Poli-‘Ticking’: The Why, How and What of TN’s 2019 Political Scene

The historic context of an electoral fight that might challenge seventy years of Dravidian thought.

Updated
Explainers
7 min read
TN without Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi, is still a politically rich state.
i
Snapshot

The ruling AIADMK has joined hands with the BJP, roped in the PMK and is fast building an alliance to fight the 2019 elections. The DMK has declared support for the INC, having agreed to give the party 10 seats (9 + Puducherry) and is forming a united Opposition.

In the absence of Karunanidhi (DMK) and Jayalalithaa (AIADMK), Tamil Nadu will see an election like no other; one that might well become a free for all, fought on the flimsy pillars of nostalgia for its past leaders, fuelled by social media.

Here’s the story so far, of the parties who have allied together this time, their ideologies, and the historic context of an electoral fight that might challenge 70 years of Dravidian thought.

Poli-‘Ticking’: The Why, How and What of TN’s 2019 Political Scene

  1. 1. Today's EPS-OPS AIADMK

    O Panneerselvam (OPS), the ‘silent’ follower of his beloved ‘Amma’ raked up controversy after Jayalalithaa’s demise on 5 December 2016, by exiting the party barely two months later; ‘meditating’ in front of Jayalalithaa’s memorial, and making ‘Amma’s spirit’ a constant presence in the party’s communiques. It was he who first raised questions on Sasikala’s role in affecting or obstructing Jayalalithaa’s treatment at Apollo hospital, and decried her high-handedness in dealing with the members of the party.

    Even for those in Tamil Nadu, the name Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) rang no bell, when Sasikala announced that he would be the Chief Minster of Tamil Nadu, on Valentine’s Day (14th February, 2017). EPS was seen as a Sasikala loyalist, until he severed ties with the by then incarcerated ‘Chinnamma’ (‘Amma’s Sister’), and scrapped the post of General Secretary, that was created by MGR, occupied by Jayalalithaa, taken over by Sasikala, who then gave it to her nephew TTV Dhinakaran. By scrapping the post, EPS removed Dhinakaran, and thereby Sasikala’s role, from the equation of power.

    The day Sasikala christened EPS as CM, she was found guilty by the Supreme Court, in the Disproportionate Assets case, filed by Subramaniam Swamy in 1996. Jayalalithaa died a free woman, before the matter went to the Supreme Court, as the Karnataka High Court had cleared all charges against her on 11 May 2015.

    Almost nine months after Jayalalitha’s demise, OPS merged his faction of AIADMK with Edappadi K Palaniswamy’s AIADMK on 21st August, 2017, and was sworn-in as the Deputy CM, and in charge of the Finance portfolio. The two leaves symbol was saved. The party stayed united. And OPS went back to what he had always been – Deputy. Things have remained surprisingly quiet since the merger, with supporters of EPS and OPS getting along without any controversy or friction.

    Expand
  2. 2. DMK Sans Kalaignar...

    ...is all about M K Stalin, biological, legal, and political heir to the late DMK supremo M Karunanidhi. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is the first and oldest political party of Tamil Nadu, and the Karunanidhi family, the Tamil version of dynasty politics that exists across India.

    Stalin ‘served’ Chennai as its mayor from 1996-2002. And after Jayalalithaa’s inglorious defeat in 2006, he became the Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration. However, by 2009, his influence was such that he was often called Tamil Nadu’s first ‘deputy chief minister’.

    Between disgruntled older members of the party, and M K Alagiri, Stalin’s blood brother and former muscle of the DMK, Stalin holds to the tiger’s tail on the path to becoming the third CM from the DMK camp in almost sixty years. Karunanidhi had been extremely ill for the last two years of his life; his final public appearance was on his birthday, 3 June 2016. From even a little earlier, the affairs of the party were managed by the senior members, with Stalin acting as the face of the party.

    After Karunanidhi’s death on 7 August last year (2018), the DMK has gone on a war footing against every policy, statement and decision of the Centre. With the BJP coming to power in 2014, the anti-Hindi sentiment in Tamil Nadu – notably in the media’s perception – has risen dramatically. In a sense, the DMK’s inception, and its victory over the Congress party (the only national party at the time) in 1967, was seen as the victory of the ‘Dravidians’ over the North.

