AIADMK’s First Election Without Jayalalithaa: Can They Pull It Off?

Published : Mar 25, 2019 10:08 am | By: M D Sridharan

In Tamil Nadu, since the by-elections for 18 assembly seats will also be held along with the Lok Sabha elections on April 18, 2019, the AIADMK faces a crucial election as the party need to win at least 6 seats out of the 18 to stay in power.

As the nation is gearing up to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha, political parties are busy stitching alliances to face the people. At a time when the country is eager to see whether Prime Minister Modi will be accorded with a second term or the Opposition unity will deprive him of the chance, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam  (AIADMK) is also anxious whether it can complete its full term or there will be a change of government in Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu, the by-elections for 18 assembly seats will also be held along with the Lok Sabha elections on April 18, 2019. As the incumbent Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapadi Palanisamy is enjoying a wafer thin margin, due to the disqualification of 18 MLAs, the AIADMK faces a crucial election as the party need to win at least 6 seats out of the 21 to stay in power.  

A closer scrutiny reveals that the AIADMK is more concerned about the survival of the government till the end of its tenure in 2021 than the Lok Sabha polls. So, the AIADMK cautiously began to move the cards well ahead of its arch rival the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam  (DMK) and managed to stitch a formidable alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and regional parties Paattali Makkal Katchi  (PMK) and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam  (DMDK) and couple of other smaller parties.

Despite the fact that the DMK had Congress as its alliance partners for long, they could not announce the seat sharing arrangements with Congress. It was the AIADMK which signed the first poll-deal in Tamil Nadu by offering them 7 seats to the PMK. In the same breadth, the AIADMK also signed with the BJP allotting 5 seats to them.

Though the move did anger the DMDK, the arch rival of PMK, which after several dilly-dallying and even planned to join hands with DMK, finally agreed for 4 seats offered by the AIADMK.  Finally, it will be a direct two-way fight between the AIADMK-BJP alliance and the DMK-Congress alliance.

A closer look reveals the shrewd politician in Edapadi Palanisamy, he has proved that he is no more a novice in politics. With firmness in negotiating with the alliance partners and the way he finalised the deal along with O Panneerselvam, he proved that he is not an accidental Chief Minister and only strengthened his position as a strong leader.

Besides allotting the PMK 7 seats in Lok Sabha, a Rajya Sabha seat has also been granted.  In turn, the PMK will offer full support to AIADMK in the by-polls for 18 assembly constituencies.  With six seats out of the 18 being in the heart of PMK territory, the  AIADMK’s move to join hands with the PMK is seen as a smart one and also could help the party retain power.

The past records of the PMK clearly shows that the party has been piggy riding on the backs of either of the two Dravidian major – DMK and AIADMK - all along. Even this time also the PMK had talks with the DMK before finalising with the AIADMK. There were also reports that the DMK  was also very keen to join hands with the PMK.

In 2009 Lok Sabha elections PMK contested in 7 seats and lost all the seats. In 2014, PMK was a constituent of NDA and contested in 8 seats and managed to win one. But, PMK got around 5 percent votes in the 2016 assembly elections and it is this vote bank that both the DMK and the AIADMK, is eager to tap to their advantage.

In the past the PMK has vociferously accused the ruling AIADMK. Both Ramadoss and Anbumani Ramadoss, the father and the son duo of the PMK, have constantly criticised the AIADMK government. Though Anbumani won the lone seat in Dharmapuri in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it might be a big challenge for PMK as both of them have in the past vehemently attacked Chief Minister Palanisamy on the Salem 8 lane expressway project.  While the PMK founder Ramadoss, regularly criticized the AIADMK government’s policies, Anbumani conducted grievance meetings with the farmers and the people and even levelled corruption charges on the Chief Minister and his cabinet colleagues. 

Besides criticising the AIADMK, Ramadoss was also engaged in creating an anti-BJP mood in the state over various issues. PMK  took a strong anti-BJP stand in several incidences concerning the rights of Tamil Nadu be it over Cauvery issue, NEET, Methane, 8 lane expressway and corruption.  

