What’s Happening In Tamil Nadu Politics?

DMK and Dravidian politics

The merger of the warring AIADMK parties can eventually help DMK address its existential crisis.

Politics is often a game of the obvious. That explains why it came as no surprise when the two warring factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) decided to bury the hatchet and embrace each other in Tamil Nadu last week. The merge was in the air for long, spoken about in media circles in hushed tones initially and with palpable certainty of late. After months of enchanting brinkmanship, incumbent chief minister and head of the main faction Edappadi Palaniswami, popularly known as EPS, joined hands with short-term bete noire and giant dissident O Panneerselvam aka OPS. Panneerselvam is the Deputy CM now and handles finance and housing portfolios.

Political observers say the merger could have far-reaching impacts on the State’s politics as well as the BJP’s fortunes in south India specially given the fact that the saffron party has been wooing the AIADMK overtly and covertly to its camp for sometime now.  The BJP’s happiness is quite apparent. Just after EPS shook hands with OPS and both said party General Secretary VK Sasikala would be removed from the post, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wholeheartedly welcomed the move and tweeted that he hoped Tamil Nadu “scales newer heights of progress in the years to come. Centre assures all possible support to Chief Minister Thiru Edappadi K. Palaniswami & Deputy CM Thiru O Panneerselvam for the growth of Tamil Nadu.”

It seems PM Modi’s wish on TN was not necessarily anyone’s command. The AIADMK merger soon ran into unexpected hurdles when sidelined deputy general Secretary TTV Dinakaran took control of the show claimed support of 21 MLAs. Dinakaran even ‘removed’ chief government whip S Rajendran from a crucial party post after Rajendran had sought disqualification of the MLAs backing Dinakaran. MLAs in the TTV camp had met Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and sought removal of EPS as the CM. Meanwhile, Dinakaran has been furiously rejigging the party’s rank and file, replacing several leaders and key party functionaries. He claims all these changes were executed with the approval of jailed party chief and his aunty VK Sasikala.

It seems the EPS-OPS camp has underestimated the powers of the TTV faction and given the pace with which Dinakaran has been creating chinks in AIADMK’s armour, he can be a looming worry over the dravidian party’s immediate future. With 21 MLAs in Dinakaran’s fold, the EPS government now faces a crisis of confidence in the State Assembly. Even though Opposition leader and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) working president MK Stalin wrote to the Governor demanding an early floor test to prove the government’s majority and prevent horse trading — a demand other Opposition leaders also endorsed — Governor Vidyasagar Rao, who was once widely seen as the BJP’s candidate for the post of Vice-President along with Venkaiah, is unlikely to initiate any such action, endangering the future of the current regime.

That said, it can be said that MK Stalin is the ultimate beneficiary of this political transformation. Ever since the AIADMK was formed on 17 October 1972, as a breakaway faction of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the DMK has always faced an identity crisis because both the parties espoused more or less the same ideology and political strategies. Both played the dravidian card every now and then and suitably compromised on the ideals as and when needed. Both embraced freebie-populism as a measure to win popular appeal and introduced welfare measures that mirrored each other. In this battle, the DMK, commanded and controlled by patriarch M Karunanidhi soon lost its steam and stature thanks to the overarching, charismatic presence of J Jayalalithaa.

Jaya’s controversial demise last year had kicked up a political storm, throwing open myriad avenues for horse trading, and the BJP, confident of its clout at the Centre and eyeing a strong presence in Tamil Nadu, joined the race, negotiating initially with estranged AIADMK leaders such as OPS. And the hectic parleying has now led to the merger of AIADMK, in what could be read as a blow to the dreams of the DMK. But this clearly presents the DMK with a rare and epochal opportunity to distinguish itself in dravidian politics with the AIADMK swaying towards the ‘Brahminical’ BJP camp. Given the still-strong but dormant dravidian sentiments in Tamil Nadu such an opportunity could actually bestow the DMK with rich dividends if it can rise up to the occasion and play its cards well. Under the leadership of Stalin, who has taken over the reins of the party from ailing father Karunanidhi and silencing sibling MK Azhagiri, the DMK is now trying to position itself as the true champion of the dravidian cause. A potential BJP-AIADMK can only help this brand image.

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