Yet, for most ‘Central leaders’ of all ‘national parties’, Tamil Nadu is an enigma wrapped in a mystery presented through a conundrum and delivered through a riddle. If its geography makes it a challenge at a physical level to most national parties, the artificial language barrier created by over six decades of parochial politics within TN makes it a nightmare for pan-Indian leaders to reach out to local people.
However, despite distance and language barrier, it is the ordinary voter of the State and not that of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or for that matter West Bengal which has invariably gauged the national mood correctly, forced appropriate alliances at the State level and consistently voted the ultimate winner. Surprised? That explains why the voter of TN is held by analysts to be diligent, discerning and decisive.
And pray why not? After all, the great Indian epic Ramayan begins it journey in modern day Uttar Pradesh only to climax in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu. To this extent, it is Ramayan that binds UP with TN – a fact lost on most liberals who believe that it is the Constitution and the Indian State that binds the two different regions of this great sub-continent.
If the DMK-Congress alliance won in 1980, it was the AIADMK-Congress in 1984 and 1991. Subsequently, the Congress split in 1996 and a new political dispensation called the Tamil Manila Congress was formed which in alliance with DMK swept the polls. Within a couple of years in 1998, the same electorate voted a totally different combination AIADMK-BJP to power. In 1999, it was another combination of the DMK and the BJP that captured a majority of seats. And in 2004 and 2009 respectively, it has been the DMK-Congress alliance that has swept the polls.
Stunning isn’t it?
Why poll-pundits refuse to stick out their necks
But there is a riveting side story to all this convoluted politics. A senior media personality pointed out to me that the vote bank of the DMK remained more or less the same in 1988-1989 election, as it was in 1991 election. Yet, it won the first time around, only to be defeated in the subsequent election.
The reason for the same is not far to seek. For the first time, it faced a split opposition as the Congress and the AIADMK contested those elections alone. In fact, the AIADMK in the aftermath of the death of MG Ramachandran, which had split into two with one faction being led by Jayalalithaa and the other by Janaki, the widow of MGR. By 1991, things had changed dramatically. The two factions of the AIADMK merged under the leadership of Jayalalithaa. Further, it went ahead with an alliance with the Congress. Naturally that ensured a complete wash out of the DMK in 1991. While the DMK could manage only one seat, the fact remains that the vote share of the DMK between 1988-1989 and 1991 did not diminish. Even in the latest Assembly election in 2011, the DMK-led alliance polled approximately 40 per cent and ended up on the losing side. In contrast, the Samajwadi Government was formed with a 28 per cent popular vote in UP last year.
In short, what defeated the DMK in 1991 was the emergence of Jayalalithaa, the merger of all factions of the AIADMK and of course, the alliance with the Congress. In short, good times or bad times, the Dravidian parties have loyal cadre and a committed vote-bank. This vote-bank is immune to virtually any political development as it is to even monetary inducement and physical intimidation.
Meaning that election in Tamil Nadu will be decided by a small set of ‘swing voters’ and more importantly, alliances could well decide the fate of next General Election. Given this paradigm, pre-poll alliances become extremely crucial. And historically, a pre-poll alliance that theoretically secures approximately in excess of 45 per cent of the vote share for an alliance has been found to a definite edge at the hustling, especially in a two legged race.
A three legged race?
Be that as it may, political pundits as well as political parties realise that there is a significant voter fatigue when it comes to both the Dravidian parties – DMK as well as AIADMK. While pollsters are predicting a majority of the seats for the AIADMK based on sample survey, one must hasten to add that based on 2011 State Assembly data [where the AIADMK had a natural advantage] the vote share was approximately 35 per cent. In effect without alliance, 65 per cent of the voters are against the AIADMK in the best of times.
Half way into her term, Jayalalithaa suffers from distinct voter apathy if not acute anti-incumbency. Further, she has politically distanced herself from actor Vijaykanth’s outfit, the DMDK which was part of her grand alliance in the 2011 State Assembly election. Crucially, she has been egged on by the Communists to be part of the Third Front – one that has never found favour with the voters of Tamil Nadu. Even under the most optimistic calculations, AIADMK along with the communists could at best poll far less than 40 per cent of popular votes.
Given this paradigm, political circles are increasingly speculating, nay betting, on a DMK-Congress-DMDK alliance. Should it crystalise, one must concede that this too is a formidable formation. Experts believe based on past data, this combination is eminently capable of theoretically polling approximately 45 per cent and thereby, upsetting the AIADMK calculations. That invariably brings us to the BJP. It is indeed surprising that political analysts and most in the local media concede a surge in favour of Modi, the State BJP leaders are in a denial mode. A party that ended up voting approximately two per cent in 2011 Assembly election is expected to poll above 10 per cent. This surge in favour of Modi is the 800 pound gorilla in the room.
The State BJP leaders must realise that the mood is definitely against the two major Dravidian parties in these General election. Importantly, there is a palpable pro-Modi surge, especially amongst youth and backward castes. The successful rally of Modi in Trichy last month is a case in point. Naturally, all this calls in for deft political management by the BJP. It has to gear up its party poll machinery and put its best foot forward at the hustings. Unfortunately, local party leaders have been used to the comfort of either aligning with one of the two Dravidian parties in the past or better still losing elections have consequently lost their powers of imagination.
As someone put it wryly, the State BJP leadership is torn between pro-AIADMK and pro DMK sympathisers. No wonder, most BJP leaders are hoping for an alliance – some with AIADMK and some [secretly] with DMK. According to one analyst, the arithmatical strength of DMK-Congress-DMDK alliance would compel AIADMK to tie-up with the BJP electorally. Well, that may suit the AIADMK – not the BJP. And the reason for the same is not far to seek. Ideally, given the mood in TN, a BJP-led Third Front [contesting a significant number of seats] with the PMK, MDMK and DMDK could be the most formidable force – the real first front. This could well relegate the AIADMK-led front to the second spot and DMK-Congress alliance into political oblivion. Importantly, it could build the BJP from grassroots.
The formidable arithmatic of this grand alliance could well give way to impregnable chemistry of a new social order, caste cohesiveness and community adjustments in the State. The smaller parties too realise the strength of this option. But given their marginal position and gargantuan stakes for the BJP, they would prefer to wait and watch. The common refrain of these parties is that the BJP could well align with AIADMK at the proverbial eleventh-hour ditching all and sundry. The intriguing silence of the party leadership in Delhi is stoking the fire. This, I understand is the single largest stumbling block for building a grand non-AIADMK non-DMK non-Communist non-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu.
Put pithily, it is an election for the BJP to lose in Tamil Nadu. The ball is entirely in their court.
PS: The grand alliance is no easy task. But if BJP has to win Delhi, it has to first win Tamil Nadu. Remember, those who forget electoral history are condemned by the electorate.