Last week, one of my colleagues wrote, in a well-argued piece, that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has lost its way.
This week, things seem to have gone worse. The party, built with painstaking efforts by M G Ramachandran (MGR) and J Jayalalithaa, seems to be losing itself.
On Wednesday (7 February), former MLAs and an ex-MP from the party jumped ships to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Though none of them enjoy headline-grabbing status, the fact of the matter is they are no pushovers either in their respective constituencies. They include Vadivel, M V Rathnam, R Chinnaswamy and P S Kandasamy, who at one point, were among potent local leaders of the party.
This loss of personnel couldn't have come at a more inopportune moment as the AIADMK has set out on talks with potential allies for the forthcoming general elections.
The Edappadi Palaniswami-led outfit will find itself with a decidedly weakened bargaining chip. Among the parties that the AIADMK is trying to cobble an alliance with include the erstwhile allies, the Ramadoss-led Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the actor Vijaykanth-founded Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), both of which themselves aren't in any great position of strength.
The AIADMK within itself is split with former chief minister O Panneerselvam's nameless and formless rump and the Sasikala-T T V Dhinakaran Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam still fighting for the spoils of the party's core vote-bank.
These are psephological issues that have to be faced only further down the line when the battle lines are clearly drawn. As of now, the AIADMK is facing a more fundamental issue, the one of identity crisis.
Having walked away from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the AIADMK is desperate in its search for relevance and a rallying point, without which the party, already buffeted by lack of powerful leadership, cannot make much headway in the electoral race.
AIADMK Has Never Been As Extremist As The DMK
And that is a tad sad really. For, the MGR-founded party had over the years been the kind of a via media that has served the state well. It has never been extremist as Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Both MGR and Jayalalithaa never went against any community or caste.
The DMK's antipathy towards Hindus and Brahmins was largely kept in check thanks to the politics of the AIADMK, whose brand of Dravidianism was much more agreeable to all sections.
It never harked back to assumed wrongs and antagonism of the past. It did not play up one section against the other as the DMK did, and still continues to do.
Also, while the DMK may make a lot of noise for standing up for the state's right, the fact of the matter is it is the AIADMK that historically got things done for the people of the state.
The 69 per cent reservation — a constitutional anomaly really — actually got legislative support through the efforts of Jayalalithaa (a Brahmin, by the way) in the mid-1990s. Till then, the quota scheme was in operation only through executive orders.
In June 1994, Jayalalithaa met the prime minister P V Narasimha Rao to get the bill passed. Thanks to her efforts of pressurising the Centre, the presidential assent arrived within a month.
She then upped the ante and urged the Centre to bring in a constitutional amendment to include the Tamil Nadu Act in the Ninth Schedule so that its validity could not be challenged. By the end of August 1994, the Act became a part of the Ninth Schedule.
It is an event of political smarts, the equivalent of which the DMK has never managed to pull off. Even when the DMK was part of the ruling governments in New Delhi, it seemed more focused on and successful in garnering 'plum portfolios' and mega deals for its main leaders.
The AIADMK has seen many political upheavals in the past. Some of them, even more severe than the current one. But during all its maelstroms, the party never lost sight of its central purpose of being the sole anti-DMK force in the state.
That plank has now been taken away by the BJP. The state unit of the BJP, under the leadership of an effervescent K Annamalai, has managed to project itself as the real fighter against the DMK. The latter too seems more worried about the rousing fight being mounted by Annamalai and company.
Is Palaniswami Missing A Trick?
It is here that the current team of the AIADMK is missing a trick or two. After walking out of the NDA in the state, the AIADMK is trying to project itself as being different from the BJP. The compulsion is understandable.
But in the process, the AIADMK is actually looking like a pale pastiche of the DMK itself. It is opening up flanks with the minorities, demanded the release of Muslim prisoners, voiced its protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Actually, it is the AIADMK that is looking like DMK ‘B Team’. You can hardly tell the difference.
In the coming days, things aren't going to get any easier for the AIADMK. The announcement of actor Vijay of starting a political outfit would further distract people away from the AIADMK.
Former chief minister Palaniswami, who is actually more smart than many of his detractors believe, is fast losing time. The onus is on him to shore up the morale of the party which is fast depleting.
The only way it can maintain its confidence is by building a strong alliance block away from the DMK and the BJP. While those two parties can go for their mainline fight. But if the AIADMK can bring together a bunch of parties and talk of progress and growth away from the cooked up rhetoric of the DMK, then things can look up.
In fact, there may be a good space for a broad-based combination. Poll arithmetic, we know, is a strange dynamic. If the pieces are in the right place, winning is not an impossibility, and the DMK, in any case, is not an invincible force while the BJP in Tamil Nadu, is only a growing unit.
But for that to happen, Palaniswami has to show more intent. Merely speaking about the exploits of MGR and Jayalalithaa is not going to cut it. He has to take the bull by its horn and be unafraid to play the kind of politics that MGR and Jayalalithaa did.
For starters, it should focus more on taking on the DMK rather than go for brownie points against its erstwhile ally. Look at the comments of the last month or so of its main leaders. They have been more against its former partner than against its primary rival.
If the AIADMK thinks it is the main opposition party in the state, it has to act and perform like one. Its politics is more reactive as of now and not able to set the agenda. Also, it is trying to be everything. But it is actually ending up as being neither one thing nor the other, which is a sure way to extinction.
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