Tamil Nadu politics on the cusp of change

A girl, sitting on the shoulder of her father, pays homage to Jayalalithaa at Rajaji Hall, in Chennai on Tuesday.

A girl, sitting on the shoulder of her father, pays homage to Jayalalithaa at Rajaji Hall, in Chennai on Tuesday.

Tamil Nadu’s politics has been dominated by either the AIADMK or the DMK for the past five decades. But the State could be on the cusp of a major political change, the contours of which are difficult to predict.

With the passing of Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK has lost a leader who had become virtually synonymous with the party.

Unlike the DMK, which is cadre-based, the AIADMK relied largely on her charisma, raising questions about how it will fare — or even, how long it will survive — without her.

But the rival DMK, too, is not immune to the winds of change, with its leader M. Karunanidhi now a venerable 93-year-old leader.

DMK’s transition travails

The veteran politician, who has been hospitalised over the past few days and not attended any public functions for a while now, has found it difficult to formally pass on the mantle of leadership to his son M.K. Stalin, despite the fact that the latter is already in control of the party.

Given Mr. Karunanidhi’s political stature, there is a perception that the party, despite its cadre support, will suffer in his absence.

What the future holds for the two parties and how this will impact Tamil Nadu politics is by no means clear. For the AIADMK, the immediate challenge is to retain its majority in the Assembly.

Equally crucial will be running the government for another four years, keeping at bay possible conflicts arising in the absence of a dominant and powerful leader. Jayalalithaa was able to, among other things, keep casteism from undermining the cohesiveness of the party.

The DMK is faced with a charisma issue as well. Mr. Karunanidhi’s decision to refrain from formally nominating Mr. Stalin as the chief ministerial candidate in the May 2016 election, stemmed from the consideration that he would be seen as the more popular choice despite his advanced years.

In such a scenario, the question arises whether the situation in the two major Dravidian parties can be exploited by other formations. Not everyone agrees that there will be easy pickings.

“The question can be entertained only by assuming that Ms. Jayalalithaa’s death has weakened the AIADMK as there is hardly any leader in the party who can match her personality. It will be difficult if the ruling party remains united without wavering,” felt Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol. Thirumavalavan.

Smooth change

The smooth transfer of power to O. Panneerselvam has belied the expectations in some quarters that the party would crumble quickly in a post-Jayalalithaa period. There is a section of MLAs opposed to Jayalalithaa’s controversial aide Sasikala Natarajan having an inordinate influence over the government.

Potential conflict on this score seems to have been staved off with Mr. Paneerselvam’s ascension, though he is regarded in some quarters as a ‘Sasikala man’.

It remains to be seen whether Ms. Sasikala will make a bid to become the party general secretary.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko, who never hid his admiration for Jayalalithaa, said if vested interests nurtured the hope that they could destabilise the AIADMK government, they would be living in a fool’s paradise.

Mr. Thirumavalavan added that it would not be immediately possible for the People’s Welfare Front, a four-party combination, to fill the vacuum especially after its defeat in the 2016 Assembly polls.

But what about national parties such as the BJP and the Congress?

In 1987, the Congress made an attempt to gain ground in Tamil Nadu after the death of AIADMK founder MGR. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the State 13 times ahead of the 1989 election, in which the national party contested alone; however, it could win only 26 seats.

Advantage BJP

The AIADMK, in ideological terms, is closer to the BJP, which may give the party some hope of exploiting the vacuum in the State’s politics.

A.R. Venkatachalapathy, Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies feels that the BJP will try to take advantage of the vacuum created by Jayalalithaa’s absence. “What is the use of remaining as a ruling party at the Centre without making an effort to create a space for itself in a state like Tamil Nadu?” he asked.

CPI(M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan, however, believes the two-party dominance will not provide any space for the BJP. “Of course all regional parties without exception have entered into an alliance with the BJP. This does not mean that the BJP has gained acceptance because still many States are ruled by regional parties. Immediately there will not be any change in Tamil Nadu’s political scenario and time alone will decide what would happen in the future,” he says.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2022 2:39:44 am |