Opinion Columnists 03 Mar 2018 Can Kamal, Rajini fi ...
The writer is a public policy analyst.

Can Kamal, Rajini fill the void left by Jaya?

Published Mar 3, 2018, 12:23 am IST
Updated Mar 3, 2018, 12:23 am IST
The entry of Kamal and Rajini has to be seen against this backdrop.
Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan at Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
 Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan at Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

Has the vacuum created by the absence of J. Jayalalithaa and the near-absence of M. Karunanidhi raised the aspirations of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth? Can these two new entrants fill in this vacuum? Can the two survive in Tamil Nadu politics, given the dominance of the DMK and AIADMK? A party is said to have caught the imagination of the people if it can garner about 20 per cent vote share in its very first election at the state level. Why couldn’t the existing parties do so in the last three decades or so? To ascertain this, we must first understand the nature of these parties.  Other than the DMK and AIADMK, the parties can be broadly classified into three categories — the first group includes parties which have a presence all across the state, however small; the second group includes those parties that are either overtly or covertly caste or religion-based and have support from specific areas; while the third group includes national parties that have never been aggressive enough to make use of their national presence or being the ruling party at the Centre or their presence in other states to grow in Tamil Nadu. Vaiko’s MDMK and Vijayakanth’s DMDK belong to the first category. The MDMK was carved out of the DMK in the 1990s to challenge the DMK, but it failed miserably with about five per cent voteshare and no seats in the first election it fought in 1996.

Its successive alliances with the AIADMK and the DMK, and failure to achieve electoral victories even while in an alliance eroded Vaiko’s party completely. The DMDK, which appeared to be challenging both the DMK and AIADMK in the 2006 elections, got a voteshare of about eight per cent at the hustings and failed to become an alternative. The DMDK alliance with the AIADMK in the 2011 polls as a junior partner helped it win some seats, but its popularity waned so fast that in the 2016 Assembly polls it could muster only 2.4 per cent. Overtly caste or religion-based parties like Ramadoss’ PMK, Thirumavalavan’s VCK, Krishnasamy’s Puthiya Tamizhagam or Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam or covertly caste-based parties like Sarath Kumar’s All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi belong to the second category. These parties cannot aspire for state-level leadership as they have never been able to pitch their appeal beyond their narrow constituencies. Nevertheless, with their concentrated and committed vote base in select constituencies, these parties had a better bargaining power with the DMK and AIADMK and were able to win some seats in their pocket boroughs. A vigorous attempt by the PMK to project Anbumani Ramadoss as the CM candidate in the 2016 Assembly elections to broadbase the party’s appeal across all sections of Tamil society did not cut ice with non-Vanniyar voters and the PMK drew a blank at the hustings.

 

Non-regional parties such as the CPI and CPI(M) and national parties like the Congress and the BJP belong to the third group. The Communist parties had a strong presence in constituencies traditionally dominated by organised factory workers and trade unions. But with the change in the economy and the entry of other parties into trade unionism, they lost their monopoly even among organised factory workers and trade unions, let alone unorganised farm and factory workers. The Congress, which held about a 20 per cent voteshare in 1990, is no more popular in the state. The BJP never was. Why is it that the Congress and the BJP have not been able to capitalise on their presence at the Centre for their growth in Tamil Nadu? An important reason besides the lack of charismatic leadership and an organised effort to reach out to the people is the fact that the DMK and the AIADMK have managed to conduct a public discourse that painted the parties ruling at the Centre as anti-people. So much so that the two regional parties have projected even Central schemes as their own in the state. Both the DMK and AIADMK have mastered the art of gaining publicity, not only from their own work but also from the work of others. Had it not been so, the Congress would have enhanced its support from NREGA and many other schemes it implemented while ruling at the Centre, while the BJP would have augmented its support base with schemes like Mundra loans, LPG connections, Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana and many others.

 

The party in power at the Centre has always kept quiet about its contribution as it doesn’t want to antagonise local parties, keeping future prospects in view. Both the DMK and AIADMK have aligned with the BJP and the Congress in the past, and won’t mind doing so in future. The few seats that the party at the Centre can gain from Tamil Nadu in Parliament become crucial when it comes to staking claim for forming the national government. The entry of Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth has to be seen against this intricate backdrop. Till date, only two parties founded by film actors, the AIADMK led by MGR and the Telugu Desam  led by NTR, have managed to become a dominant political force in their respective states. MGR formed the government in TN 1977 with about 30 per cent voteshare while NTR did so in 1983 in Andhra Pradesh. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK faction could secure 22 per cent voteshare in the 1989 Assembly polls, and Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK remained a dominant political force till her death. If any of the two new parties is to form the government in Tamil Nadu, it has to score at least 20 per cent votes in the forthcoming elections. In case this doesn’t happen, the new party has only two options — first, remain alone, contest the next election, lose miserably and disappear slowly; and second, to align with the dominant political party and play second fiddle to it and give up any hope that it may have to lead the state government.

 

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