Third front in TN - a dream or vision?
Politics in Tamil Nadu has been revolving around the two major Dravidian parties, the DMK and the AIADMK, for the last four decades. Forming an alternative front to challenge their hegemony has become a dream for other political parties, including the Congress which lost power in 1967.
But a new party formed in 1989, based on the vote-bank of Vanniyars, a backward community in the northern districts of the state, has revived this dream and is hoping to lead a third front to power in the 2011 Assembly elections. Although the party has a vote-bank of only six per cent, its leader Mr S Ramadoss seems to have formulated a strategy to counter the DMK and AIADMK.
Till the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, except the AIADMK and the DMK, no party in Tamil Nadu was recognised as a regional party and the Congress was content switching alliances between the two, for a good bargain of MP seats.
Ever since DMK founder the late CN Annadurai ousted the Congress from power in 1967, riding on a wave of anti-Hindi sentiments, the AIADMK and DMK have ruled the state alternately.
After the demise of Annadurai, the DMK under Mr M Karunanidhi swept to power with a record number of 184 seats in 1971. When the party split in 1972, following the expulsion of the late MG Ramachandran, his newly formed AIADMK was voted to power in 1977, contrary to expectations that the then major opposition, the Congress, would gain from the split.
Pushed to the third spot, the Congress even stopped dreaming of a comeback till 1989. Hoping to regain its clout after the death of MGR, who was the darling of the masses, the Congress ventured to contest on its own in 1989. Despite a split in the AIADMK, the Congress finished third behind Ms Jayalalitha’s faction and then chose to go along with the united AIADMK under her in the 1991 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections held simultaneously.
The 1991 elections saw the emergence of Ms Jayalalitha following a sympathy wave due to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
Although the Congress made occasional noises of reviving its rule, its vote share was dwindling in every election and had come down to eight per cent in the 2006 Assembly elections, which is equal to that of newly formed actor Mr Vijaykanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and just two per cent more than Mr Vaiko’s MDMK formed a decade ago.
Hence, for the Congress reviving its rule had become a ritualistic slogan repeated at the end of public meetings, which they organise rarely, if they were not busy in factional feuds. When the main speaker at the public meeting asked the cadres to work for reviving the rule of the late Congress leader Kamaraj, the worker knows it is his party’s way of concluding a meeting, instead of singing the national anthem.
Given this background, what prompted Mr Ramadoss to dream about an alternative for the two major parties? Is there any ground for his optimism? Obviously, Mr Ramadoss’ “vision 2011” could have been driven by the fact that the weakening of the Congress did not mean that both the Dravidian parties had gained in strength. After the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, two new parties ~ the PMK and Mr Vaiko’s MDMK ~ too were able to get recognition as regional parties, polling six per cent each.
Again, the 2006 Assembly elections saw the emergence of actor Mr Vijaykanth’s DMDK, which secured a good eight per cent share of the total votes. Another actor Mr Sarath Kumar, belonging to the influential Nadar community, has recently floated his party, the strength of which is yet to be tested.
Mr Thol Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), is trying to shed its image of a Dalit outfit by declaring itself to be a Tamil nationalist party, hoping to broad base the party and strengthen it. The party had polled more than 200,000 votes in the Chidambaram constituency in the 2004 elections, pushing the AIADMK alliance to the third position. The BJP, contesting as an ally of the AIADMK, lost its deposit, despite the party’s senior leader Mr LK Advani, starting the campaign from there.
Going by the trends of the two Assembly elections held recently in Madurai district, a citadel of the AIADMK, ever since its inception the party seems to be struggling to keep its second position, in the face of a tough challenge from Mr Vijaykanth. In fact, only two to three per cent of votes separated the AIADMK and the fledgling DMDK. A close analysis of the results clearly shows that Mr Vijaykanth, hailed as “black MGR”, has made inroads into the AIADMK’s vote-bank.
In the 2006 Assembly elections, the AIADMK polled 32.64 per cent and the DMK 26.46 per cent of the votes. The combined strength of the DMDK, Congress, the MDMK and PMK, VCK and the Left parties adds up to about 32 per cent. This means that the two Dravidian parties can be challenged, if others joined together.
Though Mr Ramadoss has not come out with his formula, he had thrown sufficient hints that he is trying to forge strong ties with the Congress, which can be the foundation for the new front.
At present, Mr M Krishnasamy is the TNCC president; he is the father-in-law of Union Health Minister and Mr Ramadoss’ son Mr Anbumani Ramadoss. Both the PMK and Congress are strongly criticising the DMK government on the law and order situation.
Mr Ramadoss, in a recent interview to a Tamil magazine, said that a national party would be part of the new front to be formed by him. Usually the PMK, which had conducted pro-LTTE rallies, is refraining from pro-LTTE remarks, obviously wanting to get into the good books of the Congress.
In a Press meet recently, Mr Ramadoss, when asked about the AICC resolution stating that anyone who praised the Tigers in any form would be hurting the sentiments of Congress cadres, simply said “it is their view”, obviously avoiding any comment that would ruffle the feathers of Congressmen.
At the same time, Mr Ramadoss was seen with Mr Vaiko when Tamil nationalist leader Mr P Nedumaran held a fast last month demanding that the Centre should allow essential commodities to be sent to the suffering Sri Lankan Tamils through the International Red Cross Society. The PMK has good ties with VCK and has no problems with the Left parties.
The only hitch is Mr Ramadoss and Mr Vijaykanth do not like the company of each other. Another obstacle could be the tussle over the leadership of the new alliance and the unwillingness of the Congress to leave the DMK front.
Realising that the Congress may not like to take risks in the next Lok Sabha elections, Mr Ramadoss had clearly said that he would continue in the DMK front till the next Lok Sabha polls and the new front was only for the next Assembly elections.
Commenting on Mr Ramadoss’ plans, DMK leader Mr Karunanidhi had sarcastically quipped that Mr Ramadoss would solve all the law and order problems in the state when he came to power.
AIADMK supremo Ms Jayalalitha went a step further and said “everyone has the right to dream”. Whether Ramadoss’ formula is a dream or a vision will depend on the game plan of Mr Karunanidhi and Ms Jayalalitha to hold on to their present allies, the Congress and MDMK, respectively, and succeed in isolating the PMK which is aiming high.
(The author is a Special Representative of The Statesman based in Chennai)