The DMK insiders handling seat-sharing negotiations with allies are aware of the hurt inflicted by their tight-fisted attitude but insist that electioneering is all about strategy and not about “prestige” drawn from extracting a higher number of seats in an alliance.
Chief among the parties with hurt sentiments is the Indian National Congress. Sources from the Congress maintain that they are ‘upset and hurt’ with the way the DMK treated it. Interestingly, Senior leader Rahul Gandhi has campaigned alone in the State for the upcoming polls. The fact that the DMK and the Congress are on divergent campaigns seems to indicate a dissonance in their approach to the elections this year.
Speaking about seat-sharing negotiations with the Congress, a senior DMK leader, requesting anonymity, said the lessons learnt in May 2016 are still borne in mind. “The results of 2016 are still fresh on our minds. You should remember that the Congress contested in 41 seats and won just eight,” said the leader.
In the elections of 2016, the DMK had faced an inadvertent enemy in the coming together of smaller parties such as the VCK, the MDMK, and Vijayakant’s DMDK as a separate third force. They called it the Makkal Nala Kootani (The front for people’s welfare).
Faced with the possibility of the anti-Jayalalithaa votes diverging towards this front, the DMK made a higher investment in the Congress. According to many pollsters, this alliance proved to be a costly mistake.
The senior leader said the Opposition, comprising the AIADMK, the PMK and the BJP, might focus all their energies on the excess seats given to the Congress, and possibly other smaller parties to outsmart the DMK. “Election is all about strategy. This is not a prestige issue,” he said.
DMK MP RS Bharatji said: “Every party will be upset over the seat allocation. There are 234 constituencies and all parties will have their presence across these constituencies. All parties would like to contest from as many constituencies as possible but we won’t be able to accommodate all requests. Therefore, during negotiations, we will try to convince other allies on why we can only offer them a certain number of seats.” The DMK is stingy with its allies over seat-allocation. While the Congress demands 30 seats, the DMK is ready to offer 20 seats. Hard bargaining continues as Congress is trying to bargain hard.
“We are waiting for DMK’s invite over seat sharing talks,” a senior Congress leader said. However, Tamil Nadu Congress President K S Alagiri today said: “We will interview candidates and then hold talks with the DMK.” KS Alagiri, the Congress sources said, broke down during an executive committee meeting held on Friday telling his partymen that he was ‘hurt and insulted’ not with the DMK’s offer but with the way they were treated. When asked about this incident, Alagiri said: “When we have eyes, we tend to cry.”
The situation is the same with its other allies as well including the Left, VCK and MDMK. For instance, VCK wanted to contest 10 but was offered only six. VCK founder Thol Thirumavalavan said though his party was not happy with the seats offered, his goal is to defeat the sanata forces. CPI(M) wants to contest in seven seats but is offered six . MDMK is offered four seats and the party is keen to contest from eight seats. So far, DMK has allotted six seats to CPI and VCK each, three to IUML and two to MMK.
In the last election, DMK fought 176 seats and won 89. Why is the DMK being cautious? Another person aware of the proceedings at the DMK headquarters said party President MK Stalin has been exhibiting signs of a sure-shot win, and that he had made up his mind to be judicious in seats to allies.
AIADMK has so far sealed deals with the BJP and the PMK allotting 20 and 23 seats, respectively. Talks between the AIADMK and the DMDK have hit roadblocks as the DMDK demands 30 while the AIADMK is ready to offer half of it.
Going by all the developments recently, the Assembly polls are once again a contest between the two Dravidian parties with both of them contesting well over 170 seats. The DMK, it appears, wants to contest from 180 seats. This attitude of the principal parties in Tamil Nadu, say analysts, explains why there are so few seats on the table for smaller parties.