The last fortnight has seen two major parties in Tamil Nadu - AIADMK and the DMK scramble to finalise alliances. The AIADMK-led ‘mega alliance’ has firmed up poll pacts with PMK, BJP, TMC, PT, New Justice Party and the NR Congress. If Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami manages to get Vijayakant on board, the ruling party is likely to contest only from around 20 seats – a sharp contrast to 2014 when Jayalalithaa chose to go alone and ended up winning 37 out of 39 seats.
The DMK, on the other hand, had maintained that they would contest from at least 25 seats. However, on Tuesday, as talks concluded, it became clear that the party will be contesting only from 20 seats in Tamil Nadu. The 40 seats including the lone seat in Puducherry has been divided among its eight allies - Congress (10), CPI (2), CPI (M) (2), VCK (2), MDMK (1), IUML (1), KMDK (1) and IJK (1).
This decision by DMK President MK Stalin to cede ground to alliance partners has raised eyebrows in the state. While some political commentators believe it shows that the party is clearly nervous about its prospects, others point that it is a cautious and crafty move considering the current political climate in the state.
Why only 20 seats?
Speaking to TNM, shortly after the alliances were announced, a source in the DMK admitted that this was an electoral compulsion as talks with both the PMK and DMDK did not end favourably for the party.
"With both these parties not joining us, other allies pointed out that we have enough seats to give away," says the party source. "Also, from the very beginning we have been looking to form a rainbow coalition of parties opposing the BJP. Our leader, MK Stalin, was also the one of the first people to say that all secular parties must come together, so, we needed to walk the talk," he adds.
Moreover, sources in the alliance tell TNM that the VCK, MDMK, KMDK and IJK have all been asked to contest on the DMK's rising sun symbol. The DMK has pointed out that this will greatly increase chances of winnability for these parties, at a time when they 'cannot afford risks'. And while the VCK and MDMK are considering whether to contest on their own symbol, the IJK and KMDK have agreed to the DMK’s demand. If all parties come on board, then the DMK will technically be contesting from 25 seats in the Lok Sabha.
The KMDK or Kongunadu Makkal Desia Katchi (KMDK) is a Gounder-based caste outfit in the western districts of Tamil Nadu. It is headed by General Secretary ER Eswaran. The Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) meanwhile led by SRM Chancellor TR Pachamuthu has joined hands with the DMK for this Lok Sabha election. Till the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the party had been with the BJP.
"There is really no need to accommodate these two parties. They don't have the ability to pull votes," opines TN Gopalan, a senior political journalist. "But by bringing them in and making sure they contest under his symbol, Stalin is making a very clever political move. He is clearly being cautious and wants to take no risks in this election," he adds.
But going by historical data of DMK's alliances for the Lok Sabha polls, former president M Karunanidhi has mostly given a large berth to alliance partners in the last two decades.
Always generous with allies?
In 2004, then DMK chief M Karunanidhi said in an interview to India Today, that any layman would admit that the party does not act like a 'big brother' to smaller parties in the alliance.
True to his word, the DMK had only contested from 16 seats in that Lok Sabha Election. The Congress was given 10 seats, the PMK 5 seats, MDMK received 4 and the two Communist parties two seats each. In 2009, the DMK stood from 22 seats and gave 15 seats to the Congress and two to the VCK. It was only in 2014, after the DMK split from UPA-II, that the party decided to rely on its own strength to draw votes and contested from 34 seats. Two seats were then given to VCK and one to MMK (Manithaneya Makkal Katchi). The DMK and its partners did not manage to win even a single seat.
"On its own, the DMK will not be able to win in the current political atmosphere," says political commentator and Associate Editor of Frontline, RK Radhakrishnan. "And this election is expected to come down to the wire. So even 10,000 or 20,000 votes will matter. And irrespective of who is standing, DMK resources on ground will have to be used," he adds.
But senior journalist TN Gopalan says the DMK is needlessly nervous.
"It is somehow not able to convince itself that it can sweep the elections, even though opinion polls say that the party will do exceedingly well," says Gopalan, referring to the poll released by Republic TV. "At a time when the AIADMK has done nothing to endear itself to the people and PM Narendra Modi's popularity is at an all-time low in the state, the party should be exuding confidence by contesting more seats," he points out.
Even a current ally of the DMK which will be contesting from two seats questions the party's decision to accommodate groups such as the KMDK and IJK.
"Even we are stumped by this decision. They will contest from the DMK's symbol but even then these are seats that the party can give to its own leaders," says the source at an ally party. While the CPI and CPI (M) have in the past shown their electoral prowess in constituencies such as Madurai, Coimbatore and Tenkasi, these parties, he points out that their support base has eroded.
"The DMK is acutely aware that it has no traditional support from the Kongu region, which is considered an AIADMK bastion. Which is why they may be hoping for support from these parties. As for the VCK, they are definitely required to ensure Dalit support just as IUML is required for the Muslim votes. IJK, meanwhile, could be lending media support due to their founder's influence," says Gopalan. "But the DMK in an effort to ensure nothing goes array, seems to have forgotten that it is the only alternative to the current government."