    Ironically, the BJP has now become representative of all that the DMK stood against (Hindi imposition, upper caste, non-dravidian identity), while the INC has become an ally.

    In December last year, Stalin stated openly that Rahul Gandhi should be the Prime Minister. It was obvious therefore that an alliance was only a matter of time; two months, in this case. On 20th February, 2019, the DMK announced an alliance with the Congress, and accorded it nine seats, plus the one seat in Puducherry, to seal the deal.

    Expand
  3. 3. Allies FTW?

    The 1971 elections were pivotal for the DMK for two reasons:

    • M Karunanidhi, who took over the party after C N Annadurai’s death contested and won as the head of the party, for the first time.
    • The DMK allied with the Indian National Congress, headed by Indira Gandhi, to clinch a victory over the INC (O) faction headed by K Kamaraj.

    The 1991 elections were equally pivotal for the DMK, which reeled under allegations of involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who had dissolved the DMK government earlier on corruption charges. The AIADMK-Congress alliance that year proved victorious.

    The DMK-Congress alliance, which today seems obvious, was formed after severe electoral defeat in 2001, when the DMK had allied with the BJP, and the AIADMK soared to victory, with a mega alliance with the INC, the TMC and almost all of the major political parties of TN.

    After its victory in 1971, it would take the DMK three more decades (2004), to once again ally with the Congress for a victory, unless you count the 1996 alliance with the Tamil Manila Congress, born of former Congressman and INC sympathiser, late G K Moopanar. The alliance worked again in 2006, when Karunanidhi was sworn in as CM for the fifth time. It helped the Congress win the 2009 General Elections.

    It couldn’t save Karunanidhi from charges of corruption (2G scam) and nepotism in 2011, when the DMK lost badly to the AIADMK, who had only allied with Vijayakanth’s DMDK.

    Interestingly, the AIADMK has had a love/hate relationship with the BJP. While the parties allied together in 1989 and shared power, Jayalalithaa withdrew support in 1999, leading to the fall of the government. In 2004, despite populist measures by the government, the BJP-AIADMK alliance failed miserably.

    Net net, the fortunes of the DMK and the AIADMK in alliances with both the BJP and the INC, have swung widely, between thumping majority and humiliating defeat. There are more factors at play in TN, than the optics of a large alliance. 
    Expand
  4. 4. Anti-Incumbency

    This is a phenomenon where popular public sentiment is typically against the existing incumbent government, leading to its downfall in the next election. It began after AIADMK founder, superstar MGR’s death in 1987, when the DMK took over. It held good till 2004, during which time the AIADMK and the DMK alternately came to power. Between 2004 and 2011, the DMK held fort for two consecutive terms.

    The AIADMK, in turn formed the government in 2011, and also won the Assembly elections of 2016 with a thumping majority. In both cases, it stood alone, without any alliance.

    But with Jayalalithaa no more, the AIADMK is practically without a leader-figure, unlike the DMK, who had been grooming Stalin as the face of the party from the early 2000s. In fact, this has been the problem with the AIADMK since the beginning. MGR had no intention of anointing Jayalalithaa as successor. She rose by her own merit. Jayalalithaa, in turn, created a party which had neither a face nor a voice apart from her own.

    The anti-incumbency factor looms large this election.

    Expand
  5. 5. To Dravid or Not to Dravid

    Max Muller’s Aryan Invasion Theory, in which the fair-skinned, horse-riding ‘Aryan’ race from central Asia entered India around 1,500 BC, routed the locals and imposed the Vedas and the Vedic Gods gained ground in the 1850s.

    E V Ramaswamy (aka) Periyar, the father of Dravidianism, bought into the Aryan invasion theory, as well as Caldwell’s interpretation of Hinduism and ‘Dravidian’ race.

