In Battle For Tamil Nadu, Can AIADMK Justify Its ‘Aryan’ Ally BJP?

Between the AIADMK and the DMK, the fight is on to determine which is the better Dravidian party.

4 min read

Ask any DMK spokesperson what the BJP’s alliance with the AIADMK stands for – and they will quip, “It’s about Aryan invasion.” Their comeback makes sense in Tamil Nadu, where Dravidian politics raises its hood every election season.

In fact, DMK leader MK Stalin got the ball rolling just last week by calling the upcoming state Assembly elections a fight between “Aryan invasion and Dravidian resistance”. In contrast, the AIADMK will have to prove its Dravidian credentials more than ever in this election, experts say.


What’s the Big Fight in Tamil Nadu About?

As the AIADMK braces for 6 April, the day on which voting will be held in the state, the biggest challenge for them will be to justify its alliance with the BJP.

In the state’s ethos, the BJP is considered a threat to its cultural heritage. Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress, which has won elections in Tamil Nadu till 1960s, is only an incidental ally of the DMK. The Congress has tactically aligned with the DMK’s politics, experts say.

Against this backdrop, what will Tamil Nadu’s big electoral fight be about?

The DMK and its allies – the Congress, the Communist parties, the Indian Union Muslim League, and the VCK – have planned to put up a front that foregrounds federalism, a Dravidian political trope, party insiders say. The AIADMK, the PMK, and the BJP, on the other hand, will be left to defend their stand on “Centre’s rule through the state government,” analysts told The Quint.

The ABP C-Voter survey has predicted a win for DMK in the state.

DMK Pits Dravidian Politics Against BJP

In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the DMK alliance won 37 out of the 38 seats because they fought, what the VCK had then called, “an ideological fight” against the BJP.

Reiterating his stand, VCK MP D Ravikumar told The Quint, “The poll battle is not between the AIADMK and the DMK. It is between the AIADMK-BJP combine and the DMK alliance. It is an ideological fight now more than ever. We are fighting to save Tamil Nadu from the BJP’s clutches.”

Why an ideological fight?

Among other factors, Dravidian political parties in Tamil Nadu rose as a resistance movement against imposition of Hindi.

Opposing introduction of Hindi in educational institutions, Dravidian anti-caste icon Periyar EV Ramasamy in 1938 coined the slogan, “Tamil Nadu for Tamils”. In 1949, CN Annadurai, who founded the DMK, supported Periyar’s Dravidian politics, and even included a demand for Dravida Nadu – a nation comprising South Indian states – to be part of the party agenda.

Though the DMK dropped the demand for Dravida Nadu in 1962 from its party’s constitution, the essence of Dravidian politics, which strongly believes in autonomy of states, is still a huge crowd-puller in the state.

Contrary to this, the BJP’s politics, which stems from the RSS, is considered Aryan to its core and centralist in nature.

Anandhi Shanmugasundaram, a senior academic whose area of research is Dravidian politics, delineated the fundamental differences between Dravidian ethos and the BJP’s politics.

“The ideology of the RSS is diametrically opposite to that of the Dravidian ideology. According to the RSS, Hinduism is homogenous – and caste hierarchy is central to this Hinduism. In contrast, the Dravidian movement believes in religion that stems from tribal collectivity. In this collectivity, there is no hierarchy, and there could even be more than one kind of Hinduism.”
Anandhi Shanmugasundaram

In other words, Hinduism in Tamil Nadu has secular roots. Moreover, Dravidian politics has social justice as its core value. Pitted against this political climate, the AIADMK will have to explain why it has formed an alliance with the BJP, Shanmugasundaram added.


AIADMK on the Defensive

For the Tamil public who trend #GoBackModi every time the Prime Minister visits the state, the BJP stands for communal politics and devolution of state’s powers.

“Look at the CAA and the Triple Talaq Bill, both aiming to target one particular community – the Muslims. In Tamil Nadu, there is no space for this sort of politics,” Saravanan Annadurai, a spokesperson for the DMK, told The Quint.

Bearing the BJP’s burden, AIADMK leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy recently told a Muslim congregation in Tiruppur,

“Don’t fear our alliance. An alliance is different and ideology is different. Alliance can change every time. Alliances are created for politics. Every party has an ideology and they will never let it go.”

Beyond Its Ally BJP

It is, however, not just the communal politics of its alliance partner that the AIADMK will be left to defend.

The party had supported three major legislations mooted by the BJP government –Triple Talaq Bill, the CAA, and the new farm laws. “Especially, while supporting the farm laws, the AIADMK government agreed to forego the state’s rights over agriculture legislation,” Annadurai said. Agriculture is a state subject.

According to analysts, distancing itself from the Centre’s policies that people of Tamil Nadu have opposed, could help the AIADMK.

“If the AIADMK shares less number of seats with the BJP, it will help the party electorally. The BJP may not win if they field many candidates,” an AIADMK leader said on condition of anonymity. The BJP has asked for 30 seats in the state. The party’s state leadership thinks that it can win 25 seats.

If the AIADMK succeeds to make this election about caste politics (it granted reservation for Vanniyar caste group in the state’s Backward Class list) and development – Jalayalithaa’s welfare schemes, the party could save itself, observers said.

“If the party can hold on to its identity, which since MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa’s time has drifted far away from its Dravidian roots, it may capture the support of the electorate,” Shanmugasundaram said.

There is, however, the anti-incumbency factor, which may become another hurdle for the AIADMK. The party that has been in power since the last two terms, may not get another five years to rule, observers said. “People may give the DMK a chance this time, after 10 long years,” Shanmugasundaram added.

Will the Dravidian sentiment win the DMK this election?

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