While the AIADMK clinched the deal with PMK in a short time, it finally sealed a pact with the DMDK after over three weeks of intense roller-coaster negotiations. In between there were also reports that the DMDK held parleys with the DMK camp. The DMDK initially demanded that it be placed on a par with the PMK and allotted 7 Lok Sabha seats and a Rajya Sabha berth. But, AIADMK leadership stood firm and finally offered 4 seats to DMDK, Besides, DMDK will also extend its support to the AIADMK in the by-elections to the 21 Assembly constituencies.

The AIADMK and the DMDK joined hands in the 2011 assembly polls and formed a winnable alliance and hopes to repeat the performance. But, this time Vijayakant has been away from active politics for a while due to his ill-health. He even underwent treatment in US and his recent appearances in the public did suggest that he is still recuperating and not in the pink of his health.

Also, the DMDK faced flak for speaking to both the DMK and the AIADMK for alliance in the upcoming polls. It clearly exposed the dilemma shown by the DMDK and surely dented the image of Vijayakanth. Only, after the DMK made it clear that it has no more seats to offer to the DMDK, the party weighed done the options whether to ally with the AIADMK or to contest alone and finally decided to join the AIADMK bandwagon.

In the 2011 Assembly polls, DMDK allied with AIADMK and contested in  41 seats.  DMDK won 29 seats out of 41 and became the main opposition party dethroning DMK. However, the alliance fell apart following the elections, and nine DMDK MLAs defected to the ruling AIADMK camp.

In 2014 general elections DMDK was part of the rainbow alliance which had BJP, PMK, MDMK (Marumalarchi  Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) but drew a blank in 2014 general elections. In the 2016 Assembly polls, Vijayakant joined the People’s Welfare Front comprising of Left parties, VCK (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi))  and the MDMK. However, the combine was routed in the polls. 

Absence of Jaya’s Charisma

The Current AIADMK alliance boasts of 8 parties in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and the ruling party will contest from 20 seats The remaining 20 seats are shared between PMK (7), BJP (5), DMDK (4), New Justice Party (NJP) (1), Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT)  (1), Tamil Manila Congress (TMC) (1) and NR Congress (1). Of them, NJP is contesting on AIADMK’s ‘two leaves’ symbol.With these allies, the AIADMK- BJP combine  looks formidable and  definitely has an edge over its arch rival DMK - Congress combine. It is also interesting to note that this time both  the AIADMK and the DMK is contesting only in 20 seats thus leaving the remaining 20  for their allies.

Poll pundits point out that even in 2014, Modi wave did not work in Tamil Nadu as Jayalalithaa’s charisma did the magic. Contesting alone Jayalalithaa managed to win 37 seats out of the 39. It should also be taken it to account that the aura of Jayalalithaa will be missing now. If Jayalalithaa was alive, it will be altogether a different scenario. 

Sure the AIADMK has been hit by the absence of a charismatic and dynamic leader of the stature of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. In her absence, we have to view this election in a different perspective. Also the fact remains that the BJP is still fighting to gain a firm foothold in Tamil Nadu.  Though in the recent times BJP’s popularity has increased in the state, still the Saffron party is struggling to translate that in to votes.

In order to win the 2019 polls, the ADMK-BJP combine has to overcome both the unpopularity and anti-incumbency of both the Modi government and the AIADMK government.   Though the rainbow alliance stitched together by the ruling AIADMK appears formidable, the visible anti-incumbency against the state and central governments and the split in the ruling AIADMK after the death of J Jayalalithaa, are issues of great concern for the ADMK-BJP combine.

Also, majority section of the people of Tamil Nadu believes that the BJP is responsible for the split in AIADMK. Many accuse the BJP of arm-twisting the AIADMK and had kept the party under its control.  AIADMK is seen as a meek party that has surrendered to the BJP.

