How TN parties shed ideology for political survival ahead of Lok Sabha polls

Parties who have long been sworn enemies on ideological grounds have allied in their quest for grabbing power ahead of the 2019 elections.
How TN parties shed ideology for political survival ahead of Lok Sabha polls
How TN parties shed ideology for political survival ahead of Lok Sabha polls
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A late British Prime Minister is often invoked by politicians in India for saying, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies.” The quote, which particularly comes in handy for the political class in a multi-party set-up, is used as justification for abandoning long-held political viewpoints and side-stepping raucous criticism made in the past. However, the quote is not complete. It goes onto say, “Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."

Even as Tamil Nadu prepares for a three-pronged poll battle (AIADMK-DMK-AMMK) ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, political parties in the state have been duly questioned for deserting the foundational principles of their politics and conveniently forgetting historic animosity.

The latest in the series is the PMK, notorious for oscillating between alliances during election time. Called out for its political opportunism, the PMK allied with the Congress-led UPA alongside the DMK in the run up to the 2004 Elections, ending its relationship with the government four years later in 2008. While the party chose to go with the AIADMK in 2009 as part of the Third Front, an alternative coalition of non-UPA, non-NDA parties. Five years later, the party flipped once again, joining the BJP in its thumping victory in 2014, with former Union Minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss managing to win one seat.

In a press conference on Monday, Anbumani struggled to defend the alliance, agitatedly resorting to whataboutery of other parties having done the same in the past. Having previously eschewed an alliance with the two main Dravidian parties in the past, the MP claimed that the decision to ally with the AIADMK was an electoral strategy. This, despite the leader meeting the Tamil Nadu Governor with a 200-page petition over the AIADMK’s alleged corruption.

“We went alone and presented a great manifesto. It was very well appreciated. But people did not back us with votes or seats. Since we could not win the last four elections (2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016), we had to rework our electoral strategy for this election,” he justified.

Ideological bankruptcy

Speaking to TNM, senior journalist Kavitha Muralidharan points out that even among secular parties, the ideological commitment is questionable.

While the Congress may present an alternative to the BJP, she says, “For example, Nehru’s ideological vision of the Indian National Congress has been diluted subsequently. The Congress may be a better alternative to the BJP. We still need to ask if they are fully committed to secularism. Having been part of leftist movements, I would say that the Left parties have some kind of ideological positioning, at least at the cadre-level. At the level of the leadership, it is still subject to question.”

Citing the example of the PMK, Kavitha says that the party, which has allied with the BJP, Congress and the DMK in the past, acts with impunity around election time. “While other parties may try to justify it by saying it is for the good of the people of Tamil Nadu, the PMK party hops blatantly. There is no remorse or attempt to convince the electorate that there was no other alternative. They were opposed to the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Exam(introduced by the BJP),” she points.

Pragmatism over principles?

Offering a contrarian view, journalist and political observer Kavin Malar makes a distinction between the stated vision of a party and what others make of it when questioning them on ideological grounds.

“If you take the example of right-wing parties, you can see that they are somewhat ideologically aligned. The BJP is fanatic about religion and the PMK about caste. They still have an ideology in that sense,” she says, noting that the AIADMK, in particular, makes for a peculiar case.

“The AIADMK deviated from Dravidian politics long back. They are not clear on their ideology. The party, even when (late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister) Jayalalithaa was chief, prayed at temples and conducted rituals. The friendship between Jayalalithaa and (Prime Minister) Modi is also well-known. Rather than an ideological standpoint, the party has run on a platform of celebrity power: from former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran to Jayalalithaa, wooing the voters with the attraction over cinema and the charisma of its leaders,” says Kavin.

Another example is Vaiko’s MDMK. The party split away from the DMK in 1994, when Vaiko accused then party chief M Karunanidhi of propping up his son MK Stalin. Today, Vaiko and DMK chief Stalin appear together at political events, proclaiming their friendship to save the Dravidian movement.

Kavin says, “Among the MDMK cadres, there is no hatred of the DMK since the latter is the parent party. Vaiko left the DMK over personal reasons. Removing Stalin cannot be an ideological position, right? Ideologically they maintain their Dravidian position. With the death of Karunanidhi, Vaiko may even prove to be a strong campaigner among the people for Stalin.” 

Electorate’s hypocrisy watch

With a number of avenues to confront lawmaker-hopefuls, D Ravikumar of the VCK, says that the electorate is ready to call out the hypocrisy of political parties.

“The electorate is very aware and taking note of the party hopping. You cannot simply ignore your positions for opportunism. You cannot criticise them yesterday and ally with them today without being questioned. Ideology is still important and people are judging based on principles. While cash for votes and voters being influenced by caste and money are still a menace, the electorate is always watching political parties to see if they walk the talk,” says the General Secretary of the party that has allied with the DMK-led alliance comprising the Congress.

Ravikumar also points out that a party being steadfast in its ideological leanings may not always translate to votes but it matters to the electorate nonetheless. "There may not be positive electoral outcomes because a party stayed true to its ideology. But if it deviates from its political principles, there will be negative consequences. They will be punished for it by the people," he says, adding, "While the Congress and the BJP are similar in economic outlook, the BJP is principally against the concept of a parliamentary democracy, equality and social justice.”

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