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Will Ideology Trump Personalities And Issues in TN Again?

March 15, 2024 11:00 IST
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According to DMK, the voters are already consolidated on ideological lines, hence the impact of anti-incumbency, whether against the BJP Centre or the DMK state may not be too much, notes N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin moves a resolution against the 'One Nation One Election' policy in the state assembly, in Chennai. Photograph: ANI Photo

In the normal course, the NCB arresting a ruling DMK functionary for being the alleged kingpin of a massive international drug-racket should be threatening the party-led INDIA combine's chances in the Lok Sabha polls in southern Tamil Nadu.

It may still happen, depending on the 'big fish' that are not unlikely to fall into the net of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NC), going especially by the excitement in the state leadership of the BJP ruling the Centre, but otherwise, ideology seems to have overtaken 'anti-incumbency, as the key poll factor in Tamil Nadu at the very least.


The combined drive by the NCB and Delhi police is said to have exposed an international network that goes all the way to Australia and New Zealand, originating in some African countries.

Or, so goes the official version. Though the DMK lost no time in sacking the alleged kingpin Jaffer Sadiq as a lower-level functionary of the party's foreign affairs wing in Chennai city, it happened only after the NCB had named him in end-February.

It is an embarrassment that the party has to live with, no two questions about it.

Even more is the fact that Sadiq has been pictured with Chief Minister M K Stalin, his minister-son Udhayanidhi Stalin and many senior officials, including police top-brass.

Social media has also carried a picture of Udhayanidhi's film-maker wife Kruthika participating in the launch of a film produced by Sadiq, but DMK sources have pooh-poohed suggestions that he had also funded some movies for which she had wielded the megaphone.

When the NCB revelations started making the headlines, the DMK began by hitting back at the BJP-ruled Gujarat, which the party said topped the list of NCB recoveries over the last several years.

It also cited past NCB certification of TN being on the lower end of the list during the period.

However, when the social media tide began hitting hard, the party also pointed out how Sadiq was involved in a narcotics case in 2013 and was acquitted by a court in 2019 -- and how the DMK was not in power during this window.

That this piece of information has not found adequate media coverage is beside the point as the party has threatened legal action against those linking the DMK to the 'drug racket'.

State law minister S Reghupathy has gone a step further to claim that the BJP has pressed the NCB to 'defame' the DMK.

He may have a point as the otherwise low-profile NCB lost no time in addressing a news conference in New Delhi soon after Sadiq's arrest a fortnight after his name got out into the media.

In the party's perception, the NCB has now joined the long list of central agencies like the NIA, CBI, ED and the IT department.

There is however no clarification from either side how the NCB would or could do it to a political party in the country when it claimed international ramifications in Sadiq's operations.

That should include an inexplicable DMK party function in distant Kenya, in which an incumbent DMK parliamentarian also reportedly participated.

Though a long shot, critics of the party are waiting to see if the DMK would re-nominate M M Abdullah when he completes his current Rajya Sabha term next year.

Needless to say, in the NCB's footsteps, the ED has since pounced on Sadiq, as he is known to have made donations much less than a million rupees to the chief minister's relief fund and the ruling DMK.

It remains to be seen if the ED's customary search for 'money-laundering links' leads further, and if so, to whom all.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets people during a public meeting, in Chennai, March 4, 2024. Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting L Murugan,Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party President K Annamalai and other dignitaries are also present. Photograph: ANI Photo

The DMK may have been shaken, whether less or more, is immaterial, but acts as if nothing has happened.

Rather, the leadership and also the party-led alliance are seemingly unworried about the impact of the 'drug case' and raids, past and future, on their chances in the LS polls that is due in the coming weeks.

According to them, the voters are already consolidated on ideological lines, hence the impact of anti-incumbency, whether against the BJP Centre or the DMK state may not be too much.

They too concede unforeseen factors could upset the apple-cart but do not expect the NCB raids or even the 'Sanatana Dharma' row, again involving minister Udhyanidhi Stalin, to do more harm than already.

Rather, there is a perception that none of the issues flagged by the BJP against the DMK in particular and the larger 'Dravidian polity' in general is likely to bring in more votes than already.

To them, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi's multiple visits to the state during the past weeks and in the days running up to polling will make much difference -- unless there are additional issues that have not been factored in at present.

The truth is that the BJP, first under the Vajpayee-Advani duo in 1998 / 1999 and more recently under the Modi-Amit Shah leadership (2014) has polled more votes than usual -- up from the traditional 2-3 per cent to 7-8 per cent.

They reflected in the BJP-led alliance's vote-share in all three elections -- AIADMK alliance (1998), DMK combine (1999) and the BJP-NDA sans the two Dravidian majors (2014).

The general impression that the BJP combine would muster around 20 per cent votes in Dravidian Tamil Nadu this time flows from the 2014 scenario, when the NDA polled 18.5 per cent and won two seats.

What is not mentioned is that there were two equally major allies, in the PMK with a fixed five per cent vote-share and the DMDK, then with around another five per cent, the latter down to around three per cent or less, since.

The question is if the BJP-NDA will be able to rope in both the PMK and DMDK, with whom negotiations are still on.

However, there is the added attraction of the rebel AIADMK under three-time chief minister O Panneerselvam and breakaway AMMK of former AIADMK general secretary T T V Dhinakaran.

The BJP is also set to be considering the value-addition that the late Jayalalithaa's live-in confidante Sasikala Natarajan can bring to the table.

Indications are that the BJP has not been able to patch up with the mainline AIADMK under former chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, and also has to concede the demands of OPS and Dhinakaran for their candidates to contest on their own separate symbols, and not under the BJP's 'Lotus', as sought until now.