    All of Tamil Nadu’s politics, from the early ‘40s, until today, stem in some form or the other, from Periyar’s rhetoric. Tamil Nadu’s first Chief Minister, Annadurai, was Periyar’s protege. Karunanidhi and M G Ramachandran, Tamil Nadu’s second and third CMs respectively, were Annadurai’s proteges. The political parties DMK, AIADMK, DMDK, MDMK, all stem from the original Dravida Kazhagam (DK), an apolitical party started by E V Ramaswamy (aka) Periyar.

    Ideologically, the DMK has always focused on the ‘other’-ness of the Tamil people; an identity separate from the rest of India. Up until the 1962 war with the Chinese, the party had also fought for a separate Tamil state. From anti Hindi-imposition, the DMK’s ideology has morphed over time into anti-Hindi sentiment. Combined with the anti-Brahmin (read ‘Aryan’) stance it has always held, it is currently bang opposite the BJP in its ideology.

    The AIADMK, on the other hand, has never held a literature/philosophy driven ideology. It was born as an antithesis to the DMK. Both MGR and Jayalalithaa’s affinity to the upkeep of temples and lack of antagonism towards Hindi, have ensured that the party has no specific communal, regional or atheistic colour.

    With the BJP and the INC part of the equation, the results of the 2019 elections in TN will be viewed through the lens of an ideological war – Black Vs Green, Amma Vs Kalaignar, Dravidian Divide Vs ‘Hindu’ Homogeneity. 
    Expand
  6. 6. Bonus: TN's Superstar Politics

    Cinema and politics have been inseparable in Tamil Nadu from the very beginning. Even Periyar, considered the father of Dravidian politics wrote plays to propagate his ideologies. C N Annadurai, the first Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was a famous playright, who also wrote screenplays for films.

    ‘Kalaignar’ Karunanidhi, second CM of TN, penned super-hit films chock-full of Dravidian thought, eulogising Periyar, and starring TN’s biggest film star M G Ramachandran.

    M G Ramachandran, third CM of TN who also served continually for ten years up until his death in ‘87, still continues to inspire AIADMK supporters and the common folk in rural TN through dozens of his propagandist, mass appeal films.

    J Jayalalithaa, fourth CM of TN was MGR’s protege and one of the finest and most popular actors of her time. Her films with MGR continue to enjoy reruns on TV. It was her star power that helped rout Karunanidhi in the 1977 elections.

    Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, currently the biggest stars in Tamil cinema have both stepped into politics. While Rajinikanth has stated that he would not contest the elections this time, Kamal Haasan will fight as an independent candidate.

    Karunanidhi’s son and current DMK supremo M K Stalin too had acted in two films and a TV series, although his popularity stems from his father.

    This will be the first election that will be fought in the absence of the film stars of the 60s. But their memories, songs and movies will influence TN’s highly emotional, and nostalgic electorate.

    (The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

    Expand

Today's EPS-OPS AIADMK

O Panneerselvam (OPS), the ‘silent’ follower of his beloved ‘Amma’ raked up controversy after Jayalalithaa’s demise on 5 December 2016, by exiting the party barely two months later; ‘meditating’ in front of Jayalalithaa’s memorial, and making ‘Amma’s spirit’ a constant presence in the party’s communiques. It was he who first raised questions on Sasikala’s role in affecting or obstructing Jayalalithaa’s treatment at Apollo hospital, and decried her high-handedness in dealing with the members of the party.

Even for those in Tamil Nadu, the name Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) rang no bell, when Sasikala announced that he would be the Chief Minster of Tamil Nadu, on Valentine’s Day (14th February, 2017). EPS was seen as a Sasikala loyalist, until he severed ties with the by then incarcerated ‘Chinnamma’ (‘Amma’s Sister’), and scrapped the post of General Secretary, that was created by MGR, occupied by Jayalalithaa, taken over by Sasikala, who then gave it to her nephew TTV Dhinakaran. By scrapping the post, EPS removed Dhinakaran, and thereby Sasikala’s role, from the equation of power.

The day Sasikala christened EPS as CM, she was found guilty by the Supreme Court, in the Disproportionate Assets case, filed by Subramaniam Swamy in 1996. Jayalalithaa died a free woman, before the matter went to the Supreme Court, as the Karnataka High Court had cleared all charges against her on 11 May 2015.

