IT is certain that the 17th parliamentary election is going to be a game changer in Tamil Nadu state politics as the results would determine the future of AIADMK and the DMK in the assembly elections, to be held in 2021. By the same token, this election has many interesting facets: the grand AIADMK alliance, DMK’s rigorous campaign and Kamal Haasan’s ambiguity in taking his party, Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), to the front line. But there is also a dearth for star power in political campaign after the demise of two charismatic leaders AIADMK Supremo J Jayalalithaa and DMK stalwart M Karunanidhi.
AIADMK has formed an alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT) and Puthiya Needhi Katchi (PNK). On the other hand, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has joined hands with Indian National Congress (INC), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Kongunadu Makkal DesiyaKatchi (KMDK).
Even though high profile alliances bring the Dravidian parties to the spotlight, there is no aura of leadership and star wave sweeping the minds of the people this time. Earlier, the mere presence of Jayalalithaa on the dais and the magical voice of Karunanidhi would electrify the campaign in Tamil Nadu. Election meetings of the two legends, who dominated the political landscape south of Vindhyas for several decades, were in itself a celebration, a festival, indeed. With both bidding goodbye from the world, the campaign trails of next-generation leaders in Tamil Nadu are bland, to say the least. The usual frenzy of running behind the convoy vehicles or climbing onto the terrace of a high-rise building to catch a glimpse of their leaders might be a thing of the past. More than the campaign by Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, the response that they would get from the audience spoke volumes about their popularity. In the first elections after their demise the excitement in the air is missing. The battleground seems to have its warriors without guns.
Old-timers recall how the audience would be kept captive for several hours at a public meeting addressed by Jayalalithaa; everyone would wait for the helicopter to touchdown and a song would be played till the time the leader reached the stage. “The song ‘Amma’ would play again after Jayalalithaa concluded her speech and would continue till the time her helicopter took off,” a political observer said.
NOT just the electorate, even the political parties miss the veterans in their campaign. A major portion of the speech is dedicated to invoking the legacies of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi by AIADMK and DMK leader, respectively. DMK President MK Stalin holds public meetings—one each in the morning and evening—every day and goes around several areas in towns shaking hands with people and happily posing for selfies. “Karunandihi’s mere opening line ‘en uyirunum melaana anbu udanpirapukale’ (my dearer than life brethren) was enough to give goose bumps to the cadre. We, the cadre, definitely feel a void without him,” said Arun Kumar, a DMK cadre. Elected representatives of the DMK though also worship Stalin for his dedication and hardship. “We can see the traits of Karunanidhi in our leader M K Stalin. Stalin is capable of winning the hearts of the masses,” said DMK MLA TM Anbarasan.
However, AIADMK Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s style of addressing meetings from atop his specially-designed campaign vehicle like his late leader Jayalalithaa, hasn’t received much response from the public. But, having partnered with regional parties such as PMK that has a huge support from the Vanniyar community, AIADMK alliance provides a tough competition for the DMK. Even though political analysts are certain of a DMK victory in the state, it is certainly not a cakewalk.
But the DMK representatives are confident of the victory. “AIADMK’s alliance, stitched strategically with BJP and regional outfits, is a utopian vision. The BJP has no hold in Tamil Nadu,” said DMK MLA Anbarasan.
ALSO under watchful eyes is Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) which has a vaguely defined ideology. However, political observers are disappointed with his not-so-sound strategy in fighting Lok Sabha elections. “Kamal Haasan has failed to influence masses on the ground, although he has a good social media influence. He is urban-centric and has not taken efforts to win the people in rural Tamil Nadu,” said Ramu Manivannan, head, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras.
Kamal Haasan has put himself in a vulnerable spot by keeping the party open to any alliance. His decision to not contest Lok Sabha polls personifies his unreliable nature, feel some observers. It is a political debacle for the actor-turned-politician who draws inspiration from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). “AAP’s strategy is to mobilise voters at the grassroots. Kamal Haasan should work with the people and understand their issues before mobilising voters,” said Ramu Manivannan.
Another player in the poll arena is founder of the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), TTV Dinakaran. He plays an arterial role in the upcoming elections. A good communicator, Dinakaran’s campaign has been pulling crowds in Tamil Nadu. Political analysts say the ousted politician from the AIADMK is likely to split votes in a major way. “It is all about how many seats AIADMK is losing to Dinakaran. Dinakaran has the sympathy of voters,” said Govind Kumar, a political analyst. “It is not about how many seats he would win, but about the vote percentage he would get,” opined Govind Kumar.
The 2019 election is thus a tough test for the political parties. The ruling AIADMK government, that was frightened to test the waters in the local body polls, has to prepare for tough repercussions. It is also an election that decides the future of the new entrant, Kamal Haasan.