TTV Dhinakaran’s call to the Congress to break up with the DMK and tie up with him, is aimed at consolidating the traditional anti-BJP votes.
The stronger message is to all anti-BJP constituencies in the state, especially the minorities and traditionally aligned sections of the Dalit community, that he could be trusted to take forward an ‘anti-Hindutva’ agenda more seriously than anyone else, the DMK included, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran, heading the breakaway ‘Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam’, has already sounded the poll bugle for the Lok Sabha elections, due in May 2018.
By declaring that he would be willing to consider a poll alliance with the Congress at the national level if the latter broke its ties with the DMK in Tamil Nadu, he is suddenly getting the kind of media that he had longed for but did not get, despite his massive victory in the by-election for late chief minister Jayalalithaa’s R K Nagar seat in Chennai.
Unreported by almost all sections of the state media, including the English language press, Dhinakaran has been making waves at the grassroots level through his well-attended periodic rallies distributed across regions, over the past few months.
The rallies also spoke for his organisational skills, acknowledged by a victorious Jayalalithaa and others, as her campaign manager in the Andipatti assembly bypolls, held after the Supreme Court had acquitted her in the ‘TANSI land deal case’, flowing from her first term as chief minister (1991-96).
What the rallies could not do for Dhinakaran in terms of media coverage, his controversial appeal to the Congress ally has done now. The DMK, whose leaders are in no mood to join a political exchange when nonagenarian patriarch M Karunanidhi’s health has been a great cause for concern, has stayed quiet, but various sections of the state Congress, starting with TNCC president Su Thirunavukkarasar, have dismissed Dhinakaran’s invitation as out-of-hand and out-of-turn.
However, Thirunavukkarasar did not fail to send out a message to the DMK ally, too, pointing out how various political outfits in the state, including the PMK, VCK and now AMMK, have been wooing the party. With most anti-BJP, anti-AIADMK national and regional parties piling on to the DMK, the latter will find it difficult to arrive at a win-win seat-sharing arrangement of 2004, which Karunanidhi had defined and designed.
Then, with anti-BJP, anti-AIADMK sentiments against the ruling parties at the Centre and the state palpable ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Karunanidhi had only one question to all prospective allies: “Do you want to contest 10 seats and win one, or contest three or four seats and win all?” It worked, and the DMK-led combine swept all 40 seats, including the lone one from the Union territory of Puducherry.
The DMK also made the best possible compromise at the time, contesting only 16 seats -- but won all of them. In the company of the BJP-NDA at the Centre in the preceding election 1999, the DMK contested 19 seats and won 12, the alliance itself winning a total of 26 out of 40. The rival AIADMK-Congress combine bagged the remaining 14, including Puducherry.
Dhinakaran’s early call to the Congress party is not only to draw media attention or make political hay when the DMK is demoralised over Karunanidhi’s health. He is tempted by real politico-electoral calculations for the Congress party as much as his own AMMA.
First and foremost is the perceived consolidation of the anti-BJP ‘minority votes’ in the state, first witnessed in Dhinakaran’s favour in the R K Nagar by-poll. Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling on an ailing Karunanidhi only weeks ahead of the by-election was enough for even traditional pro-Congress, pro-DMK ‘minorities’ in the constituency to swing towards Dhinakaran, who was contesting as an ‘Independent’.
By seeking to consolidate the ‘anti-BJP votes’ under his leadership, if only he could help it, Dhinakaran also seems to confuse the AIADMK cadres enough, considering that in the most recent election 2014, Jayalalithaa had swept the state with her campaign call, “Modi-ya, indha Lady-ya? (Modi, or me?)”
He is also aware that he needs more ‘credible candidates’ than what he can offer from within his party, and campaign by national leaders like Rahul Gandhi and the Congress’s regional allies from across the country, could well make a difference to his own personal standing and political image.
It is another matter that in the past, after winning a majority of the seats in elections 1999 in the BJP’s company but losing the subsequent state assembly polls of 2001 to the rival AIADMK-TMC combine while in the Vajpayee government at the Centre, the DMK and local, pan-Tamil allies in the PMK and MDMK decided to part company ahead of elections 2004 to the Lok Sabha.
The three parties quitting the Vajpayee government in late 2003 hastened an early poll to the Lok Sabha, leading to the formation of the Congress-UPA combine and its electoral victory only months later.
It is another matter that ahead of Dhinakaran’s call to the Congress party, a section of the social media had revived vague rumours of the BJP wooing the DMK, too. To them at least, Vice President M Venakaiah Naidu calling on an ailing Karunanidhi at the hospital, while on a scheduled visit to Chennai, was part of the BJP strategy.
Thus, Dhinakaran’s call to the Congress is aimed at trying to consolidate the traditional anti-BJP votes, along with a substantial section of the AIADMK votes, which his camp claims is already on his side.
The stronger message is to all anti-BJP constituencies in the state, especially the ‘minorities’ and traditionally aligned sections of the Dalit community, that he could be trusted to take forward an ‘anti-Hindutva’ agenda more seriously than anyone else, the DMK included -- as much post-poll as pre-poll.
Allies and alliances for future elections apart, Dhinakaran has been able to garner substantial crowds at every one of his sub-regional rallies, that too without any media reports, before and/or after the events, leave alone media hype of whatever kind.
According to the ruling AIADMK’s own admission, post-Jayalalithaa membership drive has been able to enrol only eight million members, against double that number when Amma was alive.
According to occasional claims in sections of the national media, as also anecdotal experiences, Dhinakaran seems to ooze the kind of self-confidence bordering on casual arrogance ‘that seems to come naturally to him’, as with Jayalalithaa before him.
In the post-Jallikattu era, it is interpreted as his willingness and ability to take on the Centre, wherever the state’s needs are compromised, compared to Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, the DMK’s M K Stalin and also star-politicians Kamalahassan and Rajinikanth, the latter having only floated the idea without actually floating a political party.
Whether true or not, it is this imagery that the Dhinakaran camp wants to project ahead of elections, though for him the real test is only when the assembly polls are called.
The AMMK is also awaiting the final outcome of the pending high court case against its 18 ‘defector MLAs’. Should the courts finally decide that their disqualification by Speaker P Dhanapalan was invalid, then they may be the party’s candidates for the by-elections to those seats that would have to follow.
A more recent vacancy was caused by the death of AIADMK member, A K Bose, of southern Thirupparamkundram seat earlier this month. After the R K Nagar by-poll, the ensuing by-poll in the constituency is a life-and-death contest of sorts for all three leaders, namely, Dhinakaran, Palaniswami and DMK’s Stalin.
The fourth lurking face is that of AIADMK Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, in whose traditional sphere of ‘Mukkulathore community’ influence the constituency falls. Dhinakaran belongs to the same community and his rally in native Mannargudi, a little farther away, reportedly drew substantial crowds on Sunday evening.
A loss for the AIADMK could cloud OPS’s clout within the party even more, while a victory may not compensate him enough in terms of shared power within the government and the party.
Beyond and behind all this are the pending court cases and various investigations launched by central agencies against Dhinakaran, both before and after Jayalalithaa’s death.
But unless any of it leads to his ultimate disqualification, not stopping with intervening conviction and jail term, it will well possible that Dhinakaran, like Jaya before him, could use it to display his self-confidence and self-righteousness, if only to impress an already converted constituency and hoping to convert many more.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and p0litical analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.