There is a huge power vacuum in Tamil Nadu with first J Jayalalithaa and 20 months later her bitter foe and political rival M Karunanidhi passing into history, ending the era of stalwarts at least for now in a state given to fanatical hero-worship.
While in Jayalalithaa’s case, the departure was sudden and there was no succession plan in place, in the case of Karunanidhi he had anointed his son as successor and it was all set for a transition. But while Jayalalithaa died in harness, the DMK, on paper under Karunanidhi but actually with reins in the hands of his son Stalin, had been routed in the last parliamentary and to a lesser extent Assembly polls in 2015.
In the Lok Sabha polls, the DMK drew a blank but in the Assembly polls a year later it recovered considerable ground to win 98 seats in a 234-member House with a vote share of 40 per cent against AIADMK’s 41 per cent. It showed what a narrow race the two parties run. The DMK fought the elections in alliance with the Congress. It would seem that with the only challenger to Stalin — his older brother Alagiri — neutralised by Karunanidhi anointing Stalin as successor and expelling Alagiri — the new ‘avataar’ Stalin would have a smooth sailing. But Alagiri has already raised a banner of revolt, claiming the real cadres in the party are with him.
That apparently is hogwash but any dissension within the DMK would be taken advantage of by the AIADMK which is tottering with poor record of governance after Jayalalithaa’s demise and is looking for a stick to beat the DMK with. Waiting in the wings to queer the pitch for both parties are the scheming moneybag Dhinakaran backed from jail by his crafty aunt Sasikala who was Jayalalithaa’s closest associate for long, and two popular and successful cine idols Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth who have massive fan following but no organizational base to boast of.
All this makes for a heady brew of sorts with huge stakes with 39 seats up for grabs in the Lok Sabha elections which could prove crucial to the next government in New Delhi. The bit players in the drama are the Congress riding piggy back on the DMK and the BJP hoping to ride on the shoulders of the AIADMK. The DMK which has pitched its tent with the Opposition has a Democles sword hanging over its head with a former Central minister A.Raja and Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi facing an appeal against their acquittal in the 2G spectrum sale, a major scam that surfaced during the UPA regime.
Neither the DMK nor the AIADMK are in good shape potentially and many in the latter look upon Dhinakaran as a devil incarnate. The Palaniswami government has shown no dynamism worth the name and its alliance with O. Panneerselvam is a marriage in which there is no love lost between the partners. The sympathy factor for Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi would cancel each other’s out considering that the elections are some distance away.
The non-Dravidian parties are not in with a chance, not at present. The BJP is looked upon as a pro-Hindi party that would force the national language down their throats at the slightest hint of acceptance. The Congress is a spent force that is emotionally distant from the Tamils. The Modi wave in the North and the West had no effect in Tamil Nadu where the Dravidian parties ruled the roost even in 2014. Jayalalithaa’s relations with Modi were good on the surface but when it came to elections, she kept her own interests uppermost.
Alagiri’s challenge to his brother Stalin may not mean much since the former’s credibility is at a low ebb after being spurned by Karunanidhi but Alagiri has pockets of influence in southern Tamil Nadu where he can damage the chances of official DMK candidates in the Lok Sabha polls next year and subsequent Assembly elections in 2020. Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth have no experience of politics and whether they have the wherewithal to deliver the goods is a big question mark. Kamal is confused who he should align with and Rajinikanth is apparently unsure whether he would take the plunge into politics at all.
Of the two, Rajnikanth has a mystical air about him and could still spring a few surprises if he gets his timing and alliance right. Rajnikanth’s charisma is also a shade greater than Kamal Hassan’s but so far Kamal has been more dogged and more keyed up to take the political plunge. With a people who are fed up of current-day politicians. Rajini may inspire some hope of a new beginning but if he is hoping to make a mark in next year’s Lok Sabha elections he is already late and must announce his future plans forthwith.
There is a halo attached to top grade cine actors in the “star-struck” public mind in Tamil Nadu which propelled them to raise the likes of MGR or Jayalalithaa to the level of semi-gods. But there was another side to these charismatic leaders in terms of what they did for the people as leaders in terms of welfare programmes which strengthened their image of being do-gooders.
There was at the other end of the spectrum the DMDK’s Vijaykanth, who was a cine star turned politician who showed initial promise which was later belied. Vijaykanth could garner eight per cent voteshare in his maiden outing in 2006, increasing it to 10-plus per cent in 2009, but then gave up for the succeeding 2011 Assembly polls.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.