With Prime Minister Narendra Modi about to make yet another visit to Tamil Nadu where he would inaugurate infrastructure projects worth a few thousand crore rupees, the state seems to have entered the active campaign phase for the 2019 elections. Modi thinks his party would register a “historic win” in the state and one of the reasons he cited is its “strong alliance” with AIADMK and others.
Modi’s trust on alliances is not misplaced because right now what matters the most is optimisation of electoral resources, including vote shares. The main fronts led by the AIADMK and the DMK are betting on vote-share arithmetic that incidentally folds in itself caste and communal equations. The AIADMK has tied up with the Vanniyar dominated PMK and the BJP and is hopeful of bringing in actor Vijayakanth’s DMDK and a less influential Puthiya Thamilagam. Reportedly Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) too would join.
On the other side, the DMK has Congress, CPI, CPM, VCK, MDMK and IUML. And the front is also hopeful about roping in DMDK. Reportedly, DMDK is more inclined to join the DMK-Congress front than AIADMK-BJP.
While the main story is about alliances and how their synergies amplify chances of electoral success, there’s a side story too: It’s about two emerging and charismatic leaders being stranded. They are in neither of the camps and their parties are at risk of spreading too thin if they are to contest across the state. This story is about Kamal Haasan and TTV Dhinakaran. Both of them will be contesting alone.
It’s not clear if Kamal’s going it alone is purely out of choice or because of circumstances. A few months ago he had said that he was open to aligning with “like-minded” parties. The Congress was interested in him and he had even met Rahul Gandhi, but reportedly the DMK was circumspect. Even Kamal had said earlier that he wouldn’t tie up with either the DMK or the AIADMK. On his part, he was open to the Congress without the DMK, which was politically meaningless.
In the case of Dhinakaran, who many political observers think has considerable support of the traditional AIADMK-voters, has a different problem. He can’t go to AIADMK because that’s his mothership which he wants to control sooner than later and the DMK has to be his main rival. Therefore, Dhinakaran will do better if he cannibalises the AIADMK because that will destabilise its present leadership and help him wean away its cadres. Dinakaran’s lone ranger campaign is aimed at weakening the AIADMK. It will certainly help the DMK-Congress front.
Kamal’s camp reiterates that his party’s (Makkal Needhi Maiyam) decision to go it alone is strategic. He only wants to work with parties that are not corrupt and that won’t change the “DNA of Tamil Nadu”. It pretty much means that he has no other option but to be alone.
Interestingly, Kamal is taking the same route that actor took when he entered politics with his DMDK in 2005. His party refused to align with anybody and fought elections alone that helped him gain some foothold that finally took him to the AIADMK-front and even a double digit vote share. Although his vote-share has slid afterwards, he is now considered a worthwhile ally. Vijayakanth, when he had originally set out in politics, too wanted to make it big on his own and be as formidable as the AIADMK and DMK, but realised too soon that the state’s electorate had long since been polarised between the two Dravidian parties and there was hardly any space for a third entrant unless one of them got kicked out.
Kamal’s MNM also says that it wants to rule the state in the next assembly elections, but seemingly doesn’t realise that it’s not easy to make inroads in a state where division of political loyalties is very strong and has a long history. Moreover, as Vijayakanth learned the hard way, it requires enormous tenacity, hard work and resources – both people and money.
Probably Rajinikanth, the other movie star waiting to enter the fray, is aware of the risks and hence avoided getting involved in the upcoming elections. In a statement last month, he too had said his target was the assembly elections. By not supporting any party for the 2019 elections and asking people not to use his image or party symbols, he also has made it clear that he too wants to fight alone.
Therefore, in an era of alliance-synergies, strangely three people – Dhinakaran, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth – want to go it alone and rule the state. Although he has been visible in a leadership role only recently, Dhinakaran is a political veteran and might be able to dent the AIADMK at least partially to begin with; but the future of Kamal and Rajini certainly look uncertain.
What if they joined hands as Tamil actor Vishal recently wanted them to? Sounds better, but still difficult unless they abandon everything else and set on a path of social ferment that will gain sufficient momentum to disrupt the political climate of the state. The only person in India who could do that was Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, but he was single-minded, courageous, extremely strategic and tireless. Kamal and Rajini don’t come anywhere close.