How national parties became insignificant in the politics of Tamil Nadu

In the Dravidian land, perhaps quite appropriately, national parties seem to count for little.
How national parties became insignificant in the politics of Tamil Nadu
How national parties became insignificant in the politics of Tamil Nadu
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While the DMK and AIADMK are the dominant players in Tamil Nadu, actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s moves are also being watched eagerly ahead of the elections. Besides, poll pundits are also trying to figure out what role parties like the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) or Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) could play. But then no one takes either the BJP or the Congress seriously, the former of course hogging a little more media space, as it is ruling the country at the moment.

People are only curious as to what dividends the BJP’s manipulations could yield, since its vote-bank is quite insignificant. The Congress is a lot more of a sideshow. The two Communist parties have their pockets of influence here and there, but nothing more.

Thus in the Dravidian land, perhaps quite appropriately, national parties seem to count for little. How such a situation came about is indeed an interesting story.

Even in the very first elections after Independence, the Congress failed to secure majority, and only after a lot of wheeling and dealing, could it manage to form a government. 

In 1957 and 1962, the Congress was returned to power, but the star of the fledgling DMK continued to rise, and it stunned everyone by capturing power in 1967. It was heading a mahaghatbandan of the times, but had secured majority for itself.

Photo Courtesy: DMK

The debacle came about in the absence of Kamaraj, as it were. He had earlier provided a reasonably good administration and paved the way for industrialization, but he had been elected the president of the AICC in 1964.  M Bhaktavatsalam, who succeeded him, grossly mishandled the anti-Hindi agitation which erupted the very next year. There was also a drought, inflation – all together sealing the fate of the Congress.

The ascent of the DMK did mean greater empowerment of the OBCs, yes, but under Muthuvel Karunanidhi who became Chief Minister in 1969, corruption and excesses of all kinds began to wreak havoc.

But Lady Luck smiled on him when the Congress split down the middle. Indira Gandhi desperately needed some props in Tamil Nadu, as the state Congress stood solidly behind Kamaraj, barring a few who chose to go over to the ‘Indicate’.

MK drove a ruthless bargain – Indira’s party could contest as many as 9 Lok Sabha seats, but should keep away from the assembly fray altogether. That was a disastrous pact for the state unit, but Indira Gandhi cared little for what could happen here, she was happy with her 9 seats.

As it happened, though Kamaraj seemed to be a rallying point for all anti-Karunanidhi sections, Indira Gandhi’s popularity proved decisive, and the Cong-O led by Kamaraj was routed.

Kamaraj seemed to inch closer to Indira sometime after Emergency, worried as he was by the rise of MGR. A couple of by-elections fought by the two Congress factions together showed the party could still be revived. But Kamaraj passed away suddenly, leaving the party totally rudderless. Seeing no future for themselves, his followers merged their party with Indira’s.

Karuppiah Moopanar who became a key leader, did try to infuse some life in the party, going it alone twice, in 1977 and again 1989 assembly polls. It didn’t help but, the party scoring just 25 seats or so.

There was a dramatic resurgence in 1996, when Moopanar walked out of the Congress and struck an alliance with the DMK. The front swept the polls and the official Congress under Narasimha Rao who chose to stick to Jayalalitha came a cropper.

But for all the corruption charges and the debacle, Jayalalithaa bounced back into reckoning as Moopanar failed to capitalize on the goodwill he had gained. He seemed content to play second fiddle to the DMK, thus ceding the opposition space to the AIADMK.

But when the Congress-supported regime at New Delhi was toppled, the DMK cast its lot with the BJP, and Congress-AIADMK alliance was revived. Moopanar bravely chose to go it alone, in some commendable bravado. In the event, TMC fared very poorly and failed to win a single seat, even though it did poll decent number of votes in a few constituencies.

Thereafter Moopanar lost his heart in the battle  and went in for alliance with Jayalalithaa herself in 2001 assembly polls, refusing even to condemn the horrid Dharmapuri bus-burning.  After his death, the party returned to the Congress fold. His son has walked out and revived the TMC recently, but it is a ghost of what it used to be.

The Congress continues to be pathetically weak, with the people of TN giving it only a handful of seats in the assembly in 2011.

Analysts would say that despite its popularity during the freedom struggle, it relied on overhead mobilization to win votes, that is bigwigs in every region driving the herds to the polling booth, as it were.

Kamaraj might have been a genuine people’s leader, but he too failed to break the pattern. Moopanar tried to make some difference, but was not consistent.

Indira Gandhi had hammered the nail deeper into the coffin.  Meantime the cadre-driven Dravidian parties far outstripped the Congress, and there is little prospect of its emerging from the morass any time soon.

As for the BJP, despite some support it enjoys among Brahmins and some militant OBC sections, it has never had much of a root in the land of Periyar who had unwaveringly inveighed against the Sanatan Hindu Dharm.  

During Vajpayee's time, the party might have acquired some allies, even from the self-proclaimed disciples of Periyar EVR, but the Hindutva message failed to percolate.

The party became orphaned yet again when the UPA was in command, but well, yes, Modi does mean something. One could see a lot of enthusiasm for him last time round, but the BJP-led front could win only two seats.

Now too it is hard put to find any allies, and so the state continues to be under the sway of the Dravidian parties, whatever their corruption and moral bankruptcy.

Elections 2023

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