BJP, Congress have neatly woven alliances to woo various communities in TN

The AIADMK, which had won 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu in 2014 despite the ‘Modi wave’, this time has tied up with the BJP and smaller parties Photo: PTI
For the first time in over half a century, Tamil Nadu is not only getting ready for a Lok Sabha battle without any of its towering personality in the political landscape, but also witnessing caste taking centre stage, especially in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). 

The AIADMK is led by Chief Minister E K Palaniswami (popularly known as EPS) and his deputy O Panneerselvam or as frequently called OPS, while the DMK is being spearheaded by M K Stalin. In 2014, both the DMK and the AIADMK fronts had kept the BJP and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) away, leading to the formation of a third front.

The AIADMK — which had contested alone in all the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014 under J Jayalaithaa’s leadership, and won 37 —  this time has decided to join the NDA, which also includes the PMK and the Puthiya Thamizhagam. Actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), too, is likely to join the BJP’s alliance.

“The alliances of caste parties and those that have either left-leaning or Dravidian ideology mark a tectonic shift in the way elections are fought in the state,” says political analyst M R Venkatesh.

For the first time since 1966, the very idea of Dravidianism is on trial. Jayalalithaa had not gone into caste politics to the level now EPS and OPS have gone into. “Once you go into caste, you are doing away with the larger grouping called Dravidianism,” he says.

With the ‘Brahminical’ tag, the BJP chose partners which have a good caste back-up, a strategy that the national party wants to test on Dravidian soil.

The AIADMK enjoys support among the Gounder and Thevar communities. Palaniswami hails from Edappadi in the Kongu region. He is a Gounder, a dominant backward caste which has got six cabinet ministers, along with those from the Thevar community to which Panneerselvam belongs. 

While this is a clever political balancing act, AIADMK sources said, it is widely believed that the Thevars owe their allegiance to the AIADMK only because of Jayalalithaa’s friend V K Sasikala, who is now behind bars; the party has distanced itself from her, and her family. 

The PMK, which is the largest caste-based party in Tamil Nadu and will contest seven Lok Sabha seats, besides a Rajya Sabha seat, has a support base among the most backward Vanniyars. It holds sway in at least nine constituencies in north Tamil Nadu, and has bagged 5-10 per cent of the state’s votes in Lok Sabha polls since 1999.

A C Shanmugam’s Puthiya Neethi Katchi, which will contest one seat, represents the Mudaliars, while the Puthiya Thamizhagam, also fighting a single seat, represents the Thevendra Kula Vellalars (a Dalit community).

The DMDK commands a small percentage of rural votes across the state, and the BJP is trying hard to woo it.

The vote share of the parties which have sided with the NDA accounted for 59.3 per cent of the total in the 2014 polls. 

On the other side, the DMK and the Congress have garnered the support of the Left and other small parties. Political experts say while they will be trying to consolidate the Dalit, the Muslim and the Christian votes, the challenge would be convincing the Muslims and the Christians not to switch over to Kamal Haasan’s party as the actor-turned-politician, Brahmin by birth, has been giving a voice to these communities, especially through his films, and is seen more as an anti-Hindu by the Brahmin community.

The DMK has also roped in the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a Dalit party that opposes caste hegemonies in Tamil Nadu. This party would contest in two seats like the CPI and the CPM.

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of Vaiko has been allotted one Lok Sabha and a Rajya Sabha seat. The Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi doesn't have a formidable presence anywhere in the state, but it is said to have got good monetary resources. 

The Kongunadu Makkal Desiya Katchi, which is contesting one seat, focuses on western Tamil Nadu, where the dominant caste is the Gounders.

The DMK, the Congress and the Communist parties had garnered nearly 28.9 per cent of vote share, of which the DMK alone contributed nearly 23.6 per cent, in the last Lok Sabha. But not even one representative was elected.

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