Coming as it does only months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Chennai meet could provide the launch pad for a national alternative to the BJP-NDA, and MK Stalin may be given the credit for getting it going, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
At times, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s MK Stalin used to be compared to Britain’s Prince Charles -- for their eternal wait to wear the crown. In Stalin’s case it has now happened, with only the formalities to be fixed by the party general council, which anyway was scheduled to meet in mid-August, purportedly for the very same purpose.
But more important than this meeting would be the August 30 all-party conference on ‘national integration’ that Stalin as the party’s working president had called some time before patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi made his last visit to the hospital.
As things stand, Congress ally in the state is expected to be represented by none other than Sonia Gandhi, as son and party president Rahul Gandhi is expected to be travelling overseas that day.
Top communist party leaders at the national level and also most non-Bharatiya Janata Party chief ministers are also likely to make it, especially to make Stalin’s acquaintance.
As is known, Telugu Desam Party’s Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), Telangana Rashtriya Samithi’s K Chandrashekhar Rao, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi) and Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) touched base with Stalin in the past months, purportedly to enquire about Karunanidhi’s health, or to sound the DMK out on a non-Congress, anti-BJP coalition of the post-poll 1996 kind.
The chances of Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samajwadi Party’s Mayawati too making it to Chennai are also not unlikely, be it to pay their last respects to Karunanidhi, or to participate in the conference, or even both. So too with the Rashtriya Janata Dal leadership from Bihar.
Otherwise, too, political veterans like Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah and/or son Omar, and also Kerala’s Marxist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, are also expected to attend the August conference.
Coming as it does only months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Chennai could provide the launch pad for a national alternative to the BJP-NDA, and Stalin may be given the credit for getting it going.
In his time, patriarch Karunanidhi claimed such credit ahead of the Lok Sabha polls of 1989, when he spearheaded the launch of the anti-Congress United Front at the Centre, after which V P Singh replaced Rajiv Gandhi.
Likewise, at the end of elections 1996, Karunanidhi, along with breakaway Tamil Maanila Congress founder G K Moopanar, played a key role in the election of Karnataka’s H D Deve Gowda as prime minister.
With the Congress too now displaying an open willingness to accept any anti-BJP prime minister, if it came to that post-poll, the possibilities flowing from the Chennai conference may be for real.
So could be the possibilities for a relative growth in Stalin’s stature at the national-level, with its larger-than-life reflection in the State and the party, too!
True, Stalin does not have the stature or age that Karunanidhi commanded, be it in 1989 or in 1996. But unlike much of the rest among the regional party leaders, he does not have any prime ministerial ambitions.
Even if the SP or RJD got more LS seats than the DMK in any emerging scenario, their young leaders still lack Stalin’s stature (however confined to his own state just now).
With Mamata Banerjee not wanting to do anything with the CPM in particular in terms of ministry-making, the present-day Marxist leadership cannot hope to play the kind of role that the late Harkishen Singh Surjeet played in 1996 and later.
Thus, either it has to be the Sonia-Rahul duo, or someone as neutral as Stalin -- alone or together, if and when it came to their attempting a non-BJP coalition government at the Centre.
Going by the present situation, that is all far off in comparison. Right now, Stalin will have to focus much more on regional politics, if only to establish himself as an election-winner for and by the party.
Over the past two decades, it was Stalin who was mostly running the DMK’s poll campaigns, including alliance talks and seat allocation within the party.
Yet, when the DMK won, as in 2006 (assembly) and 2009 (Lok Sabha), the party was shy of conferring full credit on him.
Yet, when the DMK lost in elections 2011 (assembly) following the 2-G scam, and 2014 (Lok Sabha, thanks to the ‘Modi wave’), there were murmurs from within and criticism from outside that he was not a ‘natural winner’.
Again when the DMK-led alliance, with Congress as a partner, polled the highest-ever 98 seats in a House of 234 in the assembly polls of 2016, there were more brickbats than bouquets.
The fact that the victor-loser poll percentage was the narrowest one per cent anywhere in the country at any time (41-40) also did not seem to count for the Stalin’s critics.
This apart, the DMK under Stalin has been unsure whom to target as their electoral adversaries in the post-Jayalalithaa ‘AIADMK family’, if it could be described so.
On the one side is the official AIADMK under Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Deputy CM, O Panneerselvam. On the other, is the breakaway Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam of Jayalalithaa’s jailed live-in confidante Sasikala Natarajan, whose nephew T T V Dhinakaran is making waves at the cadre-level, still.
With a third judge of the Madras high court seized of Dhinakaran camp’s challenge against assembly speaker P Dhanapal ‘disqualifying’ 18 faction MLAs, with possibilities of further appeal to the Supreme Court, the DMK is as unsure as the rest of them all, about what is in store for Tamil Nadu politics, as for the party, as well.
In the midst of all this, Stalin as DMK leader will also has to define/re-define the party’s equations with the BJP-NDA leadership at the Centre, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
There is nothing to suggest that Modi is not well disposed towards Stalin or the DMK – and, there is nothing to suggest otherwise, either.
The fact, however, remains that the PMO did not grant him an appointment when he sought time thrice in as many months through 2017, to present Tamil Nadu’s case on various issues as the Leader of the Opposition with a substantial backing.
As for politics and elections, the BJP, first under Vajpayee and now under Modi, did record about an additional five to seven per cent vote-share than the usual two percent.
However, the DMK’s experience with the ‘Hindutva’ party as an ally showed in elections 1999, the BJP has no ‘transferrable’ votes for the party, though the reverse was not the case.
In the AIADMK’s combine, however, the BJP votes happily transferred to the other.
More recently, ahead of the R K Nagar by-polls, PM Modi calling on Karunanidhi, out of turn, if only to enquire about his health, was enough for the substantial number of ‘minority voters’ in the constituency to go the Dhinakaran way, near-wholesale.
Yet, with hopes of ushering in DMK rule in the state in the none too distant future, Stalin in particular understands that he would need all the support and assistance from the Centre, to put the state’s economy in order -- who ruled the Centre would not and should not matter, as long as the other side too is able to make the distinct delineation.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.