Tamil Nadu polls: DMK sun rises again
- According to the numbers at 10pm, the DMK had enough seats in the house to form the government on its own
The first election in at least five decades to be fought in Tamil Nadu in the absence of an icon of Dravidian politics may have well seen the emergence of one, perhaps even two. The state has a new, and a new-generation chief minister, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s MK Stalin. He is 68 years old, and finally takes on a role for which he has been groomed for almost five decades by his father and one of the leading lights of the Dravidian movement, Muthuvel Karunanidhi (he died in 2018 at the ripe old age of 94).
But the All India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam did not do as badly as it was expected to, despite the weight of an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (more a liability than an asset in this part of the country), double anti-incumbency (the party won in 2011 and 2016), internal divisions, even a mini-rebellion. Outgoing chief minister Edapaddi Palaniswami, 66, an unknown in 2016 when the party fought the last assembly elections under J Jayalalithaa (who died later the same year) deserves some of the credit for that, and if he can hold off the inevitable challenge that will come from his one-time mentor VK Sasikala (since expelled from the party after she went to jail in a disproportionate assets case).
Stalin, thanks to his lineage, long years in politics, and two successive wins (in 2019, when the DMK-led grouping won 38 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state, and now) can now stake his claim to being the next Dravidian icon, but Palaniswami, depending on what he does within his party , and without, in the next few years, could also become that , especially because the AIADMK is bereft of a leader right now .
According to the numbers at 10pm, the DMK had enough seats in the house to form the government on its own, although, of course, it was the senior partner in a 12-party alliance that includes the Congress.
In a statement, Stalin thanked people for their mandate to let the DMK rule for the sixth time. “I’d be truthful to you, I’d work for you. My thoughts and deeds are for the people of Tamil Nadu,” he said. He added that the party had to endure difficulties and insults in the run up to the polls and this victory was a reward for their 50 years of work.
It was an election with neither a strong wave nor intense anti-incumbency.
Stalin launched his campaign from November 2020 , well before anyone else. He campaigned on Tamil identity and rights by targeting the AIADMK for allegedly surrendering the state’s rights to the BJP-led Centre. In an interview to HT in March, Stalin said that Karunanidhi would have advised him to ”throw away communal forces and restore Tamil Nadu’s self-respect”. In the last leg of the campaign Stalin presented the contest as a direct one between the DMK and the BJP.
And this time, unlike 2016, when its alliance strategy may have well cost it the election, the DMK played it smart. It stitched together a rainbow alliance with a combination of Left, Dalit and Muslim parties. But it convinced its allies to contest only 61 seats while it contested 173. The AIADMK lost some of its allies including Vijayakanth’s DMDK when seat sharing talks failed. Vijayakanth’s party joined hands with AIADMK’s rebel-faction, AMMK led by Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran. Both came a cropper.
The DMK was advised by Prashant Kishore’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC). Palaniswami engaged Sunil Kanugolu in 2020 who had previously worked for the DMK and built Stalin’s campaigns in the 2016 assembly elections. Stalin expectedly took over the DMK’s reins after the death of his father and five-time chief minister Karunanidhi’s death in August 2018. Stalin’s political journey began when he was 13 and he went on to form the DMK’s strong youth wing which is currently headed by his son Udhaynidhi Stalin who won the Chepauk- Thiruvallikeni constituency but ECI as of 10 pm says he is leading by securing 92,636 votes . The AIADMK-BJP continued to target the DMK-Congress of practicing dynastic politics when Udhayanidhi was given a ticket.
Stalin has served as the DMK’s treasurer, Chennai’s mayor (twice) and then deputy chief minister. His immediate challenge will be to tackle the second wave of Covid-19, and address other issues related to the pandemic, especially those concerning livelihoods and education. He will have to ensure continuity in the administration -- Tamil Nadu’s health bureaucracy has performed well during the pandemic -- even as he builds a healthy relationship with the Centre which still calls most of the shots regarding the management of Covid-19.
“Stalin has won the electoral test but his real test begins now,” said R Kannan, biographer of MG Ramachandran and C N Annadurai, former chief ministers of the state. “Besides state responsibilities , like his father, he will have to play an important national role to take on the BJP. Like how his father rallied the opposition, he has to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mamata Banerjee. This election is a vote for Dravidian politics and a continuation of a vote against the BJP.”
Palaniswami faces a more daunting challenge. “Though Palaniswami is a nobody compared to Stalin, AIADMK has given a good fight,” says Kannan. “They could have fared better if they didn’t align with the BJP and if AMMK wasn’t a factor. So I think though Dhinakaran may make some noise, Sasikala may fade away though I don’t know her thinking. AIADMK’s performance is a resounding vote for Palaniswami’s leadership.