Anti-Jaya parties left scrambling
Nine months before Tamil Nadu goes to polls in May 2016, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and other Dravidian/fringe parties are out to surpass one another in their bid to topple the ruling All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) . However, the AIADMK looks impregnable with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s undiminished hold on the masses. For the AIADMK, there are few signs yet of anti-incumbency on the electoral horizon.
The trigger for this showdown between rival political outfits came from Jayalalithaa herself, who sounded the poll bugle on July 8. With an improved power situation and opposition parties and groups in total disarray, the AIADMK chief found the ideal moment. She directed her <g data-gr-id="70">party-men</g> to fan out to districts and highlight the government’s welfare schemes and other “achievements”, including the latest inauguration of the Chennai Metro rail service.
Meanwhile, the ruling AIADMK is waiting anxiously for the Supreme Court’s final verdict on an appeal against Jayalalithaa’s acquittal by Justice Kumaraswami of the Karnataka High Court in the Disproportionate Assets case last May. The DMK is also a party to the appeal filed by the Karnataka Government for a re-look at the asset calculations made by the High Court judge. The appeal will be heard on July 24.
Realising that a discredited DMK, with humiliating defeats in both the 2011 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, cannot take on the AIADMK by itself, Karunanidhi has been calling for a strong alliance of all Dravidian forces to reverse Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s “misrule”. But most parties are averse to aligning with DMK while some insist on prior power-sharing commitments. Karunanidhi’s resistance to this arrangement was apparent even when his minority government (2006-2011) was kept going by the Congress, without a share in <g data-gr-id="74">office</g>.
Any credible alliance at this stage, to take on the might of AIADMK, looks far-fetched. Tamil Nadu may be heading for a multi-alliance contests, one of which could be led by the BJP. The ruling party at the Centre has been making a strong pitch for electoral gains at the state level. The party derived comfort with one Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and even made the winner Pon Radhakrishnan, a minister in the current Modi government at the Centre.
While the Congress has had more leaders and factions than followers, the BJP has actively built up a membership base across districts by highlighting the “achievements” of the Modi government at the Centre. Party president Amit Shah is keeping a close watch on Tamil Nadu. In its game of systematically appropriating political icons for political gains, the BJP has observed the birth anniversary of former Congress President K Kamaraj.
Speaking at Kamraj’s birthplace in a southern district, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu sought to liken Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the former Congress president. Naidu argues that both persons came from poor backgrounds and were committed to development. For good measure, Naidu cited the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana and other social security schemes. As urban development minister, Naidu also said that 12 cities in the state would be developed as “smart cities”.
BJP leaders at the state level, especially <g data-gr-id="83">Tamilisai</g> Soundararajan have been sharply critical of the AIADMK government’s performance and charged both the Dravidian majors with having run corrupt regimes. The AIADMK is, however, confident of winning the battle by itself and may not entertain any ally even if one or two smaller parties may opt for it at a later stage.
AIADMK has also moved away from the Modi government with Jayalalithaa’s strong reservations against the land and goods and services tax bills. She is unlikely to extend support to a government desperately in search of votes, especially in the Rajya Sabha.
Among <g data-gr-id="73">non</g>-AIADMK parties, a medley of alliances to fight the ruling party seems more likely to emerge for the next assembly elections even if attempts are being made to bring about some adjustments and compromises among contenders. These alliances could be led by DMK, BJP, DMDK or PMK, with each party wanting to have its own candidate as chief minister.
MK Stalin, who is set to succeed Karunanidhi for the party’s leadership, has been actively campaigning for the DMK’s revival and is in desperate search of allies. DMDK leader Captain Vijaykant, who was earlier thought to be closer to the NDA, is now expected to launch his party’s campaign by the end of this month. Commanding relatively greater support at the state level, he became <g data-gr-id="90">leader</g> of opposition in the present Assembly. Captain Vijaykant may agree to go with the BJP if he is assured of Chief Ministership in 2016. For the PMK, which wants to avoid both Dravidian majors, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, former Union Health Minister, has already been named the Chief Ministerial candidate. He has announced his party’s stand for “Change and Progress” towards “a new and vibrant Tamil Nadu”.
Prohibition is also being pushed to the forefront as an electoral issue by the PMK, against the backdrop of <g data-gr-id="87">rapid</g> spread of alcoholism among not only poor farmers and workers but also women and students. Recent news reports have highlighted hundreds of deaths from excessive alcohol consumption. Dr Ramadoss said if the PMK was voted to power, it would enforce <g data-gr-id="86">prohibition</g> on the first day. DMK leader Karunanidhi has also committed his party to taking “serious measures” to implement prohibition for a social transformation.
The Tamil Nadu Congress is yet to clarify where it stands on evolving political developments. The TNCC President Mr E V K S Elangovan, a strong critic of Jayalalithaa rule, has said his party may join an alliance in which power is shared. But the central leadership would take decisions at the appropriate time. On his forthcoming visit to Tamil Nadu, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is expected to outline the party’s vision for Tamil Nadu.
A section of the Congress party, led by GK Vasan, had broken away from the parent body and revived the Tamil Manila Congress wedded to the revival of “Kamaraj rule”. Vasan, who commands a sizeable following, is yet to pronounce his approach for the forthcoming elections. The Dalit party (VCK) leader Thirumavalavan for his part is trying to promote an alliance of secular forces including the Congress and the Left.
As elections draw nearer, policy issues may get a deserved place in poll rhetoric. Opposition leaders are out to pick holes in the policies and programmes of the Jayalalithaa government. Stalin, Dr Ramadoss, PMK founder, and Vaiko’s MDMK have all attacked a recent solar power deal the AIADMK government made with the Adani Group. Critics have alleged that the AIADMK has agreed to a power generating cost well above what the Adani group had offered to Madhya Pradesh. IPA