The Lede
An illustration of DMK chief MK Stalin
An illustration of DMK chief MK Stalin|Courtesy: Thalapathy Siva art
2019 Polls

DMK: All Dressed Up & Nowhere To Go

MK Stalin now probably knows how Jayalalithaa felt in 2014

Sandhya Ravishankar

Sandhya Ravishankar

In 2014, reporters standing outside Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden, residence of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, supremo of the ruling AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), had to wait for much longer than usual, despite the verdict having come in.

The AIADMK had done an almost clean sweep of the state in the Lok Sabha polls – 37 out of 39 seats. Of the remaining, one seat was won by the PMK's Anbumani Ramadoss and the other by the BJP's Pon Radhakrishnan.

Jayalalithaa would generally wave the 'V for victory' or two-leaves symbol at her balcony and at times, when in the throes of a huge win, would even speak to her cadre using a portable loudspeaker kept at hand.

In 2014 though, her face was black as thunder – livid at having won an extraordinary victory which was of absolutely no use. Jayalalithaa did not ally with the BJP at the time in a calculated bid to become kingmaker at the Centre. There was even talk of her being a Prime Ministerial candidate in the event of a hung Parliament.

But all her best laid plans went awry when the BJP managed a majority on its own and formed government at the Centre.

Similarly, MK Stalin, a rival in life and now the leader of the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), is all dressed up with nowhere to go. He has the numbers – 37 of 38 Lok Sabha seats (38 because the Vellore poll was cancelled by the ECI due to voter bribery).

Although Stalin did smile and greet his cadre warmly, it must have been a bit of an anti-climax, especially considering he had been the first to propose Rahul Gandhi's name as the UPA's Prime Ministerial candidate.

The BJP managed to win a majority on its own at the Centre with 303 seats, bettering its performance of 2014. The Congress won a meagre 51 seats. The DMK's hard-won 37 seats was of little consequence.

The party though is gearing for Parliamentary battles ahead.

“If at all we are not able to bring developmental activities through Centre, we will not keep silent like AIADMK did in the past five years,” said A Raja, Nilgiris MP and Propaganda Secretary of the DMK. “We will definitely assert our regional rights and aspirations in the Parliament.”

An Ideological Stand

The DMK has undeniably managed to pull off a huge feat – its best ever since the late 1990s. Its share of votes polled in the Lok Sabha election is over the 50% mark while the AIADMK has managed around 33%.

The DMK has contested in 20 seats while three other allies have chosen to contest on the party's Rising Sun symbol – D Ravikumar of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi in Villupuram, Ganesamoorthy of MDMK in Erode and Paari Vendhar (TR Pachamuthu) of IJK in Perambalur.

"From a national standpoint, what he (Stalin) did was right,” K Venkataraman, senior journalist and political analyst told The Lede. “He was the only one amongst all regional parties to understand the significance of defeating the BJP. At least Stalin made an ideological choice and did not keep options open like the others. To that extent, he was right and he delivered what he promised," he said.

Bucking The National Trend

It was only Tamil Nadu and Kerala that bucked the national trend and voted against the BJP. This could well be seen as a characteristic pushback against right wing forces by the two states historically.

“After 2014 there is a stronger sentiment against Modi - in other states it is diminishing but in Kerala and Tamil Nadu it seems to be rising,” continued Venkataramanan. “These are the only two states where there is considerable resistance to the right wing here. In Kerala, the opposition to the Left seem to have gone to the Congress instead of the BJP."

But there were also a number of other factors that helped the DMK make an almost clean sweep in Tamil Nadu.

The lack of a strong rival personality cult like Jayalalithaa certainly helped. Post her demise in 2016, the ruling AIADMK has splintered and witnessed multiple mutinies within.

A state government led by the Edappadi Palaniswami-O Panneerselvam factions that is largely viewed as weak and opportunistic, has only made the DMK seem to be the only alternative.

While newbies have arrived on the electoral front – like Kamal Haasan and his Makkal Needhi Maiam – the tussle is still largely between the two Dravidian majors.

Lack Of An Opposition At The Centre

What is worse for the DMK is that there is not even a proper Opposition at the Centre, with the NDA having swept the rest of the country. Not even being able to make a mark as Opposition will likely hurt the DMK, which originally had aspirations of playing an important role at the national level.

“This (lack of opposition) is not at all healthy for democracy,” said Raja. “This is a lesson which has to be taken into consideration and all Opposition parties and leaders should be united in the future elections. If Chandrababu Naidu, Mamata Banerjee and others were all together, the result could have been different,” he added.

The DMK also feels that the Congress cannot entirely be written off either, despite its poor performances in the past two elections. “Regional aspirations are being reflected by parties at the Centre over the past ten years. But for the regional aspirations to come together and stick, we need a national party. And to counter the BJP we need another national party namely the Congress,” he stated.