were two instances of representatives of the two parties being Union Ministers: A. Bala Pajanor and Sathyavani Muthu of the AIADMK in the short-lived Charan Singh Ministry in 1979 and “Murasoli” Maran of the DMK in the V.P. Singh Ministry 10 years later. After the DMK and the TMC (M) became important constituents of the United Front in 1996, the Dravidian forces made it a point to convey to the national parties , at the time of arriving at agreements, that they were keen on sharing power at the Centre and even insisted on certain portfolios. Besides, it was the leadership of the DMK and the AIADMK that determined who should become Union Ministers from Tamil Nadu and the portfolio allocation for them.

On the contrary, A. Gopanna, vice-president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC), says that with the Dravidian parties, the talk of sharing in power in the State does not click. Citing the 2006 example, wherein the DMK did not secure majority of its own and depended on parties such as the Congress for survival, he says that there was no coalition government in the State then because the Congress’s national leadership had decided to forgo the claim for the sake of its own government in New Delhi.

Editorial | Three is a crowd: On Tamil Nadu political scene and the general election 2024 

M. Chakravarthy, a key BJP functionary in charge of election coordination, says that unlike in 2014, when it was extremely difficult to cobble together a coalition, the task this time has become easier as the “popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the acceptability of his party are much higher”. Besides, there is a feeling that “our party will win again”. All these factors have contributed to the process of coalition-making now, he adds.

“Aspire” K. Swaminathan, a political strategist and the AIADMK’s former IT wing secretary, points to the Dravidian ethos, the regional pride, and the caste and identity politics that characterise the complex nature of coalition politics in the State.

Chief Minister and DMK president M.K. Stalin, who is banking on the welfare measures of his government, such as free bus travel for women, ₹1,000 monthly dole to women heads of families, and the breakfast scheme for school children, has been targeting the BJP for “stifling the voice” of the States by “discriminating” against those ruled by non-BJP parties and following “divisive politics”. After Mr. Modi sought to corner the DMK and the Congress over the Katchatheevu issue, Mr. Stalin questioned the BJP government’s record in dealing with the issue in the last 10 years.

AIADMK general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami has been focusing on the “shortcomings” of the three-year-old DMK government and contrasting them with his government’s “exemplary” performance amid the COVID-19 epidemic. He justifies his approach of attacking the DMK on the ground that the ruling party is his main rival. His constant refrain has been that the DMK pursues “dynasty politics.” BJP State president K. Annamalai , known for his aggressively projecting his party as a genuine alternative to the two Dravidian parties, has been saying that this time, the mood in the State is “to sync” with the Central government. He believes that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will have a “disproportionate increase” in the number of MPs from the State. 

Where do the poll alliances stand in Tamil Nadu? | Lok Sabha elections 2024
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