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Grand old men of north and south

Grand old men of north and south
Two grand old men heading two regional parties – one in the north and one in the south – may be bidding for their one last chance in the ensuing Assembly polls to Tamil Nadu (M. Karunanidhi of the DMK) and Punjab (Parkash Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal.) While Karunanidhi’s fate will be decided in May, Badal will be facing the polls early next year.

There are several similarities between the two veteran leaders. Badal and Karunanidhi have struck up a friendship since the days of Emergency. Both have had long political innings and have been part of the coalitions that ruled at the centre. Both the DMK and the SAD depend on their charisma to win the next Assembly polls even though Badal is 88 and Karunanidhi 94. Both have promoted their family members in politics as well as business. It is where the similarities end. Tamil Nadu and Punjab have two different political cultures.

As for Tamil Nadu, which is facing Assembly polls in May, it is clear that Karunanidhi will be the chief ministerial candidate as his son and political heir M.K. Stalin himself has been talking about the Kalaignar rule in public meetings.  Moreover, as long as Karunanidhi lives, no one else, not even his son will be projected, as he is the main pillar of the DMK. Rising from the ranks Karunanidhi became the party treasurer in 1961 before taking over the reins in 1969 following the demise of the first DMK Chief Minister Annadurai. He could well be the oldest politician heading a party in the country today. He was elected as the chief of the DMK for the 11th time last year. The DMK patriarch is making a last-ditch attempt to save the party he has nurtured since the sixties and has been in and out of office in these past fifty years. The five-time chief minister is all set to bid for another innings now.

As part of his campaign, Karunanidhi makes daily appearances on his family-owned Kalaignar TV as well his grand nephew Maran-owned Sun TV making political points. To resolve the family feud, he had already declared that his younger son Stalin would be the future of the DMK and Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi’s family has maintained its pre-eminence with his son Stalin elevated as the treasurer and daughter as the head of the women’s wing. His elder son Azhagiri has been sidelined. Party insiders do not rule out the possibility of Kalaignar handing over the baton immediately after the 2016 elections.

However, it is not all that smooth sailing for the DMK, which is working against odds in the 2016 Assembly elections. Having lost the 2011 Assembly elections as well as the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the DMK workers’ morale is down. Also, Karunanidhi’s health is failing, as even during his earlier term from 2007-11, he was moving around in his motorised wheelchair. Karunanidhi did not believe in developing the second rung leaders. Stalin, who is campaigning hard, is no match to Jayalalithaa.  

The success of the DMK lies in building a viable coalition as arithmetic alone can help the party. Realising this, the wily DMK chief has invited the Congress party with whom the DMK has severed its connection in 2013 on the Sri Lankan issue. He has also been trying to get other smaller parties like the DMDK. The DMK is not able to take advantage of the ruling party’s failures after the rain havoc in December last. In a four-cornered contest, the anti-AIADMK’s votes might be split which will help Jayalalithaa. Above all, there is nothing new the DMK can offer to the voters.

There is another grand old man waiting in Punjab which will go to polls next year. The 88-year-old Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is the best face of the Akali Dal, although he also has been grooming his son and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. He may be bidding for power for the third consecutive time. Badal’s family is also powerful in the state. While Sukhbir is the Deputy chief minister, his wife Harsimrat Badal is the minister in Modi cabinet. Harsimrat’s brother Majithia is a minister in Badal’s cabinet. The Badal family is accused of capturing major business deals in the state and is controlling mines and liquor trade.

There is enough time for the projection of a chief ministerial face as elections are next year but preparations have already begun. As long as Badal is alive, no one else will be accepted but there is speculation that after winning Badal may hand over the baton to his son Sukhbir. Needless to say the Akali-BJP coalition in Punjab is facing double anti-incumbency and loss of credibility. There is bitterness between the two coalition partners, each feeling the other is a liability. The coalition is unable to propagate the achievements of its four-year rule.  

But the growing clout of the Aam Aadmi party in the state is a definite challenge to both the Congress as well as the SAD-BJP alliance. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the alliance won 6, Congress 3 and the AAP 4 seats. There are allegations of corruption and law and order problems apart from the drug menace. Both the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine admit that AAP may emerge as a big challenge. In the last Assembly election, the Akali-BJP defied anti-incumbency to win a stunning successive mandate, a rarity in Punjab. Can it do so again?  After all, a week is a long time in politics and it is almost a year before the Punjab polls.IPA 

(The author is a senior commentator on politics. Views expressed are strictly personal)
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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