Politics often revolves around optics and in Dravidian politics a foundation identity is of a regional force that is strong, not subservient, and can stand up to the might of New Delhi. Whether true or not, ‘Tamil culture is safe only under a Dravidian force’ is an underlying narrative and capitulating before national parties can prove irredeemably costly.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have had a history of national allies, but in all cases the reiteration was that it was a partnership of equals.
MGR’s Alliance With Indira Gandhi & Subsequent Break-Up
Even if there was a compromise to be made by the regional party, like in the case of support for the LTTE and Sri Lankan Tamils between DMK and Congress, the national ally played along to ensure that in public perception the prestige of the Dravidian force wasn’t compromised. And, this was the case as far back as the Emergency years when AIADMK’s charismatic founder MG Ramachandran forged an alliance with a force as powerful as Indira Gandhi.
He supported Indira Gandhi when the Centre used Article 356 to dismiss the DMK government in 1976 and in the subsequent post-Emergency Lok Sabha election in 1977, AIADMK contested in an alliance with Congress (Indira) on equal terms, and together they won 34 of the state’s 39 seats.
This was the election when the ousted prime minister was routed in the rest of India, but swept in the southern states.
A few months later, in the 1977 Tamil Nadu assembly elections, MGR walked away from a defeated Indira Gandhi. He led the AIADMK to power in Tamil Nadu for the first time in alliance with left parties, and remained chief minster until his death in 1987.
Why DMK’s Perception As The ‘Only Custodian Of Tamil Values’ Is An Impediment For BJP
Even a DMK-Congress (Indira) alliance in the subsequent 1980 assembly election — Indira Gandhi had returned to power in New Delhi in early 1980 and dismissed MGR’s State government — could not undo the MGR charisma. That’s the independent power on which the party was built.
Then in the 1984 elections — held just after Indira Gandhi’s assassination — the AIADMK again had an alliance with the Congress (I) under Rajiv Gandhi. Though MGR was in absentia, undergoing treatment for kidney failure at a hospital in the United States, his party led the alliance in Tamil Nadu and dealt with Rajiv Gandhi as equals in its turf.
Similarly, after MGR’s demise, his successor Jayalalithaa forged alliances with the Congress and BJP, but ensured she was in charge. There was no compromise on the optics.
In fact, it is the strong regional party as the ‘only custodian of Tamil values’ narrative that is a major impediment for the BJP and Hindutva in breaching into the Dravidian state.
Hence, the present AIADMK leadership being seen as ‘subservient’ to the Bharatiya Janata Party is a dangerously debilitating perception at the grassroots.
Why AIADMK Being At New Delhi’s Mercy Hasn’t Gone Down Well At Grassroots Level
Since the demise of Jayalalithaa in 2016, the BJP has scripted the power balance in the AIADMK, and it is the backing of the national party that has ensured the AIADMK did not disintegrate.
The national party ensured a truce between Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy and Deputy Chief Minster O Paneerselvam. Also, the fear of repercussions from the Centre has kept the breakaway Sasikala faction, led by TTV Dhinakaran, under control.
In fact, RSS ideologue Swaminathan Gurumurthy publicly suggested that the Sasikala faction would be part of the AIADMK-BJP alliance. This is despite the publicly-known deep personal animosity between the different sides, and it is only the iron grip of a party in power in New Delhi that can ensure this.
This leaves an AIADMK leadership at the mercy of New Delhi and that does not go down well with cadre holding the two leaves symbol at the grassroots.
They thrived on the promise of an independent identity and powerful leadership which together fits the ‘self-respect of Tamils’ narrative.
Why The AIADMK Has No Option But To Endure BJP
Adding to the AIADMK’s embarrassment are virulent comments from BJP and RSS functionaries against the father of the Dravidian movement EV Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar.
In the past, the Dravidian ally would not tolerate such comments against the core ideology by national forces, but the AIADMK leadership has no option but to endure the BJP.
In conclusion, while the lotus may hope to bloom in Tamil Nadu with the grassroots power of the two leaves, the weight of the national force and its ideology may be too much to carry for the regional ally in the quest for a leader at least half as charismatic as its founder and his follower.
(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
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