Navigating the particular ins and outs of Tamil politics can be a difficult task for national-level political parties that ignore the role of ethnic identity in Tamil Nadu
Understanding Tamil Nadu politics is very difficult for the headquarter politicians of the national political parties, more specifically, the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Basically, people in Tamil Nadu are having faith in Indian Nation and are strongly rooted in ethnic values. Equally, their spiritual tradition is also very strong and unique. MK Gandhi was attracted towards Tamils as Tamilians in South Africa worked with him hand in hand in his Satyagraha movement. The unique contributions made by Tamils in the Satyagraha movement made Gandhi visit Tamil Nadu more number of times to understand the uniqueness of the people of Tamil region. Tamil land is known for a significant number of big and small temples created by kings and communities. An equally large number of saints and sages lived and richly contributed literature to make human life meaningful and purposeful. People are wedded to spiritual values and communal harmony and they never approve of violence. Yet they are different from other regions.
Their attachment to their culture, language and, more importantly, their self-respect distinguishes them from other places. The Dravidian parties are using these identities to keep their emotion as high as possible to win the election. Yet their loyalty to the Indian Nation is second to none and it is proved through their solid contributions during the period of crisis. At the same time, they are economically rational while making electoral decisions. The Dravidian parties in the last 50 years have immensely contributed in social development activities through a series of development schemes and programmes which are innovative to be emulated by other states. The social development schemes consist of both individual and community-oriented economic and social benefits. It was initiated by K Kamaraj and the same was strengthened by the Dravidian political parties. From Kamaraj to Jayalalitha, all the leaders maintained that the region's voice has to be respected. In administering development, Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer and role model to other regions ever since the country's independence.
INC, without assessing the mood and sentiments of the people, aggressively pushed its agenda of the imposition of Hindi and lost its power in 1967 despite the presence of the mass leader K Kamaraj. In the 1960s and 1970s, INC has been treated in Tamil Nadu as anti-Tamil. To change this perception among the Tamils it took two decades. It was done by the same Dravidian political parties first by MGK and later by M Karunanidhi by forming an electoral alliance with the INC.
The middle class has been enjoying the benefits of the reservation policy and emerged as a strong political force in Tamil Nadu politics both in the DMK and in the AIADMK. For the poor, both the Dravidian parties carried out a series of development schemes with huge outlays. The poor are with both Dravidian parties. The aspirational middle class is with both parties. It is to be noted that people have extended support to these two parties rationally for economic benefits not on their Dravidian ideology alone. People need reservations and they want to maintain their cultural identity. Since both are being protected by these regional parties, people enthusiastically chose one after another to govern the state. The two parties through their electoral alliance and competitive populist promises captured power and strengthened their base by preventing the expansion of the national political parties and smaller regional parties. These two regional parties are no way inferior to any other regional parties and national parties in administering economic development. The only problem the Tamil society faces in governance and administration under the rule of the Dravidian parties is corruption. The neck-deep corruption has spoiled the bureaucracy alliance partners and the whole body politics which have resulted in cash for votes. The poor do not bother about it as they are not directly affected by the corrupt practices in governance and administration. The aspirational middle class joined with either one of the two political parties and got huge benefits. They are also not bothered. Only a segment of the youth from the middle class got influenced by the political parties in western democracies started sensitising the youth on the issues of corruption in politics, governance and administration. This has been done through social media and the newly formed political parties and Tamil Nationalist groups using this to undermine the importance of these two regional parties. The new middle class and the newly formed political parties and the Tamil Nationalist groups want to use this opportunity as BJP has used Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement to come to power. By utilising the new opportunity created by the disappearance of the mass leaders like Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha from the political scene, enabled them to weaken the two parties. Even the alliance partners of both parties are also waiting for an opportunity to expand their bases by weakening these two dominant parties. Hence everyone is waiting for a third alternative and it should be a winning force. The two political parties are organisationally and financially just like a multinational company, having established its linkage with their cadres by adopting the client pattern approach. The cadres through work for money have immense faith in the party as it would enable them to move further in the economic ladder if their party comes to power. In such a way, political practices have been developed by both parties.
Against this background, the third alternative political force has to emerge. There is every possibility for the formation of a third winnable alternative if the third force retains the fundamentals values, identities and social development framework. The ground is clear and the action is needed from the leader. Who is the leader and what is the organisation? are the questions to be answered in the months to come.
The writer is a former Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. Views expressed are personal