Naam Tamilar Katchi founder Seeman, MNM founder Kamal Haasan and AMMK chief TTV Dhinakaran
Naam Tamilar Katchi founder Seeman, MNM founder Kamal Haasan and AMMK chief TTV Dhinakaran

Why the Third Front in Tamil Nadu may remain a pipe dream

Recent history shows that taking on the Dravidian majors in Tamil Nadu is no easy task.

For decades, Tamil Nadu’s politics has been dominated by two parties — the DMK and the AIADMK. Several parties have in the past 15 years attempted to emerge as alternatives, and bring together a Third Front against the Dravidian majors. But their efforts have created little to no impact in the field so far. However, this time, Tamil Nadu will witness a multi-cornered fight, with three major alternatives to the alliances of the DMK and the AIADMK: Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), which has tied up with two small parties; TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), which is in an alliance with Vijayakant’s DMDK and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM; and finally Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), which is going it alone. 

While MNM, AMMK and NTK bank on their vote share of 3.72%, 5.27%, and 5.58% as of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, sustaining a Third Front could prove a challenge in the political landscape of Tamil Nadu — especially if one looks at the state’s poll history. TNM takes a look at the efforts of parties and fronts attempting to break the Dravidian majors’ dominance in Tamil Nadu since 2006.   

In its first Assembly Elections in 2006, DMDK contested in all 234 seats. Although it won just one seat in Virudhachalam — that of its party chief and actor Vijayakant — DMDK put up an impressive fight in its poll debut, notching up a vote share of 8.38%. However, it still remained no match for the two Dravidian majors, with the DMK combine receiving 44.8% vote share while AIADMK received 39.9% vote share. Taken together, this amounts to over 84% vote percentage leaving only a minor share for the alternate parties.

In its next outing, three years later in the 2009 Parliamentary Elections, DMDK saw its vote share rise to 10.08%. The party had played spoiler for the AIADMK in a number of segments, with the DMDK polling more votes than the margin of victory. However, the two Dravidian parties together had a vote share of 48%. 

AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa tied up with the party for the 2011 Assembly Elections. While the alliance swept Jayalalithaa to power, the DMDK emerged the second largest party in the Assembly, winning 29 seats out of 41 contested. Although the DMK was pushed to third place, the party managed to hold on to a vote share of 22.4%. 

While Vijayakant became the Leader of Opposition in Tamil Nadu, the alliance with AIADMK, however, turned sour after the polls, with Jayalalithaa even saying she was ashamed of the tie-up.

But it all began to unravel for ‘Captain’ following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the party led the NDA alliance in Tamil Nadu. Vijayakant’s party and his NDA allies failed to win a single seat, with DMDK’s vote share dropping to 5.19%. 

The 2016 Assembly elections saw a four-cornered fight with Ramadoss’s PMK contesting alone, and the emergence of a third front named the Makkal Nala Kootani. Vijayakant after intense negotiations with both the DMK and the AIADMK chose to head the Makkal Nala Kootani or the People’s Welfare Front comprising the Left parties, VCK and the MDMK. However, yet again the third front failed to win a single seat. Together, Makkal Nala Kootani received a 5.52% vote share while DMK and AIADMK together received over 80% vote share. The alliance crumbled soon after the elections, with DMDK being the first to walk out. The PMK also drew a blank, while its vote share remained 5.4%. 

In an interview to News 18, VCK founder Thol Thirumavalavan, speaking about the formation of a third front said, “The third fronts in the country usually form instantly and they do not have a sustainable agenda. We formed Makkal Nala Kootani in 2016 but the alliance collapsed automatically after the elections. So if third fronts are formed they have to be formed with a particular agenda or an ideology and should be worked at least for some elections together.”

This apart, time and again the two Dravidian majors together with their allies have continued to hold on to at least 80% of the total vote share leaving no space for the third front. Even in the upcoming elections, there is a possibility for the five-pronged battle to divide the votes further making it difficult for parties to emerge as a successful third front and cross the 5% mark.

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections saw new entrants such Kamal Haasan’s MNM as well as Dhinakaran’s AMMK contest, while Seeman’s NTK contested all 39 constituencies. While all three parties played spoiler in certain segments, they failed to create a massive dent on the vote share of the Dravidian majors.

‘Lack of grassroot presence’

As far as the 2021 Assembly elections go, senior journalist Priyan Kalki said, there is a lack of party infrastructure at district-level for the three parties to emerge as a strong Third Front in Tamil Nadu. The Naam Tamilar Katchi is gradually showing improvement and they have committed voters, but their growth is more organic and it may take more time to emerge as a Third Front, he said.

In the case of Makkal Needhi Maiam, he said, “For a party to emerge as a Third Front they should at least contest all the 234 seats alone like DMDK did in 2006. However, their alliance with lesser known parties like AISMK and IJK puts their vision into question and just shows that they do not have the infrastructure to contest independently and field people in all 234 seats.”

Like Priyan, political analyst Raveenthran Duraisamy argued that MNM should have contested more seats, and called Kamal’s move to give nearly 40 seats to AISMK and IJK wrong. 

Raveenthran said, "MNM is eyeing the votes of urban elites, Brahmins and linguistic minorities. Now, Kamal Haasan is also trying to get the votes of minorities in Coimbatore and he is working towards a victory in his seat.” 

The prospects of AMMK also depend on the winning chances of AIADMK and they just want to create a dent in the votes of the ruling party, explained Priyan Kalki. Creating a strong grassroot presence can only help the parties emerge as a Third Front, the senior journalist said.  

Priyan Kalki pointed out, “The DMK is into electoral politics for 70 years and AIADMK and is in the fray for the past 50 years, so their leaders have toiled to create a space for the party from the grassroot level, and people will not easily change their loyalty from Dravidian parties.”

However, Raveenthran explained that the three parties compete for the votes of different social strata, and he believed that all three are likely to see growth. But Priyan observed that it is the BJP that should be the party to watch out for in the state. “If there’s any other party that is closely working to create a dent in Tamil Nadu then that is BJP which is creating a hybrid growth in the state. They are increasing the infrastructure at district-level with the help of the Union government. So the chances for MNM and NTK can increase only if they create a grassroot presence,” he said. 

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