Almost nine months after Jayalalitha’s demise, OPS merged his faction of AIADMK with Edappadi K Palaniswamy’s AIADMK on 21st August, 2017, and was sworn-in as the Deputy CM, and in charge of the Finance portfolio. The two leaves symbol was saved. The party stayed united. And OPS went back to what he had always been – Deputy. Things have remained surprisingly quiet since the merger, with supporters of EPS and OPS getting along without any controversy or friction.

DMK Sans Kalaignar...

...is all about M K Stalin, biological, legal, and political heir to the late DMK supremo M Karunanidhi. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is the first and oldest political party of Tamil Nadu, and the Karunanidhi family, the Tamil version of dynasty politics that exists across India.

Stalin ‘served’ Chennai as its mayor from 1996-2002. And after Jayalalithaa’s inglorious defeat in 2006, he became the Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration. However, by 2009, his influence was such that he was often called Tamil Nadu’s first ‘deputy chief minister’.

Between disgruntled older members of the party, and M K Alagiri, Stalin’s blood brother and former muscle of the DMK, Stalin holds to the tiger’s tail on the path to becoming the third CM from the DMK camp in almost sixty years. Karunanidhi had been extremely ill for the last two years of his life; his final public appearance was on his birthday, 3 June 2016. From even a little earlier, the affairs of the party were managed by the senior members, with Stalin acting as the face of the party.

After Karunanidhi’s death on 7 August last year (2018), the DMK has gone on a war footing against every policy, statement and decision of the Centre. With the BJP coming to power in 2014, the anti-Hindi sentiment in Tamil Nadu – notably in the media’s perception – has risen dramatically. In a sense, the DMK’s inception, and its victory over the Congress party (the only national party at the time) in 1967, was seen as the victory of the ‘Dravidians’ over the North.

Ironically, the BJP has now become representative of all that the DMK stood against (Hindi imposition, upper caste, non-dravidian identity), while the INC has become an ally.

In December last year, Stalin stated openly that Rahul Gandhi should be the Prime Minister. It was obvious therefore that an alliance was only a matter of time; two months, in this case. On 20th February, 2019, the DMK announced an alliance with the Congress, and accorded it nine seats, plus the one seat in Puducherry, to seal the deal.

Allies FTW?

The 1971 elections were pivotal for the DMK for two reasons:

  • M Karunanidhi, who took over the party after C N Annadurai’s death contested and won as the head of the party, for the first time.
  • The DMK allied with the Indian National Congress, headed by Indira Gandhi, to clinch a victory over the INC (O) faction headed by K Kamaraj.

The 1991 elections were equally pivotal for the DMK, which reeled under allegations of involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who had dissolved the DMK government earlier on corruption charges. The AIADMK-Congress alliance that year proved victorious.

The DMK-Congress alliance, which today seems obvious, was formed after severe electoral defeat in 2001, when the DMK had allied with the BJP, and the AIADMK soared to victory, with a mega alliance with the INC, the TMC and almost all of the major political parties of TN.

After its victory in 1971, it would take the DMK three more decades (2004), to once again ally with the Congress for a victory, unless you count the 1996 alliance with the Tamil Manila Congress, born of former Congressman and INC sympathiser, late G K Moopanar. The alliance worked again in 2006, when Karunanidhi was sworn in as CM for the fifth time. It helped the Congress win the 2009 General Elections.

It couldn’t save Karunanidhi from charges of corruption (2G scam) and nepotism in 2011, when the DMK lost badly to the AIADMK, who had only allied with Vijayakanth’s DMDK.

Interestingly, the AIADMK has had a love/hate relationship with the BJP. While the parties allied together in 1989 and shared power, Jayalalithaa withdrew support in 1999, leading to the fall of the government. In 2004, despite populist measures by the government, the BJP-AIADMK alliance failed miserably.

Net net, the fortunes of the DMK and the AIADMK in alliances with both the BJP and the INC, have swung widely, between thumping majority and humiliating defeat. There are more factors at play in TN, than the optics of a large alliance. 

