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Will TN's binary politics end?

The death of M. Karunanidhi marks a turning point in Dravidian politics.

Will TNs binary politics end?

Till the demise of J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu Politics had been a binary one since Independence. At the time of Independence, politics was between Indian National Congress and the left forces. Even at the dawn of Independence, Indian National Congress could not get an absolute majority in the first election for Tamil Nadu's Legislative Assembly as the Communist forces gained the support of the masses. Since Rajagopalachari became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, being an arch enemy of communism ideologically, he controlled the spread of communist movement in Tamil Nadu by using police force.

During the second election to the Legislative Assembly, the binary politics between Indian National Congress and the left forces changed to Indian National Congress and Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) as the DMK entered electoral politics by making use of the recession of the left forces. From the general election to 1977, it was binary politics between Indian National Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. After the Emergency, the trend continued but in a different mode. The binary politics moved from Indian National Congress to DMK to between two regional parties (DMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam - AIADMK). Since 1977, the same binary politics continued with a strong presence of mass leaders: M.Karunanidhi, M.G.Ramachandran, and J.Jayalalithaa.

Though it has been binary politics with two strong ethnic political parties led by mass leaders, both parties faced election only with the support of the smaller regional and national parties. Up till the emergence of the AIDMK under the leadership of M.G.R, political discourse was a national tradition versus regional aspirations and ethnic aspirations. 1977 onwards, it was broadly the development and aspirations of the middle-, lower-middle class, and the subaltern class. The two political parties were headed by strong mass leaders. Constantly, the two leaders have pursued policies, programmes, and schemes to achieve social development, social justice, and economic justice.

With the death of M. Karunanidhi, that era comes to an end. The promises, policies, programmes, and schemes of these two political parties have been looked at from many perspectives and they have been criticised as freebies and vote gathering strategies. People who have a deep understanding of equality, equity, social justice, social development, and economic justice are able to appreciate the long-standing implications of these schemes. Yet, the leaders who led these parties have gone but the goals and objectives with which they worked so far have not reached the target and goals. Tamil society still faces the problem of untouchability and inequality and it has to go a long way to achieve the lofty ideals of the Dravidian Movement.

Now the question is, will the binary politics that began at the dawn of Independence continue? If so, how and between whom? Those mass leaders had developed a strong connection through their cadres and delivered services and yet they have not reached the goals. There is a strong move to dismantle the binary politics between the two mass-based parties in the backdrop of the death of the charismatic leaders. Individuals who got patronage from those leaders now want to become leaders thinking that the two dominant political parties are now without strong leaders. One truth is that DMK is a well-organised and scientifically designed party and it faced the toughest challenges during three major splits caused by three strong leaders. DMK withstood all the tests because of its organisational strength and its leadership. AIADMK has been maintaining a strong leadership culture and the cadres maintained an emotional bond with the leader. The cadres are oriented to obey the command of the leader and not the organisation. There are some visible changes in the movement of the cadres of the dominant political parties to the newly formed parties as they find enough space to go up to the positions of power in these new parties.

Finally, the current political trend poses challenges to M.K. Stalin and T.T.V.Dinakaran if binary politics continues. Both have sufficient political experience. Others who want to disturb both parties have little experience in organisational politics (barring PMK). People of Tamil Nadu are well educated politically and they will decide the type of politics they want now.

(The author is Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. The views expressed are strictly personal)

G Palanithurai

G Palanithurai

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