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Fragmented Politics in Tamil Nadu

V Krishna Ananth (krishnananth@gmail.com) teaches at the Department of History, Sikkim University. 

2014 elections in Tamil Nadu is a point of no return for the Congress much like the 1967 general elections. But consolidation of the OBCs that led to the DMK’s emergence is now over and the fragmentation in the socio-political sense has thrown the field wide open to a radical realignment of forces. 

Tamil Nadu is that state among the ten states[i] where the Congress lost power in 1967 and could never regain it. One may ascribe this to the caste-wise make up of the population in Tamil Nadu as well as the long term dynamics of this demographic in the making of the political history of the state. Unlike in those parts of the country with a fairly large percentage of the upper castes in the population, their proportion to the population is low in Tamil Nadu. It may be noted that unlike in the Gangetic valley, the category of non-Brahmin upper castes (such as the Bhumihar and the Rajputs), constituting the landed aristocracy, is almost absent in Tamil Nadu. This distinct feature lent a certain dynamic to the socio-political discourse in the state.

History of Anti-Congress sentiments

Seen against this basic feature, the consolidation of pro-British forces in the early decades of the 20th Century (in the context of the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909 and the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms of 1919), as opposed to the Indian National Congress and the idea of freedom, then served as a nucleus for the making of the anti-Congress platform historically. This was not the case with most other parts of the country where the feudatories, after flirting with the colonial rulers in the context of the constitutional reforms, hastened to join the Indian National Congress and even managed to capture its organisation in many levels before 1947. The launch of the self-respect movement by Periyar E V Ramasami Naicker, after he raised the issue of untouchability being practised in the Congress-run schools and walked out of the Indian National Congress (in 1924), also gathered the feudatories around the platform as early as at the time of the elections to the Madras Provincial Assembly under the Government of India Act, 1935.

This consolidation received an impetus when the Rajaji-led provincial government (1937-1939) moved to make the learning of Hindi compulsory in schools. The anti-Hindi agitation and the “Self Respect Movement” laid the foundation for the non-Congress political formation in the state and the formation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949. This meant the emergence of an anti-Congress force even if it was possible only after C N Annadurai walked out of Periyar’s embrace..

It may be true that a similar pattern may be seen in the Socialist Party’s formation, in 1948, from out of the Congress and its emergence as a challenger to the Congress in the first general election. But then, those who founded the Socialist Party, from out of the Congress Socialist Party (the members of the Nashik group who acted from within the Indian National Congress) since the early 1930s, did not enlist the feudatories as did the DMK in its early stages. The way the Congress, under Rajaji, cobbled up a majority after the first general elections, to form its own government in Madras, lent to the opposition a certain force to emerge into the anti-Congress platform as early as after the first general election.[ii]

The impressive performance by the Common Wheel Party (CWP) in that election, specifically in what is now the northern Tamil Nadu, laid the basis for the DMK emerging as a force in that region; in social terms, this manifested in the consolidation of the Vanniyar community, who had rallied behind the CWP in the 1951-52 elections, to make the muscle for the DMK by 1957 (by which time the CWP had dissolved). In the decade from then, the DMK grew into the force that wrested power from the Congress in the State (rechristened Tamil Nadu after C N Annadurai raised the demand after his entry into the Rajya Sabha in 1962), and consolidated itself into the sole representative of the intermediary social classes across Tamil Nadu.

OBC Reservation in Tamil Nadu

The consolidation was further made possible when the state government initiated reservation in state government jobs for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in pursuance of the recommendations of the Sattanathan Commission in the 1960s; and what began in northern Tamil Nadu now spread across the state and thus the DMK ensured the Congress party remained out of power. This would happen in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, only after 1990 and after the Mandal Commission recommendations (reservation for OBCs in Central Government jobs) were implemented.[iii]

The DMK, however, underwent a split soon; if not as early as did the non-Congress formations that wrested power in in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in 1967. The birth of the ADMK (Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam) in 1972, under M G Ramachandran, matinee idol and treasurer of the DMK until he was expelled, marked the beginning of the fragmentation that now characterises the political discourse in Tamil Nadu and also revived the Congress into a relevant force. The Congress in Tamil Nadu could re-invent itself as determining the outcome of elections and the DMK and the ADMK would ally with the “national” party to win elections. Meanwhile, the OBC consolidation remained a feature of the state’s discourse even under the ADMK’s rule. The Ambasankar Committee of 1985 took the idea of reservation to OBCs to 69 % of the state government jobs even while the Congress government in Delhi allowed the Mandal Commission Report to gather dust.

How Congress is shielded in 2014

All these are now things of the past. Neither the ADMK nor the DMK want to touch the Congress this time. This is just the opposite of what it was in the 1980s when both the Kazhagams were desperate to have the Congress on its side and it is a fact that for a couple of decades since then, the one that had the Congress as ally won elections in Tamil Nadu; it was the ADMK in 1984, 1989 and 1991; and the DMK in 2004 and 2009. The story was a little different in 1996 when the DMK had the Tamil Maanila Congress with it (leaving the rump of the Congress with the ADMK) or the ADMK-BJP alliance making it big in 1998 and the DMK-BJP alliance in 1999. A feature in all these years since the 1980s was that the political discourse in Tamil Nadu revolved around two formations; around the DMK or the ADMK. This too is a thing of the past insofar as April 2014 is concerned.

