‘With its vote bank is intact, the PMK, though a smaller party of Vanniars, was able to twist around major parties like the DMK and AIADMK, negotiating with both before settling for Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s side.’
‘There is a lesson in it for regional parties in other states as well, on how to dominate the national parties with a committed vote share of just 7 to 8 per cent,’ says R Rajagopalan.
With the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam first off the blocks in Tamil Nadu in snapping up allies for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the rival DMK expected to follow soon, the electoral alliances in the crucial southern state, which sends 39 MPs to the Lok Sabha, have been firmed up.
It is a straight between the AIADMK + allies and DMK + allies.
Both the national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, are riding on the coat-tails of regional parties, the former with the AIADK and the latter with the DMK.
Of the new entrants, superstar Rajnikanth has abstained from this round of elections, while friend and rival Kamal Hassan will play a spoilsport for the DMK. However, once the poll campaign hots up, the cine world will get relegated to the background.
In the absence of both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, this will be the first time that Tamil Nadu will go to polls without a tall leader. It is a peculiar challenge for both the AIADMK and DMK, but it is a do-or-die situation for MK Stalin’s leadership of the DMK as the main opposition party in the state.
With regional parties holding sway, Tamil Nadu remains a model for federal politics, whose focus will be on district- and state-level issues.
Of the lot, it is the Pattali Makkal Katchi of father and son duo of S Ramadoss and Dr Anbumani Ramadoss that has emerged as a main beneficiary in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. With its vote bank is intact, the PMK, though a smaller party of Vanniars, was able to twist around major parties like the DMK and AIADMK, negotiating with both before settling for Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s side.
There is a lesson in it for regional parties in other states as well, on how to dominate the national parties with a committed vote share of just 7 to 8 per cent.
The PMK aligning with the AIADMK will actually benefit the EPS government, helping it to continue in office after the Lok Sabha polls. That is because of the peculiar political situation in Tamil Nadu whereby bypolls to 21 assembly seats are also expected to be held along with elections to the Lok Sabha.
Interestingly, the PMK has a hold in 10 assembly seats, as these segments fall under the PMK stronghold Vanniar belt. That was the main attraction it held for the AIADMK.
Given this vote transfer from the PMK, the EPS government is confident of surviving even if the opposition DMK manages to wins 5-8 bypolls, as the AIADMK expects to bag the rest.
That is why the AIADMK wooed PMK, even agreeing to concede seven Lok Sabha seats to it plus a Rajya Sabha, more than what it yielded to the national party, BJP.
So where does all this leave the BJP and Congress in Tamil Nadu?
The BJP firmed up its alliance with the AIADMK because it felt the party echoes the feelings of Hindus. Also, during the lifetime of Jayalalithaa, the party manifesto supported the construction of Ram mandir in Ayodhya.
Even if the BJP wins two Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu it will be a bonus for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Given the importance of the state, it was mystifying why BJP chief Amit Shah and Modi, who tweeted their joy after the Shiv Sena-BJP electoral agreement, failed to express their enthusiasm after Union minister Piyush Goyal stuck a deal with the AIADMK for BJP, with nary a tweet to welcome the party into the NDA fold.
A similar predicament awaits the Congress too in the southern state.
During the 2019 poll campaign almost all political parties will focus on the Tamil genocide in the north-eastern province of Sri Lanka in 2009 and blame it on the Congress and UPA regime.
Perhaps quick to realise this, the DMK, which pronounced that Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial choice, has now piped down its enthusiasm.
But all this intense politicking should not hide the fact that Tamil Nadu, while remaining the best administered state in the country, is facing an immense leadership crisis.
Of those left, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam leader Captain Vijaykant is unwell. And the future of the newest political outfit, Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam of TTV Dhinakaran, is shrouded in uncertainty.
The absence of a tall leader is telling, with smaller parties jostling to fill the space of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, even as Prime Minister Modi believes that after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls there is bound be space for either BJP or the Congress in the state.
The ground situation in Tamil Nadu is that there is no wave for either the AIADMK or DMK. In a nut shell, the 2019 Lok Sabha poll will see a fractured mandate, with almost all political parties bagging a few seats.
Of them the DMK will be the two-digit winner out of 40 Lok Sabha seats (including the lone Puducherry), while other parties will end up with single digit, including the ruling AIADMK which may win eight seats. The Congress with the DMK’s support is likely to win four seats. The PMK will end up with 3, and BJP with 2.
Whichever side one may look at, and whatever you may say, the real gainer is the PMK. And the DMK is the loser, at least till such time as the poll results are out in May 2019.
How will all this play in the national scenario? Once the smaller parties win in the southern states, especially in Tamil Nadu, they will play a major role in national politics after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll results.
Their whims and fancies are bound to rule the roost in New Delhi.
R Rajagopalan is a senior journalist and a keen observer of Tamil Nadu politics.