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Tamil Nadu: With ‘Brahminical’ BJP by its side, AIADMK bets on PMK base to bridge caste gap

No Jayalalithaa, no Karunanidhi, this general election will see two national parties trying out their luck in the state.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: February 25, 2019 7:11:55 am
Lok Sabha elections, AIDMK, Narendra Modi, BJP, Tamil Nadu, BJP AIDMK alliance, Jayalalitha, DMK, Stalin, Congress, India news, general elections, indian express news BJP leader Piyush Goyal after the announcement of the alliance. (PTI)

WITH the BJP an untested partner in Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK is counting more on caste arithmetics via ally PMK and hopefully the DMDK in the coming elections.

Battling anti-incumbency, some anger against the BJP itself for interfering in the state’s politics, as well as a strong rebellion from T T V Dhinakaran, the AIADMK, fighting its first election without J Jayalalithaa, needs every bit of help it can get.

The PMK is the largest caste-based party in Tamil Nadu, a state in which the two main parties, DMK and AIADMK, draw from the same pool of Dravidian politics. With its support base among the most backward Vanniyars, the PMK holds sway in at least nine constituencies in north Tamil Nadu.

Read: Confident DMK works out seats with Congress

Captain Vijayakanth’s DMDK commands a small percentage of rural votes across the state, which includes backward communities as well as Dalits, and the BJP is trying hard to woo him over. The AIADMK’s own thumping performance in 2014 (37 of 39 seats) was attributed largely to its hold in rural areas. Only Dharmapuri went to Anbumani Ramadoss of the PMK and Kanyakumari to Pon Radhakrishnan of the BJP. The DMK got urban votes.

Besides, the AIADMK is banking on Gounder votes with major leaders of the party, like CM E Palaniswami and at least six of his ministers, belonging to the community.

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Even AIADMK leaders upset with the seat-sharing with the BJP say the support of the PMK will benefit the party. They also expect it to reflect in at least two of the 21 Assembly seats (Pappireddipatti and Sholinghur) where bypolls are likely to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls. “We have to win a minimum of eight seats to save the government,” an AIADMK leader said. In October 2018, the Madras High Court had upheld the disqualification of 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs, agreeing with an order by Speaker P Dhanapal under the anti-defection law

However, others fear that the PMK’s vocal statements against the AIADMK leadership will come in the way of a smooth alliance. During the instability in the state government following Jayalalithaa’s death, Ramadoss had attacked both Palaniswami and Deputy CM O Panneerselvam. “These were people who would sign anything, fall at her (Jayalalithaa’s) feet… They are like monkeys with garlands in hands,” Anbumani had said.

PMK founder and Anbumani’s father S Ramadoss had opposed the state government’s plan to construct a memorial for Jayalalithaa, citing her conviction in a disproportionate assets case.

Editorial: Seat pacts in TN mirror the national discourse, reflect the weakening of the main Dravidian parties

Political observer Ramu Manivannan, a political science professor at the University of Madras, cautions that caste calculations don’t work in the Lok Sabha polls as much as the Assembly elections. For example, while the PMK has seen a sharp decline in vote share in the Lok Sabha polls, it has managed to retain it in Assembly constituencies. In 2006, it got 5.65 per cent of the votes and won 18 Assembly seats, and while the number of seats went down to three and one in 2011 and 2016, its vote share remained almost unchanged at 5.23 per cent and 5.32 per cent in state polls. This was unlike the Lok Sabha polls — five seats, 6.71 per cent votes in the 2004; 5.72 per cent and 0 seats in 2009; and 3.17 per cent votes and 1 seat in 2014.

Manivannan says playing caste politics could backfire on the AIADMK given it has the BJP as its ally. “The BJP continues to be seen as a Brahminical party in Tamil Nadu,” he said.

Countering that the BJP might drag it down, AIADMK Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan said, “We are part of the NDA now… Besides the votes of the AIADMK, BJP and PMK in north Tamil Nadu, we also get the advantage of ‘Modi votes’, that is beyond all party lines.”

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