Tamil Nadu was among the first states to teach the country a thing or two about forging poll alliances (and the perils of psephology). And, to it now goes the dubious credit of illustrating the problems that plague the coming together of disparate parties on one platform. Indeed, irreconcilable contradictions, internecine conflicts and raging confusion dominate the two political formations of the ruling dmk and the aiadmk. In such a scenario, a swing of three or four percentage points can make a crucial difference.
The dmk-led alliance is a conglomerate of 12 parties (the 13th, mdmk, split with it on Friday amid acrimony over seats) and calls itself the "anti-corruption front"; the aiadmk has nine parties under its umbrella and describes itself as the "secular alliance." The problem is, neither enjoys much credibility among the masses.
For instance, in the dmk front, six seats have been allocated to the newly-floated Makkal Tamil Desam (mtd) headed by former aiadmk minister S. Kannappan, a prime accused in the "coal import cases" involving former CM J. Jayalalitha. The mtd's general secretary is M. Gopalakrishnan, former Indian Bank chairman who was arrested on corruption charges and has a case pending against him. Undermining the dmk's anti-corruption plank further are the Tehelka tapes that brushed the whole nda indirectly but, perhaps, decisively. Says a senior nda leader: "The only plus point for the dmk-led front is that there is no apparent anti-incumbency mood."
Similarly, the aiadmk front—for all its Left constituents—is hardly secular. Jayalalitha has already obtained the support of communal parties like the Hindu Makkal Katchi, the Tamil Nadu Brahmin Association and other fringe Hindu-fanatic groups. The front has also allocated just one seat to the Indian National League, a Muslim party which has five mlas in the outgoing assembly.
The aiadmk front is projecting itself as the saviour of the powerful Most Backward Caste lobby. M.S.S. Pandian, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and historian of the Dravidian movement, minces no words: "Tormentors of Dalits, women-haters, swindlers of public money, foes of free speech, class enemies of the proletariat, kar sevaks of the past, all can now pass off as political radicals.This is an irresistible gift of Indian 'secularism'—a 'secularism' scripted and staged by India's parliamentary Left for the past decade."
Indeed, the aiadmk is now seen largely as the Thevar community party. Preens an aiadmk leader: "If we can consolidate the Thevar votes in the south and the Vanniyar votes in the north with Congress support, we can tilt the tmc and the Left scales in our favour."
Ideologies apart, the wind is blowing against the dmk. For one, the dmk not only lost the support of the pmk, a powerful Vanniyar party, but also the pmk's rivals from the Vanniyar community like the Tamil Nadu Rajiv Congress headed by former Union minister Vazhapadi Ramamurthy, the Tamil pmk headed by the sitting mla Prof Dheeran, and Vanniya Adigal, the community's spiritual leader. In a single stroke, the dmk has been branded as an anti-Vanniyar front.
Conversely, the aiadmk has emerged as an anti-Dalit front—and the dmk is perceived as pro-Dalit. This is because the dmk has roped in the two major Dalit parties of the state—Pudiya Tamizhagam and the Dalit Panthers. "The Dalit votebank has one negative fallout. Caste Hindus won't vote dmk," says an aiadmk leader.
However, the aiadmk front did not expect a revolt from within the tmc following the alliance between the two. Former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram is openly criticising the tmc leadership for compromising on the issue of 'governance'. "I am convinced a single-party rule under the leadership of Jayalalitha will not provide good governance. It will be a disaster for Tamil Nadu," says Chidambaram, who has now floated the tmc Democratic Forum.
The split, however, is not confined to the tmc alone. Even the Indian National League, which gave the front an image of being pro-minority, has suffered disintegration. Yet, the presence of the bjp in the dmk front could neutralise its adverse impact.
Jayalalitha's problems will emerge once her front starts distributing constituencies among the allies early in April. It was precisely this exercise which impacted adversely on the dmk front. First, it reduced the bjp's share from 23 to 21 and then has as yet failed to work out a deal with the mgr admk, headed by sitting MP S. Thirunavukkarasu, who enjoys the backing of the bjp central leadership. While the dmk is willing to give him four seats, Thirunavukkarasu wants at least one seat more than what the dmk has given to caste-based parties like Makkal Tamil Desam, which managed six seats, and the Dalit Panthers, who have eight.
Worse, it looks near-certain that the mdmk will part company with the nda. The dmk-mdmk ties reached breaking point over constituency identification with Karunanidhi slamming the doors on the mdmk on Friday, declaring: "If the mdmk wants to go it alone, they're free to do so. We're not blocking their way." Things came to this pass over three seats. The mdmk wanted Thanjavur for its chairman L. Ganesan, one seat in Chennai, and Sankarankoil, under which mdmk leader Vaiko's native Kalingapatti falls. The dmk was in no mood to give any of these. It has rejected other partners' demands for a seat in Chennai, saying the city (with 14 seats) has been its bastion for over four decades. It has also held Thanjavur ever since Karunanidhi won it way back in 1962, save for 1991. Said a miffed CM: "The mdmk leaders are behaving irresponsibly. Their posters too are in bad taste.We can't be mute spectators."
Amid such competition, and tough bargaining, caste passions are being stoked in such a fashion that most observers fear that this election might turn out to be the bloodiest in the state's history.