In Tamil Nadu’s Personality-driven Politics, Voters Have a Tough Choice Among ‘True Inheritors’

In Tamil Nadu’s Personality-driven Politics, Voters Have a Tough Choice Among ‘True Inheritors’

The southern state that has mostly seen personality-driven politics over the last three decades is in search of an alternative now.

Poornima Murali
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Chennai: As Tamil Nadu gears up to vote in the second phase of Lok Sabha election on April 18, it will be a test of several factors in the state politics.

It’s the first election in the state after the death of two colossal figures in Dravidian politics, former chief ministers J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi.

The southern state that has mostly seen personality-driven politics over the last three decades is in search of an alternative now.

It is also the test of who really is accepted as the true heir of Jayalalithaa as her death has left her party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), fractured.

After her favourite soldier, O Panneerselvam, became chief minister for a short while, his ouster, subsequent rebellion, the jailing of Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala and her choice of Edappadi Palaniswamy as chief minister and subsequent emergence of Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran as a leader in his own right are all factors that the Tamil voter will keep in mind this time.

For the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), too, it is a test of whether Karunanidhi’s son MK Stalin finds acceptance among party cadres and voters as the inheritor of his father’s legacy.

Stalin, who has been on a whirlwind campaign across the state that contributes the maximum number of seats from the south to the Lok Sabha, is well aware of how fractured the AIADMK is, and that his own position is better off comparatively.

Now that the AIADMK is in coalition with the BJP for the general election, Stalin feels this is more advantageous for him as Tamil voters have always been wary of national parties and their ‘interference’ in state politics.

“Usually, after the demise of a big leader in the party, it is a huge task to fill that place. After Kalaignar’s death, I was asked to lead the party without any opposition. The DMK is an organised party and there has been no problem as far as the leadership is concerned. But look at the AIADMK. The party was split after Jayalalithaa’s death,” Stalin told News18.

The DMK has an understanding with the Congress and is taking on the AIADMK-BJP combine with a renewed vigour, while banking on anti-incumbency.

He is also confident that the DMK’s succession plan is better than the AIADMK’s.

The AIADMK has seen at least three different individuals stake claim to be the true inheritors of Jayalalithaa. While O Panneerselvam (OPS as he is known) rebelled against Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala’s chosen man Edappadi Palaniswamy (EPS), the two later compromised — an uncomfortable compromise brought about by the BJP’s intervention.

The two-man leadership within the party, as well as the government, has been a stormy one.

Protests have been seen against projects they have been pushing for in different places — be it in EPS’ hometown Salem and its highway plans or in the coastal Tuticorin and its industrial projects.

This election, then, could well be a reflection of what people think of their joint leadership.

Dhinakaran, who emerged as the giant killer of the AIADMK’s ambitions in Jayalalithaa’s home constituency of RK Nagar by winning the Assembly seat with a decisive margin in December 2017, despite contesting as an independent, says he will make his mark across all constituencies.

The mere fact that the OPS-EPS combine has tied up with the BJP will move votes in his favour, he feels as they seem to be working at the mercy of the BJP.

“EPS and OPS are like slaves .The move to appoint O Paneerselvam as the coordinator of the AIADMK during the merger of the two factions was only because of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. They don’t share any relationship. Modi is the boss and AIADMK is the slave. They (EPS and OPS) only have the AIADMK’s name and symbol, but lack a strong leader,” Dhinakaran told News18.

Meanwhile, the DMK’s campaign pitch in many places has also been the perceived ‘interference’ of Delhi in a state that has always prided itself in its regional and language-driven politics and its Dravidian movements.

“Intervention of Delhi in state politics is more evident after the demise of Jayalalithaa. Take for instance, the Kodanad murder case. Corruption charges against EPS and OPS and their ministers were kept in a pen drive in Jayalalithaa’s Kodanad estate. A gang broke open into the estate and people were murdered. These secrets are known to Modi and with his influence, the Prime Minister is protecting this highly corrupted Tamil Nadu government as a ‘chowkidar,” says Stalin.

The AIADMK, however, maintains that it has got its numbers right. With 39 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu and one from Puducherry, it’s aiming to form a mighty bloc to reckon with.

“The AIADMK’s alliance partners have a strong vote-bank. Their combined polling share would ensure our victory. We don’t care about the criticism of the opposition parties as we were never compelled to become anyone’s puppet. The AIADMK as a party, as well as, the government is independent,” Palaniswamy told News18.

Whichever alliance wins, it won’t be a pure Dravidian victory, as both the AIADMK and DMK have given away half the seats to national parties.

Amid this fight for space in the vacuum left behind by Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa are newcomers like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan — both superstars from the film industry, like the two late leaders and both trying to see if their reel appeal would convert into votes in real life.

However, neither have risen politically to the kind of fandom that Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi enjoyed.

While Rajini is not participating in this election, Haasan, like Dhinakaran, is taking a shot at being the dark horse by fielding candidates from his recently launched party in all constituencies.​

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