On the other hand, it is an undeniable fact that parties like PMK and DMDK are a force to reckon with in Tamil Nadu. By rightly roping in both the parties, it will sure brighten the prospects of the  AIADMK. But, still, the signing of the deal with AIADMK-BJP combines by the PMK is seen by many as an opportunist and the PMK cadres who revelled in every statement made by their leaders criticizing the central and state governments would find it tough to campaign for the combine. It remains to be seen that how the PMK and the AIADMK cadres brush it off these remarks and work together for the victory.

Also, the poll pundits caution not to ignore the rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran.  He will be the “dark horse” to watch out for in this election. Though isolated as there are no takers to enter into an alliance with his newly formed Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), TTV’ Dhinakaran will focus on winning some constituencies and ensure maximum damage to AIADMK-BJP in the remaining constituencies.  For TTV Dhinakaran, it is a clear case of a do or die battle as he has to prove that the AIADMK cadres are with him as he has been claiming ever since he was ousted from AIADMK.  

However, the political realities of 2019 are very different in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu is facing its first big election not only after the demise of Jayalalitha but also of Karunanidhi. It will be the first election in three decades without the two stalwarts of Tamil Nadu politics. The state is still looking out for a leader and this election will probably identify one. In this scenario, it must be pointed out that the demise of Jayalalithaa and the anti-incumbency faced by the ruling dispensation are certain to bring the AIADMK vote share down from 2014. It is not clear how much the vote share will fall, but even a 10 percent fall would mean a decisive defeat in Tamil Nadu where the winner, literally, takes it all.

While everyone talks about the  AIADMK being crippled by the absence of Jayalalithaa,it is a fact that the DMK is also missing Karunanidhi. Of course, the difference between the two is that while AIADMK is further damaged with factional fights, the DMK remains well structured, Though, M K Stalin is leading the DMK, and people don’t rate him as a “tall” leader like his father. The fact remains that Stalin has not done anything to win the confidence of the people and he has missed some opportunities after he took over as DMK Chief. That speaks of both his leadership qualities as well as political acumen. 

Further, the ground situation which favoured DMK couple of months ago, is not the same now. Stalin’s repeated and continuous Hindu bashing have not only upset the majority Hindus but also clearly exposed the DMK’s  tactics of  appeasement of the minorities. Also, like Edapadi Palanisamy, Stalin is also under pressure to assert his leadership in the state.  In short, Stalin has failed to instil confidence among the people of the state and his own party workers. Stalin discretely banks on TTV Dhinakaran’s ability to damage AIADMK’s vote shares with the disgruntled AIADMK cadres.

Due to various scams, 2014 election was the worst for both DMK and Congress resulting in complete rout. The DMK -Congress combine is looking to regain their 2009 vote share which dropped significantly in 2014.   If they managed to achieve, then it  would prove difficult for the AIADMK-BJP combine. 

However, as it has been the practice for more than six decades, the Dravidian majors have yet again not allowed any national party to be the leader of their alliance and successfully forced the aligning parties to accept their leadership.

Moreover, first time in the history of Tamil Nadu politics, arithmetically twenty assumes greater significance then forty . Both the Dravidian majors – the AIADMK and the DMK – are focusing more on the by elections than on the Lok Sabha by willing to forgo exactly half of the forty seats.  While one is looking to retain power to continue its full term till 2021, the other is looking for opportunities to dethrone and acquire power. At the same time a third party called AMMK is vigorously working to prove its supremacy over AIADMK and win over considerable seats in the process topple the incumbent government.

AIADMK leadership has shown political acumen by getting both the PMK and the DMDK not to contest the by polls and instead support them. While, it is a big achievement for the AIADMK, it is going to be crucial test for the AIADMK as the present government is surviving on a wafer-thin majority and will have to win at least 6 seats or else it might lose power. It remains to be seen how, the equation with the PMK and the DMDK will help the AIADMK to tide over the crisis and reign supreme.



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