The extent of fragmentation is such that each of the 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu will witness a three cornered contest this time. Apart from the DMK (or its allies) and the ADMK (just by itself), there is the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) (consisting of small parties that command support in areas that are exclusive to each other). The Congress may have fielded candidates everywhere but is indeed an insignificant player all over. Notwithstanding the bravado displayed by a Karthi Chidambaram or a Mani Shankar Aiyer! And in a few constituencies where the Left has been forced to contest (after being shown the door by Jayalalithaa) its candidates may just be counted as adding a fourth corner to the contest; but may end up forfeiting their deposits.

Fragmented fronts

The fact is that the contest in Tamil Nadu remains between the ADMK and the DMK;it may also be added that April 2014 is indeed an opportunity, in the true sense of the term, for M K Stalin to establish his own hold over the party organisation. The party may end up losing seats and if trends in the past couple of elections were to continue, he may end up in a situation where he will stand alone as the DMK’s leader; such others as Dayanidhi Maran and A Raja as well as his step-sister M Kanimozhi, who had emerged as power centres within the party may go into oblivion after 16 May, 2014 while M K Alagiri may soon end up facing criminal charges that Jayalalithaa is certain to slap against him once he damages the little prospect that the DMK has in this election. The ADMK chief will like to have him around and speak against his father and his brother until 24 April, 2014 and she may not even wait until 16 May, 2014 to put him in place.

And this leaves us with the front consisting of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to be talked about. None of them, indeed, are even as significant as the Apna Dal in Uttar Pradesh, with whom the BJP has tied up. Sonelal Patel’s party in UP can help Narendra Modi to garner a chunk of votes in Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency.

But the parties that now constitute the NDA in Tamil Nadu are at mutual war with one another or exist in mutually exclusive zones. Vaiko’s MDMK for instance exists in only his hometown and is not strong enough even there to win an assembly segment on its own. The IJK, meanwhile, has not even shown its clout in panchayats where it has put up candidates notwithstanding the money that its patron has with him, thanks to his enterprise in higher education! The PMK, whose emergence in the 1980s (representing the beginnings of the process of fragmentation of the state’s political discourse) had begun to weaken almost a decade ago and is now a spent force.

And as for the DMDK, Vijaykanth had shown potential to emerge as a pan-Tamil Nadu party since he entered the political arena in May 2006; his party, fighting alone, polled close to 10 % in the first elections. And he imagined himself as a king-maker when Jayalalithaa (with whom he entered into an alliance for the May 2011 assembly elections) only to end up as leader of the opposition and subsequently with a section of his MLAs trooping out of his party to support Jayalalithaa. The DMDK could re-invent itself now only by riding piggy back on Narendra Modi; well, the BJP too found itself forced into a situation to ride piggy back on Vijaykanth! In any case, this could only have relevance as a long term strategy and certainly longer than May 2014.

2014 – Realignment of forces?

Tamil Nadu, in April-May 2014, may witness a multi-cornered contest and this is certainly a departure from the decisive break in the political discourse as witnessed in 1967. The element that was most pronounced in that year – the Congress party’s defeat – remains an integral part now too. It is a point of no return. But the other aspect of the 1967 elections – consolidation of the OBCs as a decisive factor behind the DMK’s emergence – is now over and the fragmentation in the socio-political sense has thrown the field wide open to a radical realignment of forces.

The DMK, in this context, has the potential to re-invent itself, ahead of the assembly elections scheduled for May 2016, if the party, under M K Stalin’s leadership, consolidates the alliance it has now forged with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and the Puthiya Tamilagham (PT), two mutually antagonistic Dalit platforms holding a base in the northern and southern parts of Tamil Nadu respectively, keep its relationship with the small outfits that have arrived as representatives of the Muslim community in the state and also regain its support base that it lost to the PMK in the last few decades. As for now, it is the ADMK all the way.

 

Notes:

[i] The Congress party lost a majority in the elections to the State assemblies of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.   

[ii] The Congress did not win a majority in the Madras Legislative Assembly in the 1951-52 general elections; and an attempt to forge a non-Congress government including forces across the Left and the Right and around the Common Wheel Party was scuttled when Rajaji enlisted support of a section of the independents to form the Congress Government in the State. The CWP, in fact, was an expression of the early consolidation of the intermediate castes against the Indian National Congress then.

[iii] It may be stressed here that the SVD and the BKD Governments that came in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in 1967 initiated reservation for OBCs in these two States but the consolidation in the political sense was not as strong as in Tamil Nadu for two specific reasons; one that the clout of the Brahmans along with the other upper castes were numerically and economically huge in comparison with that in Tamil Nadu and two that the SVD and the BKD did not constitute a coherent platform as did the DMK and the non-Congress governments in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh epitomised instability and the combines splintered within months due to internecine conflicts among its leaders.  

 

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