Anti-Incumbency

This is a phenomenon where popular public sentiment is typically against the existing incumbent government, leading to its downfall in the next election. It began after AIADMK founder, superstar MGR’s death in 1987, when the DMK took over. It held good till 2004, during which time the AIADMK and the DMK alternately came to power. Between 2004 and 2011, the DMK held fort for two consecutive terms.

The AIADMK, in turn formed the government in 2011, and also won the Assembly elections of 2016 with a thumping majority. In both cases, it stood alone, without any alliance.

But with Jayalalithaa no more, the AIADMK is practically without a leader-figure, unlike the DMK, who had been grooming Stalin as the face of the party from the early 2000s. In fact, this has been the problem with the AIADMK since the beginning. MGR had no intention of anointing Jayalalithaa as successor. She rose by her own merit. Jayalalithaa, in turn, created a party which had neither a face nor a voice apart from her own.

The anti-incumbency factor looms large this election.

To Dravid or Not to Dravid

Max Muller’s Aryan Invasion Theory, in which the fair-skinned, horse-riding ‘Aryan’ race from central Asia entered India around 1,500 BC, routed the locals and imposed the Vedas and the Vedic Gods gained ground in the 1850s.

E V Ramaswamy (aka) Periyar, the father of Dravidianism, bought into the Aryan invasion theory, as well as Caldwell’s interpretation of Hinduism and ‘Dravidian’ race.

All of Tamil Nadu’s politics, from the early ‘40s, until today, stem in some form or the other, from Periyar’s rhetoric. Tamil Nadu’s first Chief Minister, Annadurai, was Periyar’s protege. Karunanidhi and M G Ramachandran, Tamil Nadu’s second and third CMs respectively, were Annadurai’s proteges. The political parties DMK, AIADMK, DMDK, MDMK, all stem from the original Dravida Kazhagam (DK), an apolitical party started by E V Ramaswamy (aka) Periyar.

Ideologically, the DMK has always focused on the ‘other’-ness of the Tamil people; an identity separate from the rest of India. Up until the 1962 war with the Chinese, the party had also fought for a separate Tamil state. From anti Hindi-imposition, the DMK’s ideology has morphed over time into anti-Hindi sentiment. Combined with the anti-Brahmin (read ‘Aryan’) stance it has always held, it is currently bang opposite the BJP in its ideology.

The AIADMK, on the other hand, has never held a literature/philosophy driven ideology. It was born as an antithesis to the DMK. Both MGR and Jayalalithaa’s affinity to the upkeep of temples and lack of antagonism towards Hindi, have ensured that the party has no specific communal, regional or atheistic colour.

With the BJP and the INC part of the equation, the results of the 2019 elections in TN will be viewed through the lens of an ideological war – Black Vs Green, Amma Vs Kalaignar, Dravidian Divide Vs ‘Hindu’ Homogeneity. 

Bonus: TN's Superstar Politics

Cinema and politics have been inseparable in Tamil Nadu from the very beginning. Even Periyar, considered the father of Dravidian politics wrote plays to propagate his ideologies. C N Annadurai, the first Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was a famous playright, who also wrote screenplays for films.

‘Kalaignar’ Karunanidhi, second CM of TN, penned super-hit films chock-full of Dravidian thought, eulogising Periyar, and starring TN’s biggest film star M G Ramachandran.

M G Ramachandran, third CM of TN who also served continually for ten years up until his death in ‘87, still continues to inspire AIADMK supporters and the common folk in rural TN through dozens of his propagandist, mass appeal films.

J Jayalalithaa, fourth CM of TN was MGR’s protege and one of the finest and most popular actors of her time. Her films with MGR continue to enjoy reruns on TV. It was her star power that helped rout Karunanidhi in the 1977 elections.

Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, currently the biggest stars in Tamil cinema have both stepped into politics. While Rajinikanth has stated that he would not contest the elections this time, Kamal Haasan will fight as an independent candidate.

Karunanidhi’s son and current DMK supremo M K Stalin too had acted in two films and a TV series, although his popularity stems from his father.

This will be the first election that will be fought in the absence of the film stars of the 60s. But their memories, songs and movies will influence TN’s highly emotional, and nostalgic electorate.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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