News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay

Rediff.com  » News » 'Brand Stalin' Shows Annamalai His Place

'Brand Stalin' Shows Annamalai His Place

By N SATHIYA MOORTHY
June 11, 2024 16:29 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

If Tamil Nadu voters preferred the DMK combine, it owed to the Modi-Annamalai combo's ideological battle which often crossed the line of political decency and also challenged 'Tamil pride', argues N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: The Bharatiya Janata Party's Tamil Nadu president Kuppusamy Annamalai addresses an election rally in Kanyakumari, March 15, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

If there is a definitive outcome of the Lok Sabha polls across the country, it is the emergence of Tamil Nadu's DMK Chief Minister M K Stalin as an electoral brand to bet on.

Three in a row and in five years is not a joke, Stalin has achieved all that, almost effortlessly as his working style and campaign style have proved through all three elections, beginning with the Lok Sabha polls of 2019, followed by the state assembly elections in 2021, and now, this one.

The DMK-led combine, with the Congress as the main ally, won all 39 seats this time against 38 in 2019. Including the Union Territory of Puducherry, where the political fortunes of all friends and rivals cross, it's 40-all for the DMK combine this time against 39 in the earlier outing.

The question is if the same alliance that may continue for the assembly polls in 2026, just two years hence, can continue the winning streak. Translated, can 'Brand Stalin' sustain?

Truth be acknowledged even if post facto, months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, anti-incumbency against the state government could be touched, felt and even cut.

If it did not affect the outcome, it owed not to the split in the rival BJP-AIADMK alliance votes from 2019 but because Narendra Modi's single-handed ability to convert what was essentially a 'Stalin-centric' election into a 'Modi-focussed' affair.

The Tamil Nadu voter did not have to strain his brain. He only had to restate his position from 2019, which was as 'anti-Modi' as it was earlier too in Jayalalithaa's 'Modi-ya, Lady-ya' sweep in 2014, when the Gujarat CM became the nation's PM.

That is to say, the BJP's defeat in Tamil Nadu is three in a row in 10 years, unlike what is being projected by party leaders in the state and their all-time hyper media analysts from distant Delhi.

 

IMAGE: M K Stalin, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi after the INDIA Bloc leaders' meeting. Photograph: Jitender Gupta/ANI Photo

Post-poll, both the state BJP leadership of defeated Coimbatore candidate K Annamalai and his media friends in Delhi are penning a picture that the BJP has crossed the two-digit mark and for the first time.

Definitely, there is greater recognition for the party in Tamil Nadu over the past 10 years, as happened in the 10 years beginning with the 'Ayodhya demolition' in December 1992.

In the two Lok Sabha polls that the BJP fought in the company of the AIADMK and the ruling DMK, respectively in 1998 and 1999, the 'Vajpayee image' did add an additional 5-6 per cent to the kitty, over and above the party's traditional three per cent vote-bank. The same has been occurring under Modi, too, but with a difference.

To begin with, it's a fallacy to claim that the BJP alliance has won 18-plus per cent vote-share, as if it was for the first time.

In 2014, too, the party polled as much, this time, the figure dropping by a few tens in the decimal.

It is even claimed that the BJP this time has polled 11-plus per cent from the 23 constituencies where it fielded party nominees.

To begin with, to count constituency-wise polling figures of an alliance as that of a particular partner is misleading, to say the least.

Maybe, it suits the Election Commission to use it as a benchmark to grant or withdraw registration status to individual parties.

After winning two Lok Sabha seats this time on the allotted independent symbol of 'Pot', the VCK ally in the DMK combine has qualified for recognition as a 'regional party' with a reserved symbol.

So has the pan-Tamil NTK of actor-politician Seeman.

In the reverse, the PMK ally of the BJP has lost its 'regional status' as it failed to win two seats or record the required poll percentage.

IMAGE: Annamalai at a roadshow in Coimbatore from where he was nominated but lost, April 12, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Yet, when the chips are down, the BJP cannot claim to have polled 11 per cent vote-share on its own, to become the third largest party in the state after its estranged ally in the AIADMK.

In the BJP combine, the Vanniar-strong PMK and T T V Dhinaran's AMMK, one more breakaway faction of the AIADMK, have a proven vote-bank of five per cent each, respectively concentrated mostly in the northern and eastern districts.

