Nation Politics 28 Mar 2016 Third front gives tw ...

Third front gives twist to traditional Tamil Nadu politics

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | M R VENKATESH
Published Mar 28, 2016, 6:32 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2016, 6:32 am IST
How Two recent cautionary tales tell a different story.
The hype over the new ‘third front’  formed in Tamil Nadu ahead of the May 16 Assembly elections, with the actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam) joining the four-party People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA), was only to be expected for its novelty.
 The hype over the new ‘third front’ formed in Tamil Nadu ahead of the May 16 Assembly elections, with the actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam) joining the four-party People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA), was only to be expected for its novelty.

Chennai: The hype over the new ‘third front’  formed in Tamil Nadu ahead of the May 16 Assembly elections, with the actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK (Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam) joining the four-party People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA), was only to be expected for its novelty.

Nevertheless, beneath its sheen, some initial descriptions in the media as the DMDK-PWA duo posing a viable alternative to ‘challenge’ both the Dravidian majors – DMK and AIADMK - is only one side of the story. What Vijayakanth’s predictable move - to play ball with Mr Vaiko, the two main Left parties CPI and CPI(M), besides the Dalit party Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) headed by Thol. Thirumavalvan, once PWA agreed to him being their Chief Ministerial candidate - has done is to give the ‘real versus nominal debate’ in the State’s politics a sharper focus.

 

A few other parties are also expected to join this third platform, training their guns primarily at DMK and AIADMK, in a bid to capitalise on a vaguely felt ‘political fatigue’ with the two entrenched regional parties that have alternately kept the Congress out of power in Tamil Nadu post-1967.

The new DMDK-PWA front also hopes to marginalise the other notable players in the coming elections – BJP and the PMK, which has also put forward a Chief Ministerial candidate in Dr Anbumani Ramaodss. Both the Left and the Dalit outfits will be lending their pro-poor image to the Vijayakanth-Vaiko combo of a film star and a fiery orator from the DMK stable.

 

But conventional calculations have their own limitations to raise the question whether this ‘nominal’ first impressions of the new third alliance of political parties, also fits in with the real picture as it emerges on the ground.
It is here that the results of two general elections in the State in the recent past – one to the Lok Sabha and another to the Tamil Nadu Assembly, though not strictly comparable, have given a cautionary tale to the contemporary setting. Except that actor Vijayakanth and Vaiko are in the same political boat for the first time, the latest third front is only marked by its strident anti-DMK and anti-AIADMK stance, as one time or other they have all been with both parties.

 

Structurally, however, the issues are different: In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, shortly after the Kargil War, when the DMK had dramatically switched sides to back the A.B. Vajpayee-led NDA after the Ms Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK had pulled out of the NDA at the Centre, a dismayed Congress veteran, G K Moopanar, then heading the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), had formed a similar third front. It included the two major Dalit parties, VCK and Puthiya Tamizhagam led by Dr K Krishnasamy, to take on both DMK and AIADMK. The latter in 1999 went with the remnants of the official Congress, CPI and CPI (M).

 

Mr Moopanar had projected it as an ‘alternative front’ in Tamil Nadu politics when MDMK and PMK were part of the DMK-led NDA in the state, but he drew a miserable blank with all his secular and non-jingoistic nationalist credentials. Karunanidhi won the polls, riding on the slogan, “Vajpayee nallavar, vallavar (Vajpayee is a good and able leader more than a saffronite).  This was just three years after the Tamil Nadu electorate, who usually in a Lok Sabha poll look for which party can offer a stable government at the Centre, had given a massive mandate to a regional front in the DMK-TMC combine in the 1996 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. Mr Moopanar and DMK Chief M Karunanidhi were then seen as ‘king makers’ in Delhi, like the late Kamaraj. Fast forward to 2001 Assembly polls: The incumbent Karunanidhi regime had then, for the first time, completed a full five year term and had positives on its performance front, including the creation of ‘Samathuvapurams’ - egalitarian villages where all castes can live.

 

But when Karunanidhi strained beyond his stature to cobble together a 15-party alliance, mostly comprising caste group interests, the DMK-led juggernaut finished with just 37 seats that included even the BJP and P Chidambaram’s outfit. The move, done just to ensure Ms.Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK was kept at bay after TMC-Congress combine signed a poll pact with her that year,  had even angered the then DMK senior and Union Minister Murasoli Maran. But the AIADMK-TMC-Congress-Left parties combine swept the 2001 Assembly polls with 196 of the 234 Assembly seats, at a time when corruption charges against Ms Jayalalithaa were mounting, and even after her nomination papers were rejected in all the four constituencies she had filed for.

 

To this day, the 2001 Assembly poll results testify that the Tamil Nadu electorate does not vote entirely on caste lines; nor does it get unduly carried away by the anti-corruption campaign, now sought to be the main plank of the DMDK-PWF combine, besides the issue of prohibition. So, seeing the ‘third front’ as a sure-fire recipe for a desirable change, may well miss out the sense of the ‘nominal versus the real’ that also subtly shapes voters’ poll choices.

Every ‘third front’ in Indian elections arises in highly specific situations of largely mutual conveniences, except perhaps the 1989 Lok Sabha polls when V P Singh rode high on the Bofors gun issue. Now, even if coalitions have become acceptable, the party that leads it is equally important in shaping people’s perceptions. It is like what Walter Benjamin, one of the great modern literary critics said: “Colour does not have a fixed value; but varies with respect to the colours that surround it.”

 

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