Another regional party, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) founded by the late G K Moopanar and now headed by his son G K Vasan, cabinet minister in the UPA-II government at the Centre, has signed up with the BJP-NDA, but is not keen to contest on the BJP's symbol.

For now however, the BJP has been able to convince actor-politician Sarath Kumar SMK to merge with the national party -- and for good.

The DMDK is said to be in the final stages of negotiations with the AIADMK but like the BJP, the party is not too keen to spare a Rajya Sabha seat for party leader Premalatha, wife of DMDK founder, late actor, Vijayakanth.

In the PMK camp, the father-son duo, namely, party founder S Ramadoss and current president Anbumani Ramadoss, both medical doctors, are said to be holding different views on the choice of a non-DMK ally.

With an eye on the assembly elections, due in 2026, Ramadoss is keen on the AIADMK while Anbumani seems wanting to return to the Union government, which door, the BJP interlocutors are said to have shut on him.

Incidentally, Ramadoss Sr has a point when he reportedly says that the voter-base of the BJP and the PMK are so distributed that they cannot complement each other.

Even without it, he is said to have argued, the PMK cannot win an LS seat without the AIADMK. This may be the clincher, as and when the chips are down.

Yet, the AIADMK may be in for a shock if the EC were to freeze the party's 'Two Leaves' symbol against a pending petition, supposedly moved under OPS' initiative.

However, party cadres say that if the symbol is frozen they know whom to blame -- meaning the BJP at the Centre -- hence their determination would only strengthen further, without any loss of 'traditional votes' handed down by party founder MGR and his political heir, Jayalalithaa.

Or, that is said to be the leadership's perception.

All told, the BJP seems wanting to take the lead in the state if it could or at least become the first runner-up after the victor.

Originally, it had hoped to replace the DMK in the company of the AIADMK, but when the latter walked away after two disastrous joint outings in 2019 and 2021, the national party hopes to push the other to the third slot even if it meant both of them losing out in the bargain.

That is to say, the BJP's fall-back strategy is one of denial -- that is, denying the AIADMK the second place by trying to rope in parties like the PMK and DMDK, whose mutual value-addition is more for the latter than the former.

Both the BJP and the AIADMK, even more so, are also targeting the 2026 assembly polls, where especially EPS has already set his sights on.

In this game of one-upmanship, the ruling DMK combine seems to sit more comfortable than it should have, given especially the palpable anti-incumbency that could be touched and felt, otherwise.

Incidentally, the DMK has beaten the rival AIADMK and BJP in seat-sharing talks with allies, which was not the case when Jaya was around.

Yet, grassroots-level coordination is going to be more difficult within the DMK combine than for the other two, led respectively by the AIADMK and the BJP.

On the positive side, the DMK leadership has been able to talk actor-politician Kamal Hassan's MNM not to press for a Lok Sabha seat and settle for a Rajya Sabha seat when a vacancy arises next week, in return for his state-wide campaign.

However, the question remains if the MNM's four per cent vote-share from 2021 would pass on to the DMK allies, wholly or even partially.

The DMK combine may also be burdened additionally in three of the total 40 seats, including the loner in Puducherry, by the VCK (2) and the MDMK (one) insisting on contesting on their own symbols.

There is a belief that the two could score in 2019 mainly because the lone MDMK candidate and also one of the two VCK nominees had contested on the DMK's more popular 'Rising Sun' symbol with instant recall value.

Yet, it is going to be a four-corner contest, what with the Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) of actor-politician Seeman entering the fray with a respectable four per cent vote-share in elections 2019, going up to 6.58 per cent in the assembly polls two years later.

It is a life-and-death battle for the NMK as for smaller parties in the state, staying-power has been problematic for long, and Seeman has been defying the pattern thus far.

IMAGE: Makkal Needhi Maiam chief and actor Kamal Haasan speaks to the media in the presence of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam youth wing secretary Udayanidhi Stalin as MNM joins the DMK-led alliance for the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections, in Chennai, March 09, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

In this background, the DMK seems to be hoping that the BJP's hard-line Hindutva agenda and PM Modi's assertions like 'destroying' the DMK all may have only reflected the party's ideological vehemence without adding any new voters to the committed rank that may have 'temporarily' expanded.

The notification and consequent enforcement of the controversial CAA is only the last straw, the INDIA allies say, adding that all these may have whipped up the traditional 'pan-Tamil sentiments' as evidenced in the 2017 'Jallikattu protests', whose 'spirits have not waned but have only doubled'.

This is an argument that has to be proved.

So is the expectation that Udayanidhi's 'Sanatana' row would not impact on the INDIA combine's poll chances in the state.

However, the AIADMK camp expects that the traditionally anti-BJP, anti-Hindutva, anti-Modi voters that are otherwise religious, as in Tamil Nadu, may turn to them, now that they have snapped ties with the former.

They also expect the anti-incumbency against both the DMK and the BJP to favour them.

To this all, the DMK seems to feel that PM Modi has lost his credibility with the voters, especially on issues like cutting down LPG cylinder prices by Rs 100 for 'International Women's Day', saying no woman voter expects him not to revise it back to the original figure, post-poll and even hike it further.

Against this, they say, Stalin's pro-women and pro-family schemes like free-bus travel, monthly stipend of Rs 1000, and also free breakfast for all children in government and aided schools would do the trick.

Citing former Union minister and Congress veteran P Chidambaram, DMK allies also claim that PM Modi's promise of Rs 5-plus crore projects, including Rs 17,000-plus crore for the state, are meant to be non-starters in the absence of budgetary provisions.

To this the BJP leaders say that the next fiscal's full budget presented after the polls, and not the vote-on-account, passed in February, would make the provisions.

They too concede that the figures cited may be too big for absorption in a single year's budget.

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

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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