With hardly six months to go for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, principal opposition party in the state Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) seems to be in a dilemma on how to handle its major ally Indian National Congress.
The dilemma arises from the poor show put up by the Congress in Bihar Assembly elections in which the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) managed to return back to power.
Of the 70 seats it contested, the Congress won a meagre 17, leading to criticism that its performance had affected the prospects of the Mahagathbandhan (MGB). Some observers blame Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Tejashwi Yadav, who led MGB in the polls, for allocating too many seats to the Congress without any merit.
The Congress performance seems now a concern for its other allies, particularly the DMK in Tamil Nadu. It is not the first time that Congress has been a problem for its allies.
In the Lok Sabha elections last year, Congress won eight of the nine seats it contested in Tamil Nadu, while DMK and others won the rest 30 they contested. In fact, the NDA ended with a sole seat by winning Theni, thanks to the influence of Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam. The seat was won by his son Raveendranath.
But that sweep of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) should be credited to the DMK’s strategy of portraying Prime Minister Narendra Modi as some sort of “unwanted leader” for Tamil Nadu and giving the impression to the voting public that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not be returning to power.
Since then, various developments have taken place in Tamil Nadu. In particular, the BJP has had a change in the state leadership and the party is not losing any opportunity to consolidate the Hindu vote bank — the latest being the “Vel Yatra” to condemn the disrespect to “Kanda Shashti”, the hymn in praise of Lord Skanda.
What has perhaps set the DMK thinking is the performance of the Congress in 2016 assembly elections.
In that election, when the late M Karunanidhi was alive, Congress leaders led by Ghulam Nabi Azad wrested 41 seats from its UPA ally to contest. In the end, it won a meagre eight seats.
A scrutiny of the 2016 elections shows that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), led by the late J Jayalalithaa then, retained power mainly because Congress lost four-fifths of the seat it contested.
In contests where the DMK was locked in a direct battle with the AIADMK, the former had triumphed in most constituencies. Fortunately, for the Congress, this issue did not figure during alliance talks last year for the Lok Sabha polls.
Probably, the DMK had no choice but to accommodate the Congress since Stalin had jumped the gun saying Rahul Gandhi would be the next prime minister.
However, the demons of 2016 have been resurrected by Congress with its dismal performance in Bihar. This has led to questions within the DMK if the alliance with the Congress should be reviewed and whether it should be given more than a handful seats.
Tamil daily Dinamalar reported that the Bihar election results have left the DMK worried. At a meeting Stalin had with party district secretaries, the overwhelming demand was to review the alliance with the Congress.
The DMK district secretaries' view is not surprising given the fact that in general, the opposition party has said that it has been forced to carry dead weight in Congress. At least, on a couple of occasions some of its leaders, including Stalin, have mentioned this.
The concerns also come at a time when the BJP has upped its stake in the state politics with some of its new entrants like former Indian Police Service (IPS) official K Annamalai putting the DMK on the backfoot with their statements and strategies.
Though Congress claims to have won 12.76 per cent of votes cast in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, what cannot be ignored is that the votes have not come on their own accord. The DMK alliance had got the share.
The last time that Congress stood alone in any election in Tamil Nadu was in 2014, when it earned 4.7 per cent of the vote share. But six years are too long in politics and the national party has done nothing of significance to improve its vote share.
At least on the ground, there is nothing to show that the support for Congress among the people in Tamil Nadu has improved.
Thus, it is likely that it could actually end up with a far lower vote share if elections were to be held today since Congress leadership — be it Sonia Gandhi or her son Rahul Gandhi — has little impact on Tamil Nadu voters.
Probably, DMK’s gameplan will be to reduce the number of seats to its allies and contest more so that it will have enough seats on its own in case it happens to win the assembly elections.
The only factor that can keep the Congress in the UPA is that Christians might not take the DMK act of jettisoning kindly.
On the other hand, Congress will have to settle down playing a minor role and be satisfied with an even lower number of seats, given its shaky leadership.
The DMK is hoping to regain power banking on the anti-incumbency factor as the AIADMK has been in power for 10 years. It is also hoping that the BJP will be held responsible for AIADMK’s poor performance besides a repeat of the 2019 results that saw it almost sweeping the state.
Six months in politics means there is still a lot of time left and probably, this time around Tamil Nadu electorates could expect a twist in the tale. Come 2021, everything will be as clear as a crystal.
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