“Poochandi” is a Tamil word that is used colloquially to mean a pretentious threat. This perhaps best describes Vijayakanth’s antics in the run up to the 2016 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. Vijayakanth, popularly known as Captain in Tamil Nadu is the leader of the regional outfit, DMDK. In the ongoing poker game of alliance formation for the upcoming elections, the DMK and Congress have revealed their hands already by announcing a tie-up. There are now at least three distinct groups that are in the fray – the DMK+Congress, the ruling AIADMK and a fledgling third front comprising of other regional outfits. The BJP is in a quandary, with some of its alliance partners from the 2014 Lok Sabha election deserting them. The BJP, DMK and the third front are all courting Vijayakanth’s DMDK to join their alliance. The Captain seems to be basking in this adulation, unwilling to reveal which way he will turn his sail. The popular belief is that the Captain’s decision will determine which way the electoral winds will blow in the upcoming Tamil Nadu assembly elections. Reveling in being sought after, Vijayakanth declared “Why should I not be King instead of being Kingmaker”. Except, a careful analysis of vote shares reveal that Captain Vijayakanth could well be a mere “poochandi” Captain.
The DMDK was formed in 2005. It contested the 2006 assembly election across 232 constituencies without any alliance partner. 8 out of every 100 voters chose the DMDK. The DMK under Karunanidhi won this election and captured power. In the subsequent 2009 Lok Sabha election, the DMDK contested across 234 assembly constituencies (belonging to 39 Lok Sabha seats). 10 out of every 100 voters chose the DMDK. Thus, in a span of three years, the DMDK improved its vote share by two percentage points, from eight to ten out of every hundred voters.
In a bid to overthrow the then ruling party, Vijayakanth entered into a pre-poll alliance with Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK for the 2011 assembly election. As part of this arrangement, the DMDK agreed to contest in only 41 constituencies, down from the 232 constituencies it contested in the 2006 election. In these 41 constituencies that the DMDK contested in alliance with AIADMK, 45 out of every 100 voters chose the DMDK. The AIADMK and DMDK alliance went on to win this election with Jayalalithaa becoming Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the third time. The interesting question then is of these 45 voters that chose DMDK out of every 100 in these 41 constituencies, how many were true DMDK voters and how many were proxy AIADMK voters?
In the previous 2006 election, the DMDK contested in nearly every constituency where the AIADMK also had a candidate. When given a choice between the AIADMK and the DMDK, a certain number of voters chose the AIADMK in 2006 which was not enough to make the AIADMK win. The AIADMK won the election in 2011 with an increase in vote share. This means more voters preferred the AIADMK in 2011 than in 2006. It is then not entirely erroneous to assume that at the very minimum, most voters that voted for the AIADMK in 2006 would have still voted for the AIADMK in the 2011 election. So, if we subtract AIADMK’s 2006 vote share from DMDK’s 2011 vote share in these 41 constituencies, we will arrive at a very rough estimate of DMDK’s share. This analysis reveals that the DMDK’s standalone vote share in 2011 across these 41 constituencies is a mere 3%. This is certainly not a scientific way to measure but only a simple analysis to get a very approximate sense of DMDK’s standalone vote share. This implies that the DMDK’s standalone vote share dropped from a high of 10% in 2009 election to 3% in 2011.
Post the 2011 victory, the DMDK-AIADMK partnership went awry and the DMDK walked out of the alliance. It then entered into an alliance with the BJP and other regional parties such as MDMK and the PMK for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The DMDK was presumably the leader of this “rainbow alliance”, since it contested the highest number of seats. The DMDK contested in 84 assembly constituencies (belonging to 14 Lok Sabha constituencies) in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The BJP contested in 54, the PMK in 48 and the MDMK in 42. With the largest number of seats to contest, Vijayakanth was clearly the face of this alliance for the 2014 election. But, the DMDK fared the worst amongst these alliance partners. The DMDK won 14.5% of votes in these 84 constituencies that it contested. By contrast, the BJP won 24.1% in its 54 constituencies, the PMK won 21.2% in its 48 seats and the MDMK won 20% in its 42 seats. The AIADMK swept this election by a massive majority in terms of seats won. In seats where the AIADMK faced a BJP candidate, its vote share was only 40%. But when the AIADMK faced a DMDK candidate on the ballot in the 2014 election, its vote share was 48%, eight percentage points higher. This implies that the AIADMK’s victory margin against the DMDK was much higher than against the BJP. Even against the MDMK and the PMK, the AIADMK’s vote share was 45%, lower than its vote share against the DMDK. It is very evident that the DMDK was the worst performer in that alliance, despite expectations that it would perform the best. We can also do a similar analysis as for the 2011 elections of imputing DMDK’s standalone vote share by removing MDMK, PMK and BJP’s past election vote share in these 84 constituencies. This reveals that the DMDK’s standalone vote share in 2014 elections was at best 3.6%, though it is likely to be even lower given its underperformance in the alliance vis-à-vis others. It is very evident from this analysis that DMDK’s popularity among voters is extremely over-rated.
Some may question the mathematical rigour behind this analysis. I will readily acknowledge that this is not a fool-proof scientific method of analysis. Nevertheless, this proxy methodology to determine DMDK’s standalone worth is logical and likely to be a reasonably good estimate. Too often, analysts and political commentators get misled by vote shares calculated for the entire state and not factoring in alliances. Hence this myth that the DMDK commands a double digit vote share across the state. This analysis shows that the DMDK’s vote share is more likely in the 3-5% range as a standalone party, down sharply from the 10% it garnered in 2011. This is not to imply that past vote share will be a predictor of future vote share. It is also plausible that Captain Vijayakanth may have roared back to popularity among Tamil voters since the 2014 election. But for now, forget King, it is unclear from this analysis that Captain Vijayakanth can even be kingmaker.
(Chakravarty is a Fellow in Political Economy at IDFC Institute, a Mumbai based think-tank. Views are personal.)