Unveiling DMK & AIADMK’s Brand Makeover this 2021 Election Season
This TN election is unique as veteran leaders are no more. There are new players and old parties are being rebranded
Every election season in Tamil Nadu has the customary blaring speakers of ‘Amma Vazhga!,’ 'Namadhu Chinnam Udhaya Suriyan!', 'Vasanthame Varuga!', giant cutouts blocking pavements, dance, drama, seat shuffling and fanfare. This 2021 Assembly elections has no Amma or Kalaignar factor, instead it is a mix of parties with redefined leadership and agenda, new players and the fight by the BJP to make a dent in the state.
Earlier, the brand and campaign managing for the two main Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK, was done by the party cadre who worked closely with their district and panchayat units. This election season has seen the entry of ‘PR players’ who have carefully crafted branding strategies for the Dravidian parties, intending to change the course of Tamil Nadu politics.
DMK: The One with the Chargesheet
I-PAC Indian Political Action Committee, headed by Prashant Kishor is handing the image building for the DMK and managing their election campaign affairs.
Late DMK supremo Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin is heading the party and is a popular face in the state. In the last three election seasons, the party had designed election strategies that were specific to leaders such as 'Namakkau Name' (We for ourselves) where MK Stalin traveled on to a scooter or bicycle and met people in buses and other public places and held discussions.
This year, too the party has launched a 75-day campaign with Udhayanidhi, son of M K Stalin and the head of the party youth wing, kickstarting it from Tirukkuvalai, the birth place of late party chief M Karunanidhi. The campaign titled ‘Vidiyalai Nokki Stalin-in Kural’ (Stalin's voice towards dawn) will cover all 234 assembly segments.
DMK has launched another campaign ‘WeRejectADMK’ slamming AIADMK for the "lack of governance" by the state government, highlighting issues such as NEET suicides. Senior party functionaries will visit over 16,000 villages and wards to conduct "gram sabhas" where resolutions will be adopted against the AIADMK government as part of the campaign.
The DMK, out of power since 2011, is making a full throttled bid to storm back and dethrone the AIADMK.
Stalin, who has been campaigning virtually so far due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will hit the campaign trail in the first week of January.
“A field team does the ground work, surveying and a campaign team to focus on special leader based campaigns,” said a source in the team.
“In DMK, there is clarity and faith in MK Stalin as the party head and this is not just among the people but the whole party has accepted him as the one and only leader. But with AIADMK because if the internal issues, they can use just one person’s face. The only way out is you use a generic one, like Amma’s poster.”A person working in IPAC told The Quint
AIADMK: The One with Amma’s Name, Fame and Clinics
AIADMK claims to have the upper hand as they can market their policies try and win votes. Unlike DMK they haven’t devised any leader-centric campaigns, but have been rallying across the state hoping the government-funded 7.5 percent reservation for government school students in medical admission, Amma Mini Clinics, foreign investments and handling of the coronavirus pandemic will play in favour of the party.
‘The Mindshare’ headed by Sunil is managing the election campaigns for AIADMK.
The ruling AIADMK is eyeing a hat-trick of victories in 2021, after being elected to power for the second consecutive term in 2011.
In former chief minister Jayalalithaa's style of campaigning, EPS has started his state-wide campaigning with a large number of people, including women with posters and hoardings.
“Being the opposition party they will focus more on campaigns, but the ruling party is focusing on government schemes, inaugurating Amma clinics. We are focusing more on policies and getting data from the ground on the possibility of winning,” said a source working with the team.
A special team has been gathering data from the ground based on caste, performance in the last three elections, grievances, changing preferences due to the demise of veteran leaders Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. The company will soon send a report to the party leaders listing the top three contenders in every district so that the party is well aware of the public sentiment.
“DMK is concentrating on 90 constituencies, including 40 where they are weak. AIADMK is concentrating on the delta districts where DMK is more strong,” a source working with Sunil told The Quint.
“Our focus is to do image building for EPS alone and not OPS. The strategy is to highlight our successes in two terms. The team at AIADMK was set up by Sunil and the IPAC team is five times bigger than our team. IPAC is a familiar name and also has a huge budget allocated,” said a source in Sunil’s team to The Quint.
The team is not working on election campaigns for BJP as the saffron party has their own state team handling the party.
Sunil VS Prashant Kishor
An interesting point to note is that Sunil who is now managing the ruling party had earlier worked closely with DMK’s Stalin for the last few elections.
Sunil was DMK’s strategist for the 2016 assembly and 2019 parliamentary polls. Sunil and Prashant Kishor had co-founded Citizens for Accountable Governance, the precursor to the IPAC in political consultancy.
The difference between IPAC’s Prashant Kishor and Sunil is that the latter is a person who has worked closely with state leaders and understands the pulse of the people, a few sources working with AIADMK said.
Online VS The Conventional Way
The DMK has turned more tech savvy with zoom call meetings everyday, neatly edited videos on their campaigns, a PR team to stay in constant touch with media groups.
“In the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic, the party leaders would be amused to watch us try to connect them online. And now we even have regular zoom meetings with gram panchayat leaders and even the cadre. Many of them feel they have connected more with with MK Stalin on these calls than when he visits the villages in person. Now on the zoom call, the leaders sit along with their families, get to interact directly with the leader, and sometimes a party worker’s little kid would ask the leader a question.
But in the AIADMK, the meetings are still being held in the conventional manner with physical events and group discussions.
The math of the vote shares, caste divisions and winning probability doesn’t rest on the popularity of just these two parties. Smaller parties such as the PMK, DMDK and MDMK too play a key role in mobilising support in delta districts and with minorities. This election has new strategies, new players and a lot of good old parties rebranded. Will this work and swing votes? Five months to go.
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