Chennai: Major political parties in Tamil Nadu have swung into election mode even as Assembly elections are scheduled in mid-2021.The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which has been out of power for a decade now, is projecting a united face along with its alliance partners. The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), after uncertainty over the announcement of a chief ministerial candidate and strong internal squabbles, has shed some of its sluggishness.
However, the AIADMK is still unsure of possible alliance partners since its present allies are speaking in different voices. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is non-committal on various issues, including the endorsement of Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) as the CM candidate, while the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) is still a cat on the wall.
The Assembly election, scheduled in May 2021, is set to witness a few more regional parties jumping into the fray, including the Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM), led by actor Kamal Haasan, while actor Rajinikanth is still out of the picture.
ANOTHER POPULIST MANIFESTO?
Election manifestos have gained much attention in TN since 2006, the year during which DMK announced the distribution of free colour television sets to every household. The party also assured distribution of rice at Rs 2 per kg through the public distribution system (PDS), when the cost was Rs 3.50 per kg during the then AIADMK regime. The DMK’s election manifesto was hailed as the ‘hero’ of the 2006 Assembly elections, leading to a resounding victory of the party.
The following elections saw more populist announcements in manifestos. In 2011, DMK promised either a mixer grinder or wet grinder, while AIADMK offered both, along with a fan. AIADMK supremo, late J Jayalalithaa also assured free laptops to school and college students.
The manifestos in 2016 were no different, with more unrealistic announcements including total liquor ban, even as the state government relies heavily on revenues from liquor sales. The manifestos of the two parties in recent years have included free goats, gold for the marriage of girl child, free electricity up to 100 units, 50% subsidy for scooters for women among others.
This time round, too, the dravidian parties are expected to move towards formulating probably populist manifestos, with DMK already beginning work on its manifesto. Election freebies have, more or less received wide acceptance from the people in the state, with the both parties terming these as ‘welfare’ measures.
DMK CALLS FOR SUGGESTIONS
The DMK had constituted en eight-member committee to prepare its election manifesto. The party wants to ensure it receives maximum attention in the absence of a powerful orator like its late leader, M Karunanidhi, even though the party holds an advantage over the ruling AIADMK. DMK is more visible and vociferous after a huge victory in the 2019 general elections coupled with strong alliances.
DMK’s manifesto committee has met once and decided to invite suggestions from party members and others through email, signalling a shift from the traditional practice of framing a manifesto. The manifesto committee, led by the leader of the party in Lok Sabha T R Baalu, has also decided to tour the state to study the needs of the districts.
The party is also relying more on social media campaigns and public relations exercises, and has roped in Prashant Kishor as its poll strategist for the Assembly elections.
AIADMK UNSURE OF ALLIANCE PARTNERS
While DMK seems comfortable with its alliance partners, the AIADMK is still unsure of which party it will join hands with. The Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA), led by DMK, is strengthened by the presence of the two Left parties, Congress, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and other small parties.
The DMK president has also announced that the alliance will continue for the Assembly elections as well, after some adverse comments by top DMK leaders.
The composition of the AIADMK alliance is unclear as of now, with BJP, PMK and the actor Vijayakanth-led Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) speaking in different voices on various issues of late. The BJP state president, who met EPS after he was declared as the CM candidate of AIADMK, evaded questions on BJP's endorsement of him.
In fact, BJP leaders are speaking openly on different options for contesting the elections, including the possibility of going it alone. DMDK leader Premalatha Vijayakanth has appealed to make Vijayakanth as the next CM face, while PMK is distancing itself from AIADMK.
The PMK is known to switch alliances out of the blue, with bargaining on the number of seats being its primary focus. The party was very critical of the AIADMK leadership till April 2019, after which an alliance was stitched up.
‘ANTI-PEOPLE’ POLICIES IN FOCUS
The recent months have paved the way for various protests against the Union and state governments. DMK and its allies have hogged the limelight with different protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Population Register, National Register of Citizens, National Education Policy, National Eligibility cum Entrance Examination (NEET), the ‘anti-labour’ policies and the farm laws. DMK has also raised other issues, like imposition of Hindi, deprivation of employment for youth from the state in different Union government departments, including Railways, to its advantage.
DMK leader MK Stalin, in a virtual meeting held on October 19, said the upcoming elections would be a ‘war for securing the rights of the Tamils’. He also called on party cadres to ensure that the ‘anti-people’ AIADMK was dethroned.
AIADMK is facing a strong anti-incumbency after remaining in power for two consecutive terms as also severe infighting within the party. The recent announcement of the CM candidate has brought the issue to a temporary halt, but the tug of war for control over the party is far from over. Some senior leaders ,who are left out from the 11-member steering committee, are also unhappy, which could further damage the party’s prospects.
BJP, PMK INDECISIVE ON ALLIANCE
The BJP is planning a month-long ‘Vetri Vel Yatra’ from November 6, aimed at consolidating the Hindu vote bank. The party is trying to cash in on the controversy over videos by a Youtube channel on ‘Kandha Shasti kavacham’, penned in praise of Lord Muruga, in keeping with following its long-tried model of mixing politics with religion to gain votes.
Various BJP leaders have spoken about aligning with AIADMK or DMK or fighting alone or heading a new alliance, which is creating confusion within the party. The new in-charge of Tamil Nadu BJP, C T Ravi, said that BJP-centric politics was evolving in the state and the party had long-term plans for the state, hinting at leading an alliance in the near future.
Another major outfit, the PMK, which claims to represent the Vanniyar community, is tightlipped on developments in the AIADMK. The party continues to have a different opinion on the much-debated eight-way green corridor road connecting Chennai and Salem, which is being supported by AIADMK and BJP.
The PMK seems to be indecisive over the alliance and the party’s comments on the role of the Governor has echoed the voice of DMK. But, VCK has ruled out the possibilities of being a part of any alliance that accommodates PMK. Both PMK and VCK have been at loggerheads over caste clashes in many districts.
ROLE OF REGIONAL OUTFITS
Tamil Nadu has a number of regional outfits, including the MNM and the radical Tamil nationalist party, Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK). Actor Kamal Haasan-led MNM has fought the general elections on its own, so has NTK. The MNM gained considerable votes in urban areas, while NTK fared well in rural areas.
However, these two parties, along with the TTV Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), failed to win a single seat, both in the general elections and the Assembly by elections held together. The AMMK is so far silent, with news of another merger with AIADMK doing the rounds.
The MNM, which has started election work, was waiting for the grama sabha meetings on October 2, for a show of strength in rural areas, which was called off by the state government citing the COVID-19 pandemic. The party has now vested powers with Kamal Haasan to decide on the alliance in the upcoming elections.
The NTK has always favoured fighting alone, claiming to be an alternative for the dravidian parties. These outfits may eat into the votes of DMK and AIADMK but it making a telling impact on the poll outcome is highly improbable, given the supremacy of the dravidian parties.