There are also reasons to believe that BJP candidate actor Radhika Sharath Kumar's votes in her southern Virudunagar constituency, belonged to her actor-husband Sharath Kumar, who disbanded his miniscule party to merge overnight in the national party after a thought flashed his mind at 2 am one night.

Even three-time AIADMK chief minister O Panneerselvam (Ramanathapuram) and John Pandian (Tenkasi), both allies of the BJP, had their limited vote-banks across the southern districts.

Even otherwise, John Pandian and another 'independent' party boss, contested on the BJP symbol, 'Lotus', and thus their vote-shares would be counted as that of the party -- and naturally so.

This is despite the fact that the Tamil Maanila Congress of former Congress minister G K Vasan under UPA-II lost its deposit in all three seats it contested from the NDA.

To be fair, the BJP does have substantial vote-banks in these constituencies, including those of OPS and Dhinakaran.

However, more than the political Opposition, Annamalai's detractors in the state party unit cite all these figures and more, to argue that the party's vote-share has not gone beyond the traditional three-per cent mark.

That way, if you deduct the contributions of the PMK, AMMK and those of the others, the BJP's vote-share should be hovering around 6-8 per cent at best in the total NDA tally of 18-plus per cent.

It is not a bad score, considering that these votes came the 'Lotus' symbol's way from the 22 constituencies contested, but for the state party leadership to try and make the national audience and also the high command believe that Annamalai has done it all through his brand of aggressive/offensive politics, as TN unit president, is a myth.

In fact, the BJP state president in 2014, Tamizhisai Soundararajan, who recently quit as the governor of Telangana and lieutenant governor of Puducherry, to try her luck in the Lok Sabha polls, has already taken up cudgels against Annamalai, first, and the party IT wing under his stewardship -- the latter for tarring the fair image and decent names of many a state party leader through the past couple of years.

Tamizhisai lost the prestigious South Chennai seat to DMK incumbent Tamizhachchi Thangapandian just as Annamalai came second to the DMK's Ganapathy Rajkumar by 118,000 votes in Coimbatore.

IMAGE: M K Stalin addresses a media interaction in Chennai, June 4, 2024. Photograph: Riya Mariyam Raju/Reuters

The BJP lost its security deposit in 11 constituencies, yes, but there is no denying the greater visibility that the party has been getting across the state over the past three decades, especially in the last 10-15 years in particular.

It all had begun even with the 'Mandaikadu violence' in Kanyakumari district in 1982, and the sudden appearance of street-corner pandals, pujas and visarjan at the famed Marina beach, all of it leading to communal riots and police firing in Chennai around the time.

The way Annamalai is going about his post-poll explanations that the party would not align with the equally distraught AIADMK in the assembly polls hence sounds as amateurish as his pre-poll statements of the past two years have been.

For instance, now, after seeking to expose the ruling DMK in the state through his 'DMK Files' series, he will have to re-invent himself and the party campaign platform, if they have to make any positive impact on the TN voter.

If it's not Annamalai, it would be a task cut out for his successor, if the high command chooses to replace him, maybe not as a top priority at the time of ministry-formation at the Centre.

In context, whatever impact that TN Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin's so-called criticism of Sanatana Dharma had produced across the north in the Lok Sabha polls months later, that brand of Hindutva politics has not sold nearer home.

Incidentally, if the much-hyped Ayodhya temple consecration could not win the encompassing Faizabad seat, leave aside the larger UP state with its highest number of 80 seats in the country, it is anybody's guess if Udhayanidhi at all was an election issue anywhere in the country -- as Mo-Sha elsewhere and Annamalai nearer home sought to make him out to be.

IMAGE: Narendra Modi holds a roadshow with Annamalai in support of the BJP's Chennai South candidate Tamizhisai Soundararajan, April 9, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

That should shift the focus back to the AIADMK, which has faced its worst election after 1996, when the party lost all 40 Lok Sabha seats.

In the accompanying assembly election, then chief minister Jayalalithaa was defeated in her chosen Bargur seat by a respectable margin of 8,000 votes.

If that result does not ring a bell, it owes only to DMK chief minister M Karunanidhi putting victor Sugavanam in the limelight, through a ministerial appointment or the like.

Losing the security deposit is not new for the AIADMK in assembly elections, but it is for the first time that the party has done it in seven Lok Sabha seats in the state.

