DMK Vs Allies: Stalin Lets Prashant Kishor Talk Tough Over Seats

The election campaign strategist has advised the DMK not to cower to ‘weaker’ parties, sources say.

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The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) started its election campaign in the end of February on a cheerful note – its alliance with the Congress, the Communist parties, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) was intact. They spoke in one voice against the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But five days into seat-sharing talks, differences have emerged between the DMK and its allies. Not all is well, and the DMK’s election campaign manager and political campaign strategist, Prashant Kishor, is being blamed for the friction, sources close to the DMK told The Quint.


Here's why.

The DMK wants to contest from at least 180 seats out of the 234 seats in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. They are prepared to leave the rest of the 54 seats to their alliance partners. This means that the Congress which had asked for 30 seats and the VCK, the CPI, the CPI (M) and the IUML, all of whom had asked for 10 seats each, will have to settle for way lesser numbers. Already, the VCK and the CPI have agreed to contest in six seats each. The CPI (M) is expected to get five seats and the Congress has been offered just 18 seats. The IUML may get four seats.

The tough negotiation is believed to have been steered by Kishor, whose campaign strategy team is working closely with DMK President MK Stalin.

Why insist on 180 seats? According to sources, at the heart of the DMK’s decision to contest in at least 180 seats is a “fear for the BJP’s post-poll strategies”.

DMK Leaving Nothing to Chance

The DMK’s campaign strategist aims to ensure that the party emerges as the single largest party with a majority in the Assembly. But why not rely on the alliance’s total strength?

“The DMK fears that the BJP will try to poach MLAs who are part of the alliance. To prevent this, the DMK wants to emerge as a party that has won a majority on its own,” a political leader in Tamil Nadu, aware of the DMK alliance talks, told The Quint. The DMK is aiming for a comfortable majority, too, he added.

Kishor has advised the DMK not to rely on the Congress whose legislators have been jumping ship in other states, a source close to the DMK said.

“If the Congress’ tally goes up and the DMK remains close to 140 seats, then the DMK fears there could be defections that would harm its government, if formed,” the leader said.

Ever since the BJP won the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the Congress has seen a steady stream of defections and many of its top legislators have moved to the BJP in search of better political prospects. In more recent times, the Congress has seen defections in Goa and Manipur in 2017 and Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in 2020. The DMK’s political strategy team has asked the party leadership not to take a chance with the Congress.

“The attitude during negotiations was arrogant. It was almost as if the DMK was asking the Congress to either take the 18-seats deal or leave the alliance,” a source who was part of the seat-sharing talks told The Quint.

The DMK believes that to win at least 150 seats on its own, it must contest in at least 180.


Cong's Poor Performance

The DMK’s tough stand is also linked to the Congress’ poor performance in the 2016 Assembly elections. While the party had contested in 40 seats, it managed to win only eight. The DMK had won 89. The AIADMK, which went on to form the government for a second term in the state, had won 134 seats.

With the ABP C-Voter survey predicting that the DMK alliance will win in Tamil Nadu, the party does not want to a depend on a weak ally, sources said. “Rahul Gandhi’s recent visit which has boosted the Congress’ campaign does not seem to have impressed the DMK. No DMK leader even attended these campaigns,” a source in the state Congress said. The party had also performed well in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, winning eight seats.

For the DMK’s campaign strategy team, however, the alliance should be forged on terms laid down by the strongest party, sources said.

“The DMK has forgotten we are all part of the same force opposing the BJP,” the leader who had attended seat-sharing talks said. If the DMK is overconfident, it may harm the alliance’s internal dynamics, the leader said, adding that the Congress leadership, meanwhile, has felt “insulted and humiliated at the talks”.


DMK Confident of Preventing Defections

The DMK, which runs a seemingly tight ship, believes it has full control over its MLA candidates. “The party is sure none of its leaders will defect to the BJP. If one is a DMK leader one cannot survive in politics if one supports the BJP, the Dravidian party thinks,” a source close to the DMK said.

A good margin will help in reducing the eventuality of any such defections, the source said. “If we get good numbers, the future of the government will be secure. In these troubling times when MLAs defect at the drop of a hat, a good majority is what will save any party,” the source calculated.

The negotiations are expected to conclude within two days. “The Congress is now asking for at least 20 seats. This is 20 seats lower than what it got in the last election and 10 less than what it asked for this election,” said the political leader in the know of seat-sharing talks.

The Congress’ predicament is rather tough as its national opponent, the BJP has already secured 24 seats in the AIADMK alliance. Will the DMK stand tall after elections? Will its hard bargaining seem justified? Or will the allies have reason to say 'we told you so'?

(The Quint’s efforts to reach Prashant Kishor did not materialise. The report will be updated if and when his team responds.)

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