Explaining Tamil Nadu’s Politics – Everything You Need to Know

Does Tamil Nadu’s politics confuse you? Don’t worry. We’ll explain what you need to know on this podcast.

5 min read

Tamil Nadu stands witness to the winds of change. As the 2019 general elections get closer, Tamil Nadu’s own political makeup has changed drastically.

On this episode of The Big Story podcast, we’ll dive into Tamil Nadu’s politics and guide you safely through the murky, often CONFUSING, waters of Tamil Nadu’s politics.

In one corner, the AIADMK, Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, has joined hands with the BJP.

In the other corner, the DMK has formed an alliance with eight parties including the Congress. The DMK has agreed to contest from 20 seats and give Congress 10 seats.

With Tamil Nadu’s two political powerhouses – former DMK chief Karunanidhi and former AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa, now out of the picture, Tamil Nadu will see an election like no other in the past five decades – one that may easily become a free for all, fuelled by social media and fought on the pillars of nostalgia for its past leaders.

How Did the AIADMK Get to This Point?

Well, if there’s one key moment in the recent past that changed Tamil Nadu politics, it’s the night of 5 December 2016. That night, six-time Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, also known as Amma, passed away in Chennai’s Apollo hospital.

Jayalalithaa passed away on 5 December 2016 after a cardiac arrest. 
Jayalalithaa passed away on 5 December 2016 after a cardiac arrest. 
(Photo: PTI)

After Jaya’s death, her closest friend and aide, VK Sasikala took over the AIADMK as the party’s general secretary. But Sasikala, also known as Chinnamma’s bid for power wasn’t going to come easy.

She faced trouble on two fronts.

First, one of Jaya’s biggest loyalists, O Paneerselvam, rebelled against Sasikala on 8 February 2017, dividing the AIADMK even further. O Paneerselvam, or OPS questioned Sasikala’s role in influencing the treatment given to Jayalalithaa in her last days at Apollo hospital, and attacked her approach to dealing with the party.

Second, the Supreme Court held Sasikala guilty in a disproportionate assets case against her and three others, including Jayalalithaa, in a verdict upholding a Bengaluru trial court’s judgement on 14 February 2017.

After being sentenced to four years in prison, Sasikala appointed Edappadi K Palaniswami, or EPS, as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, and made her nephew TTV Dhinakaran the new general secretary of the AIADMK.

But Sasikala’s hopes of retaining a tight hold over the AIADMK were soon destroyed as the man she appointed, EPS, turned his back on her. In one swift move in August 2017, EPS scrapped the position of general secretary in the AIADMK, the post that Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran held, and appointed OPS as Deputy Chief Minister.

Nine months after Jayalalithaa’s death, the new leadership of the AIADMK had arrived and firmly established its position in power.


How Did the DMK Get to This Point?

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by former Chief Minister Annadurai, burst into Tamil Nadu’s political landscape in 1956.

One of the DMK’s biggest political planks has been anti-Hindi sentiment. The DMK rode to power in 1967 on the back of a wave of anti-Hindi agitations that took place in the sixties, and CN Annadurai defeated the Congress to become the first chief minister of the state from a regional party, setting a precedent that is yet unbroken.

Annadurai (left) had often relied on Karunanidhi (right) more than his own self. 
Annadurai (left) had often relied on Karunanidhi (right) more than his own self. 
(Photo: Altered by The Quint)
After Annadurai’s death in 1969, M Karunanidhi took over as the state’s chief minister as well as the DMK’s party chief. As DMK’s leader, Karunanidhi would go on to be elected as the state’s chief minister five times over four decades.

In 1972, the party split into two factions – the DMK led by Karunanidhi, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or the AIADMK – led by MG Ramachandran.

Since 1967, Tamil Nadu has only had chief ministers from one of these two parties, the DMK or the AIADMK.

But we’re talking about the winds of change…and for the DMK, the winds came blowing when party supremo Karunanidhi passed away in Chennai’s Kauvery Hospital on 7 August 2018, after a long battle with age-related illness.

So now, the DMK is led by Karunanidhi’s son, MK Stalin. Since Stalin took over as party chief, the DMK has vocally and firmly opposed the decisions of the BJP-led Central government. The anti-Hindi plank has also returned, with Stalin establishing the 2019 elections almost as a Dravidians vs the North battle.


2019 General Elections – Are the Winds of Change Blowing in Tamil Nadu?

Ahead of the 2019 general elections, what can you expect?

Well, first off – the keyword this time is alliances. Both parties have formed elaborate alliances.

The DMK with the Congress, the CPI, the CPI(M), the VCK, the MDMK, the IUML, the KMDK and the IJK.

The AIADMK with the BJP, the Tamil Manila Congress, the DMDK, the PMK, the new justice party and the Puthiya Tamizhagam.

The DMK’s alliance with the Congress has brought it victory thrice in the past – once in 1971 with the Indira Gandhi-led Congress, the second in 1996 with the Tamil Manila Congress, led by GK Moopanar and finally the third time in 2006.

The AIADMK’s alliances are also extremely important this time round. The party came back to power in 2011. But since Jayalalithaa’s death, the AIADMK has sorely missed a strong leader figure.

The DMK has no such worry since MK Stalin has been groomed to take over for years now. This, coupled with anti-incumbency, will pose a serious threat to the AIADMK’s ambitions in 2019, making alliances that much more important.

Tamil Nadu’s Love for Mixing Politics and Entertainment

Another development has been taking place on the sidelines of the state’s two biggest parties facing off – Tamil actors Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan announcing their political entries.

Until Jayalalithaa’s death, every elected chief minister of Tamil Nadu in the past five decades has been from the film industry. Will Tamil Nadu’s love for turning its movie stars into political leaders lead to an upset for the DMK and the AIADMK? Perhaps not.

For one, Rajinikanth has said that he won’t contest in the 2019 elections, and Kamal Haasan has said that he will be running as an independent candidate – so, the battle is still very much between the DMK and the AIADMK, but with their allies now becoming that much more instrumental to their victory.

While this will be the first state election in five decades without Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa’s presence, this could also be the year that ushers in a change in Tamil Nadu’s political tide.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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