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This article was first published 9 years ago  » News » Congress's sinking ship in Tamil Nadu plunges deeper

Congress's sinking ship in Tamil Nadu plunges deeper

By N Sathiya Moorthy
November 04, 2014 10:49 IST
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Former Union minister GK Vasan’s decision to revolt and float a separate outfit in Tamil Nadu serves as a deadly blow to the Grand Old Party, which is already struggling, observes N Sathiya Moorthy.

The bad news keeps flowing for the Congress. After its poor showing in the Lok Sabha polls, the Tamil Nadu unit of the party is now making news for all the wrong reasons. The ‘majority faction’ of former Union minister GK Vasan has revolted and decided to float a separate outfit with a new name and flag.

This should worry the Congress high command following this year’s poll debacles. The leadership should be concerned about the current fallout impacting party units in all states, especially where the Congress still has a strong support or electoral base. 

Once the Congress lost power in the state in 1967, it could never regain it. In 1989, their vote share came down to 20 per cent, despite former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi touring the state 11 times in 13 months.

In 1996, when Vasan’s father G K Moopanar, quite popular among the masses, broke away from the Congress to float the Tamil Maanila Congress, the parent and breakaway parties averaged around five per cent vote-share in the Lok Sabha polls of 1998 and 1999.

Thus, in the normal course, the current split could make both factions less attractive as an electoral ally for other parties, what with the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government’s ‘non-doer image’ on Tamils and Tamil Nadu-related issues having dampened enthusiasm for some time now.

There is no way the Congress can hope to revive even a bit of that enthusiasm in the foreseeable future, unless owing to national-level developments. 

MUST READ: Like father, like son: Vasan quits Congress, to float new party in TN

Factionalism is not new to the state’s party unit. The Rajaji-Sathyamurthy, Kamaraj-Rajaji and later the Kamaraj- C Subramaniam infighting acquired some respectability only with the vertical split at the national-level under Indira Gandhi in 1969.

Whatever the reason and justification, during the days of Kamaraj, he was one pole of every party split in the state. In the years and decades after his death, at the height of Emergency in 1975, his self-styled disciple G K Moopanar took the credit. Since his merging the TMC in the Congress parent in 2002 after Moopanar’s death, Vasan has refused to work with other faction leaders.

As irony would have it, the purported last straw for Vasan’s decision flows from the reported All India Congress Committee’s decision that the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee drop the pictures of Kamaraj and Moopanar from the party’s membership cards.

It’s another matter that both continue to remain among the tallest leaders of their times, not only for Congressmen in the state but also for most people, who respect them for their honesty and integrity in public life.

Like on earlier occasions, the present split has also brought together other faction leaders in the party under the AICC umbrella. This too would not last long.

Included in the list are ex-Union Ministers P Chidambaram and Jayanthi Natarajan, close aides of Moopanar both in the Congress and the TMC. Though Chidambaram was visible, his son Karti, a faction leader, was conspicuous by his absence when a new leader took over at the TNCC helm over the weekend.

Among those staying put with Vasan are those who may have been denied the state party presidency after the high command forced his supporter, B S Gnanadesikan, out of office. Some fence-sitters until the previous day were thus visible by Vasan’s side when he announced his decision to float a new party at Chennai on November 3, 2014.

Likewise, those staying back in the parent party include those who were once close to Moopanar and Vasan -- but were not ‘promoted enough’ by the latter in his time. Some of them had already crossed over to other factions, particularly the one headed by Karti Chidambaram.

That was also Vasan’s other grouse -- the more official one that is being talked about. Though being given a lion’s share of party positions in the state in a nomination set-up, the numbers have been dwindling over the years. With the result, Vasan could not satisfy every aspirant in his camp.

Vasan’s exit was not wholly unanticipated, but it still throws up questions about future electoral alliances in the state. In a state of high-cost politics and elections, he is going to require a lot of money to stay afloat and become relatively relevant than at present, if prospective alliance-makers are to take his proposed party seriously in 2016.

For now, senior state Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan has invited Vasan to join the party. The Vasan camp should be wary of such suggestions as it could send out confusing signals to Moopanar’s ‘traditional Congress-minded’ voters, particularly the southern ‘minority voters.

Such apprehensions had earlier forced Moopanar to reject suggestions for joining hands with the ruling BJP at the Centre  as an electoral ally for the 2001 assembly polls in the state -- with an assured break-up before the 2004 parliamentary polls.

Even without Vasan, BJP leaders, both at the national and state levels, seem to have concluded that the party is on a winning streak in Dravidian Tamil Nadu, as elsewhere in the country. But the results of the May parliamentary polls in the state point otherwise.

Other than the lone ‘traditional’ Kanyakumari seat that Radhakrishnan won, the BJP-led alliance could manage only 17.5 per cent vote-share. The figure fell woefully short of the best figures that alliance partners -- BJP, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, Paattali Makkal Katchi  and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam -- had polled in the past. Ahead of the polls, calculations based on those figures had predicted a 25-per cent vote-share for the alliance.

If the collective vote-share of the other three were to be put at a conservative 10 per cent in 2014, the BJP’s contribution could at best have been around 7.5 per cent.

Earlier calculations had shown that in the LS polls of 1998 and 1999, Vajpayee’s BJP with slogans such as ‘the party with a difference’, ‘Give BJP a chance’, etc, had brought in a similar 7.5 per cent vote-share.

Yet, in the 2001 and subsequent elections in the state, the BJP’s stand-alone share went back to the traditional 1.5-2 per cent.

Thus for Modi’s BJP to do better it has to think differently and do it differently!

Image: (Above) A Congress supporter waves the party flag. Photograph: Getty Images.

(Below) GK Vasan being felicitated after announcing that he was quitting the Congress and forming a separate entity. Photograph: PTI Photo.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation. 

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