Tamil Nadu has mostly seen bipolar contests between DMK & AIADMK for years on end. Would 2019 be any different with newbies having entered the fray?
You got to see it to believe it. Tamilians are perhaps the most emotional lot when it comes to their local issues & sentiments. Having been besotted by a galaxy of film personalities, Tamilians wear their love & passion on their sleeves. They have shown remarkable respect for their leaders who emerged from the celluloid & promoted the Dravidian culture & ethos through their on screen character play. From Karunanidhi to MGR to Jayalalitha, all have hogged the limelight & left indelible impressions amongst their audiences for decades now. In current times, we now have the likes of Rajnikanth & Kamala Hassan entering the political arena & time alone shall tell if these two charismatic leaders would have the same impact on their fans & followers as their legendary erstwhile stars.
The fight for 2019 is between the two coalition fronts; The AIDMK with the BJP plus others and the DMK along with Congress& other allies. Of all the states at the polls on April 18, it was in Tamil Nadu that all of its 38 Lok Sabha seats were up for grabs (Elections to Vellore seat was cancelled by the ECI). Voter turnout in the southern state was at 71.07%, with the women of the region dominating turnout.Despite having a high turnout state wide, questions have been raised about urban voter apathy as on 59.01% of potential voters cast their ballots across Chennai city. Notwithstanding the urban indifference, the people’s concerns continue to be revolving around issues like drought, farm crisis, closure of the Sterlite copper plant, and impact of GST and demonetization, unemployment and the recent Pollachi scandal.
One can feel the palpable anger & anti-Modi sentiment prevailing in most of the state owing to various reasons. Though this mood did not take shape overnight, it has now assumed a significant electoral significance. What continues to rile the locals is the indifference shown by the BJP towards their major concerns over the years. If the Jallikattu agitation was the beginning, then the BJP’s refusal to acknowledge the 100 farmers from Tamil Nadu with skulls in their hands, camping at the Jantar Mantar for close to 100 days, made things worse. Then there was the party’s volte face on exemption for NEET; the suicide of a young medical aspirant S Anitha and the party’s perceived insensitivity on the ‘Cauvery issue’. There was also anger over the implementation of economic policies such as GST and demonetization and “dangerous” projects like extraction of Methane and hydrocarbon and killing of 13 innocent civilians during the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi.
The two two major formulations shall be looking forward to a major pie in the 39 Lok Sabha seats. The AIDMK front features the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) the PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi) the Puthiya Neeth iKatchi, the PuthiyaThamizhagam and the DMDK (DesiyaMurpokkuDravidaKazhagam).The DMK front features the Indian National Congress, the ViduthalaiChiruthaigalKatchi (VCK), CPI and CPM , MDMK (a splinter group of the DMK), the IndhiyaJananayagaKatchi (IJK) and the KongunaduMakkalDesiyaKatchi (KMDK). Both KMDK and IJK were considered close to the BJP so their crossover might come as a shock for the party.
In the 2014 general elections, the AIDMK went head to head with the DMK and won by a landslide, collecting 37 out of 39 constituencies despite the ‘Modi wave’. This was attributed to the party’s late chief Jayalalithaa’s popularity.After the passing away of the AIDMK and DMK’s supremos, Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi, smaller, caste-based parties have figured in major alliances for the Lok Sabha elections for the first time.
It is noteworthy to mention that among the contenders are Karti Chidambaram, son of P. Chidambaram, who was arrested in a CBI probe in 2017 over for allegedly interfering and influencing the manner in which the Foreign Investment Promotion Board treated INX Media Private Limited.Also in the running is the BJP’s PonRadhakrishnan, MP from Kanyakumari and minister of state for finance and shipping. He is contesting from his home base. In December 2018, he accused two French journalists of being spies when they were investigating the state’s illegal sand mining mafia, and was in turn accused of provoking communal violence through his statements.
Tamil Nadu has consistently shown a vehement anti-Modi outlook over the past few years, with the hashtag ‘GoBackModi’ trending consistently on every visit the PM has made there so far. Last month, Tamil Nadu reeled under the shock of the pollachi scandal. Under a criminal extortion racket, hundreds of young women were allegedly lured to secluded spots and molested, filmed in the process, and later blackmailed for money. An AIDMK cadre was expelled for being a part of a group that assaulted the complainant’s brother, raising concerns of an underlying political network.
The shooting of the anti-sterlite protestors is also a central theme, with Kanimozhi of the DMK &ThamizhisaiSoundarajan of the BJP going head to head in the Thoothukudi constituency. The GST & Demonetization have also taken a toll on Tamil industry, with the textile industry in Tiruppur protesting vehemently.
Ever since Tamil cinema’s mega stars Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth made public their intention to finally enter politics, there has been much curiosity about whether the duo can convert their popularity into votes. After years of keeping everyone guessing, the two made their respective announcements after the death of Jayalalitha left the AIADMK in disarray. Her companion Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran has also launched his own party after a tussle for the chief minister’s chair. While it is true that Tamil Nadu’s politics has been inextricably linked to its film industry for decades with the Dravidian movement using cinema to propagate its ideology and the state having two chief ministers who were popular actors the crossover is not so simple.
Observers say Haasan and Rajnikanth may have misread the situation. “People talked about a political vacuum after Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi died, but there is no vacuum,” says veteran political journalist P Thirumavelan. “Stalin was being groomed for years (by Karunanidhi), and even the AIADMK has done better than expected.” It would not be so easy to dislodge the two Dravidian parties, he says. While Haasan’s MNM is contesting the polls this time around, Rajnikanth has chosen to stay away.