DMK, AIADMK retain support base, despite shift

CHENNAI, APRIL 29. Though the Tamil Nadu Assembly election is getting reduced to a battle between the DMK and AIADMK-led fronts, and further to a tussle between the DMK president, Mr.M. Karunanidhi, and the AIADMK general secretary, Ms. Jayalalitha, it hides several deep social divides.

For years, the two major parties have been on the two sides of the urban-rural, north-south, educated-uneducated, male- female, organised labour-unorganised labour and backward classes- Dalits divide.

Despite changing social configurations, the DMK continues to be a largely urban-based party with strongholds in the northern districts among organised workers and backward classes.

And the AIADMK, from the time of its inception, remains a distinctly rural party with a base in the south among the uneducated, unorganised labour and women and Dalits.

Alliance politics and socio-economic factors have in many ways changed the support structures of the two parties and the fronts they head but, in general terms, these divides still explain the nature and size of their vote banks. The seat allocation in the two fronts confirms these divides. The DMK held on to most of the seats in Chennai and other cities and towns and the AIADMK retained most of the rural seats. Moreover, the DMK gave its allies such as the BJP most of the seats in the south. Even the seats originally set apart for the MDMK were either in the south or in predominantly rural areas in the north.

Similarly, the AIADMK, which is relatively weak in the north, allotted to the TMC and the PMK seats in the northern districts. The few seats the AIADMK gave to its allies in the south and west were mostly those with an urban profile.

The backward classes base of the DMK was evident from its disinclination to contest in reserved constituencies. Both the Dalit parties, Puthiya Tamilagam and Dalit Panthers, were given a fair share of the seats by the DMK. And barring Sedapatti, these two parties got only the reserved seats. In contrast, the AIADMK kept for itself a good number of the reserved constituencies except those where the Puthiya Tamilagam was strong and those specifically sought by its allies.

But more than the backward classes-Dalit divide, it is the organised labour-unorganised labour divide that goes along with the DMK-AIADMK polarisation.

This divide, which understandably overlaps the urban- rural divide, also explains the personality-oriented, centralised politics of the AIADMK, and the power hierarchy of the DMK with a string of strongmen in the districts. Not surprisingly then, in the nomination of candidates, the DMK retained the old guard while the AIADMK brought in a lot of new and unknown faces. Loyalty of the candidates was the criterion for the AIADMK and local influence for the DMK.

Generally, women voters, even in families where the ``male head'' owes his allegiance to the DMK, are known to prefer the AIADMK. This is the case in rural areas too, where women say they would vote as the men dictate, but still back the AIADMK.

However, it is the youth-aged divide that makes clear the shifts in the support base of the parties. While elderly Dalits are with the AIADMK, the younger lot show a marked preference for the newly-formed Puthiya Tamizhagam and Dalit Panthers, which have grown in the last couple of years on the basis of identity politics. This is, of course, reflective of the erosion in the Dalit vote-bank of the AIADMK after it came to acquire a pro- Thevar image. On the same lines, the younger Thevars are with the AIADMK while the older Thevars maintain the links with the DMK.

Although slow, the shifts in the support base of the two parties have been well marked over the years. But not to the extent of changing their core character.

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