If the AIADMK falls short of the 117-mark required to form a government in the 234-member assembly, will it strike a post-poll deal to form Tamil Nadu's first coalition government? N Sathiyamorthy analyses.
In campaign mode ahead of her political rivals, like she does every time, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa seems to be giving less importance to what could be a ‘unique selling proposition’ according to market mantras.
In the public rallies she has addressed so far, there was no mention of her guts to go it alone, as if to ensure ‘post-poll stability’ and putting a check against possible horse-trading of the kind that the state has not witnessed after 1952-54, when the late C Rajagopalachari became chief minister.
Does it all imply that the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leadership is not as confident as it claims to be on public platforms and TV debates, just as they made the trick work in the Lok Sabha elections two years ago?
Not only Jayalalithaa, even lower-level party workers and campaigners of the AIADMK are not talking about ‘coalition collapses’ if any of the opposition parties or alliances are voted to power.
The alternative could be the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance (with the Congress on board) and the Vijaykanth-led six-party People’s Welfare Front striking a post-poll tie-up to form a coalition government.
If the AIADMK falls short of the 117-mark required to form a government in the 234-member assembly, will it strike a post-poll deal with a party to form a coalition government?
While the choice of an ally depends on the number of seats the AIADMK gets, it will have two options in case of not getting a majority: either form a minority government with outside support of some other party -- as the DMK did in 2006 with outside support of the Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi -- or form the first-ever coalition government in the state.
However, there is a ‘moral problem’ which the AIADMK might face while going with the outside support option.
The DMK’s M Karunanidhi might have become the first chief minister of a large state to run a ‘minority government’ for a full term, but Jaya, then in the Opposition, did not lose any opportunity to ridicule the DMK for it. The question is if she would be willing to bear others doing the same to her.
Yet, Jaya and the AIADMK have mastered the art of having their men ‘embedded’ in other parties, more so within the assembly, whatever be their constitutional and legal identity.
Thus, Tamil Nadu had a Congress-J faction in the assembly, with most of the members from the Congress-led P V Narasimha Rao regime at the Centre.
More recently, close to 10 members of Vijaykanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam were sitting in a separate group in the assembly, for most of the past five years.
Officially, they were not members of the AIADMK, nor had they given up their DMDK membership. Yet, they wore all the paraphernalia of a ‘Jaya loyalist’ on their sleeves. They changed to dhotis/lungis with the AIADMK’s tri-colour border, from that of the DMDK.
More importantly, they also sported Jaya’s pictures in their translucent shirt pockets, displaying how close ‘Amma’ was to their hearts and minds -- a Standard Operating Procedure for all party loyalists.
Against the ruling AIADMK, the DMK is relatively open to pre-poll alliances, yet it is non-committal on post-election coalition.
Party chief Karunanidhi had tried hard to persuade the DMDK to join the DMK-led alliance. His famous ‘paazham nazhuvi paalil vizhum’ (the fruit has ripened and will fall into the milk) reference has since become the butt of many a political joke on social media, with constant references in Tamil TV talk-shows too.
If Karunanidhi alluded to his hopes of the DMDK (fruit) falling into the DMK alliance (milk) in public, it was a once-bitten-twice-shy story.
In 2011, the DMDK openly held alliance talks with the DMK almost till the end, but ditched the party to join the rival AIADMK at the last minute, embarrassing Karunanidhi, who was chief minister at the time.
This time, therefore, all the invitations by the DMK to the DMDK for an alliance were public and not personalised. No direct political negotiations were held, though it was an open secret that they were talking through middlemen, close to the party leaderships.
The DMK also has a history of pre-poll alliances and coalition governments. In every election that the DMK has contested, starting with the one in 1967, when it came to power in the state for the first time, it contested as the leader of an alliance, but managed to win a majority of its own -- with the exception of 2006.
The party kept alliance partners out of the government, and some of them, like the Communists, did not even want any share in power.
In 1980 and again in 2011, pre-poll seat-sharing with the Congress also contributed in no small way to the combine’s defeat, owing to cross-voting. The DMK would not want to depend on the Congress.
In 1980, the dismissal of the three-year-old M G Ramachandran-led AIADMK government in the state, when Indira Gandhi returned to power at the Centre after the failure of the Janata experiment, created a sympathy wave in the former’s favour.
In 2011, the 2G scam and other corruption issues involving the United Progressive Alliance at the Centre, of which the DMK was a partner, was another factor which contributed to the combine’s loss.
This time round, Karunanidhi’s son and party treasurer M K Stalin silenced all speculations about a post-poll alliance by ruling it out even before they had commenced alliance talks with prospective partners.
As if to deflect voters’ attention from the possibility of a coalition government and the confusion among cadres and voters about who is the real party boss -- Karunanidhi or him -- Stalin has started projecting the DMK poll manifesto as the ‘superhero’ of this election.
Against the two Dravidian majors, the six-party alliance, which is projecting Vijayakanth as chief ministerial candidate, has no confusion about forming a post-poll coalition government. They are at it together, and would swim or sink together. Each of the six partners seems to be well aware of it.
Just now, almost every member of the combine, particularly Vijayakanth’s DMDK and G K Vasan’s Tamil Maanila Congress -- the latest entrant after the AIADMK continued to ignore them despite their hopes and aspirations -- are faced with internal squabble.
The problem with forming an alliance for the major parties is to get candidates who can win elections, and also ensure that their respective leaders themselves have ‘safe seats’ to win from.
Even if the Vijayakanth-led alliance does exceptionally well, they will not be able to form a government on their own.
In such a situation, the Bharatiya Janata Party could well be their first choice for a post-poll alliance partner, whatever they could be saying about one another during the campaign.
The BJP is not expected to do well, either, but they could still get a few seats, if at all, in traditional strongholds like southern Kanyakumari district, owing to religion-based vote divisions in a multi-cornered contest.
The other option for the voter -- though limited to 100-odd constituencies -- is the PMK, which kickstarted its campaign with a chief ministerial nominee in former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss.
The PMK, like the PWF, is calling for a ‘change’, talking relatively less about corruption, given the pending Central Bureau of Investigation probe relating to Anbumani’s term as the Union health minister.
Like the BJP, the PMK may have a chance to win some seats in a multi-cornered contest, depending on a variety of factors.
The question of a post-poll alliance, therefore, particularly concerns the two major Dravidian parties.
They already have two chief ministerial aspirants in Vijayakanth and Anbumani, whose parties might not settle for anything less than a deputy chief minister’s post, depending on the number of seats the larger party requires -- and not what they themselves have to offer.
If the Vijayakanth-led front sticks together, it is possible that it doesn’t support any of the two Dravidian majors.
The DMDK might not want to partner with the AIADMK. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cannot tolerate the DMK and Thol Thirumavalavan’s Dalit-strong Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi may have problems working with the Vanniar-centric PMK.
For its part, the BJP (if it won some seats) may have no problem working with the AIADMK. But in a party counting more on loyalty, whether the leadership would want to partner with a national party, that too the one in power at the Centre, is a big question.
For the BJP, again, the DMK too might not be a problem. But the DMK will not be able to keep the Congress and the BJP within the same fold. Nor can the DMK ditch the Congress in favour of the BJP, particularly after aligning with the former before the polls.
It is another matter, however, if the Congress would win some seats, even in the DMK’s company, given the state party’s notorious factionalism contributing, in no small measure, before and after the elections.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.