February 21, 2020
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The Great Dravidian Divide

A year after a successful poll alliance, the DMK and the TMC are all set to part ways

The Great Dravidian Divide
For the record Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi and TMC chief G.K. Moopanar may say they are good friends. But for all practical purposes, the TMC and Karunanidhi's DMK are no more the allies they were during the 1996 general elections when they together routed the AIADMK. A year later both parties are suspicious of each other and the misgivings between them was more than in evidence at the DMK's state convention which opened on June 27 at Salem, where the cadres were a mite vocal about their displeasure with Moopanar and co.

The DMK's apprehensions are well-founded. The TMC strategy ever since Moopanar was denied prime ministership has been to project the DMK chief as the villain who 'betrayed' Tamil pride by foisting I.K. Gujral as Deve Gowda's successor. By discrediting Karunanidhi and the DMK, the TMC hopes to split the DMK votebank and carve out a niche as an alternative Dravidian party.

So convinced are TMC leaders that the DMK sabotaged Moopanar's chances that they have forgotten the role of the Left, particularly the CPI(M), while selecting Gowda's successor. As S. Balakrishnan, senior TMC leader and leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, articulates his party's grudge: "If Karunanidhi had tried sincerely, a Tamil would have unfurled the national flag on the golden jubilee Independence day celebrations at Red Fort. It was a conspiracy hatched by Karunanidhi and Murasoli Maran and they have to pay the price for it."

So the state convention where DMK supporters turned up in lakhs served as a morale-booster for the party. The rally which opened the Salem conclave was led by Karunanidhi's son Stalin and the first day was dedicated to the youth. Political observers see this as Karunanidhi's way of naming his son as his political heir. While there was a festive air at the convention, the Salem gathering is being held in the shadow of the DMK-TMC rift.

In Chennai, the bickering among the 'friends' who have fallen apart seems to worsen by the day. So much so that it is not restricted to the floor of the assembly or political rallies. Even the ongoing elections to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association have become a DMK-TMC battle for Supremacy. While the TMC is backing A.C. Muthiah of SPIC as president, the DMK is pushing the case of N. Srinivasan of India Cements. To boot, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is lobbying for his cousin Muthiah and Union Industry Minister Maran is promoting his friend Srinivasan.

Balakrishnan has emerged as the principal cheerleader of the anti-DMK of mismanagement and corruption. He alleges that the DMK has become Karunaidhi's fiefdom, with nephew Maran and son Stalin running the party and the state like dictators. At the meeting, a more severe analogy was offered: "Like a Sasikala for Jayalalitha, Maran is there for Karunanidhi. He is only conspiring and trying to destroy us."

The TMC's youth wing leader and MLA, Chellakumar, goes the whole hog and declares that corruption is rampant in the state and if it is not stemmed, the present rulers will also go to jail like their predecessors. Says he: "A politician functions with the next election in mind whereas a leader with the welfare of the next generation. Time has come for Karunanidhi to declare whether he is a politician or a leader."

This elicited a strong rebuttal in the DMK party organ Murasoli. In a strong editorial, it blamed Moopanar for permitting such diatribe and wondered whether he was trying to test the waters by using these second-rank leaders like a "monkey uses its offspring to check out the heat". Instead of restraining his leaders, it is claimed that Moopanar has given them a carte blanche.

To further complicate matters, the TMC has been trying to lucre DMK cadres. Last fortnight, 100 DMK members from Mahabalipuram joined the TMC. When questioned about the rationale of admitting members from an ally, Moopanar quipped: "There is nothing wrong in the cross-movement of cadres between friendly parties. One should be worried only if they cross over to the enemy camp. ""In retaliation, the DMK is also trying to lure grassroot-level TMC workers. The party has also begun showing a keen interest in the Indian Bank scam as its leaders feel that the involvement of TMC leaders has the potential to dent their credibility.

Public posturing aside, a break in the DMK-TMC alliance looks imminent. Both parties are merely waiting for the other to walk out and are working towards a post-split political alignment. Significantly, the TMC is trying to woo Dalits away from the DMK. The recent cast violence in Tamil Nadu's southern districts has definitely alienated them from the ruling party and Dalit leader Krishnaswamy is already talking of an overall understanding with the TMC, the rebel AIADMK, the Devendrakula Vellar Federation (the Dalit outfit) as well as the Congress's Thangabalu faction as a minor partner.

For its part, the DMK is widening its net to include the CPI(M) and the Pattali makkal Katchi, apart from its traditional partners like the CPI, Indian Union League, the Federation of MGR Fans led by ex-AIADMK minister R. Veerappan and the Forward Bloc.

While a partying of ways does not augur well for either party, both seem to have come to the realisation that they cannot coexist. Both Karunanidhi and Moopanar say that the alliance is still on, but the fissures are all too apparent.

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