Naturally, this means that the party has come third behind the BJP in those constituencies and six others.

For their part, some senior aides of AIADMK boss Edappadi K Palaniswami have joined issue with Annamalai, and said that his arrogance had lost the state for both parties but would have won very many seats had the alliance continued.

Annamalai has been quick to counter their attacks, for he also knows what the AIADMK intends and to whom its message is addressed.

But double-quick was EPS spokesman and former minister D Jayakumar who said that theirs was a 'personal view' -- clearly indicating that all was not well within the party, where the latter's loyalty became suspicious in Coimbatore district, vis-a-vis Annamalai's candidature.

Yet, EPS did post a congratulatory message for Modi on social media -- for party cadres, too, to know.

But he would communicate only with the BJP national leadership and on the specific understanding that he would be their common chief minister candidate and his AIADMK would lead the alliance, as in the past.

That an alliance between the two parties for the assembly poll will become possible if and only if Annamalai is replaced as state BJP boss and EPS is accepted as the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance is the unsaid message.

The BJP national leadership may not rush to take any decision one way or the other, but once the current dust settles down, it may -- only, may -- advise Annamalai to go slow on the AIADMK and inner-party detractors, some of whom are fuming, not at the electoral losses but at the hidden name-and-shame game that the state party IT wing launched against some of them.

Almost simultaneously, EPS's aides have dismissed offers of a patch-up from OPS on the one hand and Jaya's forgotten confidante Sasikala Natarajan, on the other.

Of the two, Sasikala especially has indicated that any reunion of the AIADMK has to be under her stewardship. EPS is not going to agree by miles.

IMAGE: Tamil Nadu Congress {resident Selvaperundagai congratulates DMK President M K Stalin for the election victory in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Photograph: ANI Photo

It is in such a milieu Stalin's DMK is caught for now. The temptation for the cadres and second and third-line leaders to take things into their hands, as some of them had done in the last two of three years of Stalin's government.

This was at the bottom of anti-incumbency that could be touched and felt until Modi changed the election agenda for the TN voter.

It is this election agenda that would soon return to the forefront, or that is the expectation in rival circles and anticipation in some DMK camps.

Though Stalin had openly warned of strict action against non-performing party office-bearers, as revealed by the Lok Sabha polls results, a 40/40 victory means that he would not be inclined to use the whip at this happy moment -- and never thereafter on this very issue.

It's unlike Karunanidhi, who would mark those men for replacement at a later date, and Jaya, who would not flinch even at the very moment of victorious ecstasy for party cadres.

Even without it all, the government's finances are not in the pink of health, and with the assembly polls not very far away, the chief minister cannot take chances by increasing taxes and tariff any more than already over the past three years.

If the voters still preferred the DMK combine, it owed, one, to the Modi-Annamalai combo's ideological battle which often crossed the line of political decency in contemporary terms and also challenged the hidden 'Tamil pride', which not all Tamils wear on their sleeves -- but in their hearts, as some of them open up, if asked.

Any revival of ED/CBI/IT raids is not going to unnerve DMK ministers, leaders and legislators as pre-poll, and they may wear it on their sleeve as a medallion for their loyalty to the party and the leader.

But court-ordered convictions in pending graft cases may be another matter, but that too may affect only individual leaders, most of them veterans, thus creating space that they refuse to vacate for the younger generation.

Then, there is the hidden factor that the BJP has to understand and accept if they have to make a change.

In rural Tamil Nadu, especially women recognise political parties and even their local/localised leaders who are always out to help them in times of need, only by their poll symbols. And they know only 'Sooriyan', 'Ilai' and 'Kai', respectively the poll symbols of the DMK ('Rising Sun'), AIADMK ('Two Leaves') and Congress ('Hand').

The BJP's 'Lotus' is yet to bloom in their mind's eyes as a natural course, so to say.

For now, DMK's Stalin has succeeded in wooing the women voters of the AIADMK rival from the MGR-Jaya era through his welfare schemes, starting with free bus travel, monthly cash assistance of Rs 1,000 and breakfast scheme for their school-going children alongside the long-existing noon-meal scheme. He has promised a monthly assistance of Rs 1,000 assistance for all students passing out of government schools and enrolling in higher studies, beginning this month. It is the target-group of first-time voters, after all.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
N SATHIYA MOORTHY / Rediff.com
 
India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024