A post-NDA AIADMK looks toward minorities to improve its Lok Sabha tally | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Southern Lights | A post-NDA AIADMK looks toward minorities to improve its Lok Sabha tally

Feb 20, 2024 09:04 PM IST

The opposition party hopes a renewed outreach, coming after it ended ties with the BJP in Tamil Nadu, will help it avoid a rout similar to 2019

Detached from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and shaky about support from its former allies in Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is making undisguised attempts to woo the state’s minority population in hopes of faring better in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Led by party general secretary E Palanisamy (EPS), AIADMK is looking to improve its strike rate among minorities in a desperate attempt to taste electoral success after party supremo J Jayalalitha died in 2016. The party had bagged a whopping 37 of Tamil Nadu’s 39 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general election. Post-Jayalalitha, it was reduced to just one seat in 2019. Its NDA partners fared no better, with each of its allies including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) drawing a blank.

Chennai, Feb 19 (ANI): AIADMK General Secretary Edappadi K Palaniswami speaks to the media on Tamil Nadu Budget 2024-25, in Chennai on Monday. (ANI Photo)(Lakshmi ) PREMIUM
Chennai, Feb 19 (ANI): AIADMK General Secretary Edappadi K Palaniswami speaks to the media on Tamil Nadu Budget 2024-25, in Chennai on Monday. (ANI Photo)(Lakshmi )

The minority population in Tamil Nadu accounts for nearly 14% of the state’s electorate.

By aggregating this influential segment’s vote, the AIADMK hopes to not just match but outdo the anti-Sanatani spiel of its chief adversary in Tamil Nadu politics, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam DMK). Hence, EPS and his party leaders have been seen symbolically distancing themselves from their Hindu identity to send a message to the Christians and Muslims who predominantly reside in the southern districts of TN. From wiping the vibhuti (sacred ash) mark off his forehead, to freeing his shirt pocket of the photograph of Jayalalitha that EPS always carried since she died in 2016, the AIADMK commander is positioning himself as DMK scion Udayanidhi Stalin’s bête noire.

Keeping a healthy distance alone from the BJP is insufficient, AIADMK fears

“The party realised that severing ties with the BJP and maintaining a barge pole distance from the saffron party alone will not suffice. There needs to be a visible - covert and overt - approach in convincing both minority communities who could be game changers in this election,” said political commentator Sathyan. In the 2021 state assembly election, the differential vote percentage between AIADMK (33%) and the DMK (37%) was merely 4%, with the minorities having voted en bloc for the DMK, which fought under the banner of the Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA) that included the Congress party. Of 27 assembly segments that have more than 20% minority population across Tamil Nadu, the DMK comfortably led in 19 of them. Their strike rate in these seats was 70%. In Chennai too, DMK won the three main minority constituencies of Perambur, Egmore and Harbour. MH Jawahirullah, president of the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) said, “The minorities have been consistently voting in favour of secularism, democracy, and social justice in both assembly and parliamentary elections.” The party had joined the DMK-led SPA in the 2021 TN polls.

The disappointing vote percentage notwithstanding, the AIADMK is hopeful of better luck in the ensuing general election because of its performance in the 2016 election. About six months before Jayalalitha’s passing, the party had won 122 out of the 207 seats that have less than 20% minority votes and had secured a 41% vote share in those seats. Given this feat, party leaders reckon that a conscious exercise will help it improve its perception among Christians and Muslims, and thus its tally.

To effect this change, a renewed narrative is on the cards, party spokespersons have said on multiple occasions since the AIADMK’s exit from the BJP-led NDA. A senior party leader who did not wish to be identified said, “We will now openly condemn the Citizen Amendment Act’s (CAA) implementation in other states. With this, we hope our Muslim leaders and cadre in Vellore, Ramanathapuram and other districts will come back and join us.” When the AIADMK was still in the NDA camp, nearly 25 Muslim outfits had organised processions and rallies to condemn AIADMK’s support to the CAA. Anwar Rajaa and Nainar Mohamed, both Muslim faces of the party, had expressed concern to EPS at the time, stating that minority votes were at risk of being transferred to the DMK.

Some swift action followed. A whip was issued to desist from any “soft-Hindutva” appeal as well. Laws against animal sacrifice in temples and anti-conversion laws that were brought in by Jayalalitha were not to be brought up for discussion during TV debates and constituency visits. EPS was seen personally reaching out to potential candidates in Trichy, Nagapattinam, and other districts with high minority populations, to make his change of heart look and sound convincing.

AIADMK Rebranding

This pursuit of minorities is not a siloed exercise. It is part of the AIADMK’s reinvention process, analysts say. Four factors have motivated the AIADMK to rethink its strategy, they add. Jayalalitha’s passing; multiple splits in the party and the subsequent merger of the factions; the rise of TN BJP chief K Annamalai and his showcasing of his party as a primary opponent to the DMK; and finally, the shrinking Dravidian narrative, has prompted the party to float alternate election narratives.

“What went behind this rethink is the ground reality. The 2019 and 2021 elections for the AIADMK were a washout for the party because of its alliance with the BJP. EPS realised that while the pro-BJP votes were coming his party’s way, a far greater number were going away. Although the DMK was netting all those votes because of an orchestrated campaign in the last six to seven years, the AIADMK would not want to catch itself napping this time around,” Kishore K Swamy, a prominent analyst of Dravidian politics, told Hindustan Times.

Swamy highlighted another key development. About 13-14% of the voters in TN are undecided and are anti-BJP. It is this segment that the AIADMK wants to attract. Particularly in parts of Tirunelveli and Tirupur, where the BJP is trying to break the jinx of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan sentiment, the AIADMK sees potential. “When Jayalalitha was around, 40% of the women minorities voted for her. They considered her a model and a messiah because of her schemes. It is this voter segment that is now with the DMK that its rival is looking to attract,” said Swamy.

Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi’s (MJK) Thamimun Ansari’s pledging support to AIADMK is an upside the party is only too glad about. The next objective of EPS and his men is to win over the Christian Nadars in southern TN. They are acting quickly because popular actor Joseph Vijay’s political foray with the launch of his Tamizhaga Vetri Kazhagam party, coupled with the elevation of TN DMK chief minister MK Stalin’s half-sister Kanimozhi as party in-charge of the southern TN districts, could dampen their prospects. “The party realises it can’t blame the BJP anymore for a poor performance. So, it is pulling out all stops to win over the minorities,” said Sathyan.

At a conference in Coimbatore last week, EPS was hailed and garlanded for being the ‘Saviour of the Minorities’. He promised to be fairer in the distribution of tickets to minority candidates this time around.

That said, the AIADMK still has reasons to worry. People within the party feel it did not adequately use its leverage from quitting the NDA and the measures taken to woo minorities are yet to see results. The perception battle is yet to be won, they feel. Senior party men describe this problem as akin to what K Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi faced during the Telangana assembly election in 2023. “There was no alliance between the BJP and the BRS, yet there was seemingly some agreement between them. If we do not consciously reinforce this message of quitting the BJP-led alliance among the cadre, we could face the same problem,” the senior party leader quoted above said.

However, the bigger unknown is guessing the political game of the TTV Dhinakaran-O Panneerselvam-VK Sasikala trio, who were expelled from the AIADMK unceremoniously. “If they join the BJP closer to the election, the AIADMK will have not just a maths problem but also a menace to deal with,” said Swamy.

Deepika Amirapu writes from Hyderabad on politics and business. Each week, Southern Lights examines the big story from one of the five states of South India.

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