Shedding the traditional party-colour bordered veshti-shirt combo, the DMK supremo’s son now freely interacts with voters, takes questions and gives answers, which are tutored beforehand but with responsible inputs, which would make his answers both credible and convincing, if the party were to come back to power in 2016, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
It has taken the sweeping ‘brand Modi’ poll campaign to tell the Dravidian polity in southern Tamil Nadu that their forgotten, traditional political and electoral campaign was always right -- and that they better return to the grassroots.
True, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not have done all that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Pattali Makkal Katchi chief ministerial aspirants in the state are doing to woo the voters ahead of the assembly polls which are due by May next.
But Modi’s victory has convinced them that the ‘voter is the master’ and that they cannot continue to ignore or overlook his aspirations.
There is thus a lesson for all political parties and leaders, however timely their advent be, and however successful they might have been -- that is, the ‘voter is still the master’ even in this propaganda-driven ‘IT era’.
Going to town with the slogan ‘give us a chance’ in the Tamil Nadu of 2015-16 is the Vanniar community-strong PMK’s chief ministerial nominee Anbumani Ramadoss.
The party named him its chief ministerial candidate long ago, and launched its campaign, too, long ago; with the result it has closed the doors on parties that cannot accept Ramadoss as their CM candidate, too.
If nothing else, it has already shut the doors on the two Dravidian majors -- namely, the ruling All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
It’s in this context that DMK treasurer M K Stalin’s ‘namakku naamey’ (‘we ourselves’) street campaign has begun attracting crowds and favourable media reportage. Shedding the traditional party-colour bordered veshti-shirt combo, Stalin has suddenly begun sporting tucked-in shirts with trousers and T-shirts etc, as he has come down from the campaign pulpit to mix freely with the voters and interest groups.
Designed, managed and executed by a professional team, with inputs from freshly identified (relatively) young, third and fourth generation, party second line leaders/aspirants, the campaign has witnessed Stalin addressing youth in hotel halls, students on their college campuses, women in the village quadrangle, men in their farm lands and factory gates, not to leave out professionals such as doctors, teachers, lawyers and businessmen in their traditional dens or in pubic fora.
Stalin freely interacts with the voters, takes questions and gives answers, which are tutored beforehand but with responsible inputs, which would make his answers both credible and convincing, if the party were to come back to power in 2016.
Pressed into a corner, Stalin sounds more convincing than any other political party leader in the state, if not the country as a whole.
Without elaborating on specifics and specific action against individuals in the party who may have committed wrongs and facing criminal cases against them, Stalin readily apologises to the voter for the past mistakes, and assure them that they would not recur.
Stalin has also carefully begun dropping the DMK’s traditionalist ‘rationalist’ pitch, and ‘anti-Hindu’ image by visiting important temples en route -- though a defensive section in his team still seeks to explain it as a tour of some cultural/historical heritage site on the temple premises, not necessarily linked to religion.
Party president and nonagenarian five-time chief minister M Karunanidhi too is trying hard to shed the ‘anti-Hindu’ image, which may have denied for the DMK substantial political mileage in these changed national political circumstances -- though not necessarily votes in native Tamil Nadu.
Karunanidhi has penned the script for a TV mega-serial on Sri Ramanujar, a Vaishnative philosopher-saint of the 12th century who is also credited with being the first one to propagate and practise ‘Harijan acceptance/temple-entry’ programme, long before Gandhiji at the national-level and ‘Periyar’ E V R hit the streets in the country. The serial is being telecast on Kalaignar TV, a family-owned enterprise and DMK media campaign platform, named after his honorific, by which name he too is commonly known.
Yet, the one difference between Ramadoss and Stalin is that the former has already been nominated as the PMK’s chief minister candidate, but in the DMK, there is still resistance from within -- and at times from those equal to or above Stalin -- to name his CM candidate.
Stalin himself has started campaigning in the name of father Karunanidhi as the party’s CM’s candidate, but does not seem to have given up hope.
But the DMK can still count on the party’s larger reach against the PMK’s limited scope for expanding its voter-base, beyond the northern Vanniar belt.
The community, hence the PMK, cannot expect a support-base outside of the party-claimed 110 constituencies of the total 234, for the voter to take it any seriously.
There is nothing yet to suggest that the voter is convinced about the non-invincibility of the ruling AIADMK and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, after their 37-seat, 45-per cent vote-share success in the parliamentary polls last year.
The DMK campaign team too seems aware of the same. The effort thus of the Stalin campaign just now is to try and convince the TN voters that the present government has to go in the assembly polls.
Their calculation is that should the voter decide against the AIADMK and Jaya, the accruing anti-incumbency benefit would go to the DMK, automatically.
Having concluded that the GenX rural voter in particular is the catalyst for political and leadership change every which way -- it was so as the DMK had proved as far back as 1967 -- Stalin is now targeting the younger generation, through his walkathon.
By walking miles together and reaching out to the voter directly and continually, he is also seeking to send out a similar but different messages to the party, the ruling rival and the voter at large.
It is this -- that in Stalin, the party and the state have a chief ministerial candidate who is both mobile and agile, and could be trusted with doing his bit.
A ‘vote for change’ is what Stalin is also demanding -- as is PMK’s Anbumani -- but he seems to be saying it with action, whereas Anbumani is saying it only in words.
Image: M K Stalin interacts with voters in Tamil Nadu's Dindigul district. Photograph, courtesy: M K Stalin's Twitter page.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.