Seat-sharing talks between the DMK and Congress have reached a stalemate with the national party demanding more constituencies in Tamil Nadu.

A pic that shows MK Stalin in a white shirt wearing a mask and Rahul Gandhi wearing a white shirt and a black sleeveless jacket
news 2021 TAMIL NADU ASSEMBLY ELECTION Thursday, March 04, 2021 - 15:38

In December 2018, DMK President MK Stalin, who had just months earlier taken over the reins of the party from his father and former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, took the country by surprise when he proposed then-Congress President Rahul Gandhi as Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2019 General elections. One of the longest allies of the Congress, DMK’s Stalin became the first UPA leader to propose Rahul Gandhi’s name.  

Now, over two years later, the DMK is on the brink of breaking ties with the Indian National Congress — its biggest partner in three consecutive Assembly elections in 2006, 2011, and 2016. Ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls, the DMK has categorically told the Congress that it can offer only 20 seats, up two seats from the initial offer of 18 following days of negotiations. The onus is now on the Congress to take a call: to contest in just half the number of seats compared to 2016, or to walk out of the alliance.

So why has the DMK adopted this aggressive stand? “It’s a psychological move,” said a highly-placed source in DMK. “We don’t mind if the Congress walks out, in fact many believe they should be out of the alliance. Many voters think the DMK can win elections only if the party is part of a big alliance, we have to break that notion. The DMK can and will achieve a landslide victory even without an alliance partner like the Congress.”

Many leaders and members of the party’s strategy team TNM spoke to said their assessment was that the Congress’s presence would only damage the DMK’s prospects, and bring down their overall tally.

“Besides southern Tamil Nadu, in districts like Kanyakumari, the Congress has no significant vote bank anywhere. In fact every election we make local DMK leaders angry by allotting their seat to the Congress and they eventually rebel against the party,” a DMK source said.

The DMK’s assessment is that western Tamil Nadu became an AIADMK stronghold only because the party was conceding seats in this region to the Congress, just for the sake of the alliance. The party now wants its own leaders to contest and reemerge as a force in this belt.

Another DMK source however said that 2021 is DMK's election and even the Congress understands that. "Purely based on our calculations, we want to contest in more seats, we think the Congress will understand. It's not about being aggresive," the source said.

The DMK has also been tough in its negotiations with another alliance partner — the VCK, headed by Thirumavalavan. Though the VCK wanted to contest in 10 seats, the DMK agreed to part with just six seats and after days of negotiation, the deal was inked on Thursday afternoon. DMK leaders said the party was ready to meet the VCK halfway simply because having Thirumavalavan’s party in the alliance has a strategic benefit, which the Congress lacks. The VCK helps in consolidating the Dalit community’s votes against the Vanniyar-led PMK that is part of the AIADMK alliance.

The DMK has engaged political strategist Prashant Kishore’s Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), and the daily assessments by the consultancy continue to predict a landslide victory for the party. This in turn has given the DMK confidence to say goodbye to the Congress, if needed. However, a senior Congress leader has warned Stalin’s team that IPAC can make suggestions based on their research or political understanding, however if the gamble does not work, Stalin will have to bear the political consequences.

“If Karunanidhi was a politician who wanted a grand alliance and a leader who was accepted by many political parties, the path being carved out for Stalin is different — that of a DMK that can win alone,” argued the source in the DMK. Whether this high stakes gamble pays off in the April 6 elections remains to be seen. 

Also read: Why Sasikala decided to withdraw from politics

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.