Two sayings are particularly popular in politics: Never say never; Public memory is short.
Both seem increasingly irrelevant in Tamil Nadu.
The DMK’s reign from 2006 to 2011 is remembered as a particularly horrible period of mismanagement, right up there with Jayalalithaa’s first term in power. There were no exorbitant weddings, but we remember all too well the improvised street lighting, loud music, and firecrackers that would accompany felicitation ceremonies organised by the DMK for their patriarch M Karunanidhi, culminating in the endowment of a golden crown. Streets would be clogged with traffic as diversions were put in place for the ceremonies, at least twice a month. The power supply was erratic, and the deficit so large that it took two years of regular power cuts under Jayalalithaa’s leadership for the situation to improve.
The AIADMK survived public memory through its five-year term from 2011 to 2016, and even the floods could not save the DMK. Perhaps it was because we were so relieved we were now forewarned about power cuts, and that the Electricity Department had begun to answer their phones.
The loss in the 2016 elections seemed to be the death knell for the DMK.
And then they had an unexpected windfall, with the death of Jayalalithaa.
For some time after her death was announced, and Sasikala was appointed General Secretary of the party, the people were so disillusioned that it seemed possible they may turn to Stalin to lead. His was a familiar face, and he had been in politics for long enough. However things went, history would be made in Tamil Nadu. Dynastic politics had never been the mode here. Political heirs were groomed. For the first time, there was no evident political heir, no Jayalalithaa to MGR, no Karunanidhi to Annadurai.
Then, OPS, as O Paneerselvam is popularly known, had an epiphany. He would bring Sasikala down and keep up Amma’s legacy, he said. The drama reached a climax with reports of MLAs being held hostage in an exclusive resort, and culminated in a marriage of convenience between EPS – Edappadi K. Palaniswami – and OPS, with the former being Chief Minister.
Soon after this alliance, I was at a DMK-organised function, when I overheard two party functionaries speaking.
“Thalapathi (Stalin) has made a mistake,” one of them said, “He should have offered 5-10 rupees to each of those MLAs who were in the hotel, and bought them.” I figured they were talking in crores.
“Money rules the election. If the ADMK gives people Rs. 1000, we should give them Rs. 2000.”
I wanted to tell them that people of Tamil Nadu would likely take all the money and then vote as they saw fit.
The R. K. Nagar bye election was considered crucial because its result could be prophetic. In choosing the candidate from Jayalalithaa’s constituency, people would potentially be crowning an heir to the long-time chief minister. T T V Dhinakaran, who was expelled from the AIADMK, became the first independent candidate to win a bye election in the state, and he did it by a margin of over 40,000 votes. The AIADMK’s Madhusudhanan polled nearly 50,000 votes, while the DMK’s Maruthu Ganesh fared so badly he lost his deposit, and the NOTA outperformed the BJP.
How important is this election? People have been contemplating the idea of an early election being called. But with the OPS-EPS combine in power, and three and a half years to go for the next official election, that is unlikely. The AIADMK is not in danger of being overthrown; its MLAs would be foolish to switch sides with so much time to go for the next election. The party would try to regroup, and perhaps forge other alliances in time for 2021.
As for the DMK, things look worse than ever. Stalin’s leadership has been called into question yet again by his estranged brother, expelled DMK strongman Azhagiri. He has been raging against Stalin for three years, but for the first time, television channels are inviting him to air his views.
Karunanidhi has not made a public appearance in years. Stalin is the new face of the DMK, with some potential for Kanimozhi – fresh off her acquittal in the 2G spectrum scam. But they have only been known to the electorate as the offspring of Karunanidhi, and are not popular leaders in themselves.
While the verdict in the 2G scam case is being celebrated by the DMK and Congress, the rest of the country is not so enamoured. First, back in 2012, the Supreme Court took cognisance of the case and cancelled all 122 licences awarded by then-telecom minister A Raja, in addition to imposing fines on 7 licensees, amounting to Rs. 15 crore. When the apex court believed that the minister had frittered away natural resources and potential revenue with the intention of favouring a select few, it seems unlikely that the CBI court’s verdict will be upheld on appeal in the High Court and possibly Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court was convinced the money trails which served as evidence of quid pro quo were not coincidental, it does seem strange that Justice Saini believed they were.
The verdict has left people contemplating a possible alliance between the BJP and the DMK in Tamil Nadu. If that were to happen, it would likely seal the DMK’s fate forever. The Dravida movement rested on two principles – the anti-Hindi agitation, and atheism. The BJP stands for the opposite of both.
When the party could not manage to even emerge as one of the heads of the Hydra in the bye election, would it be foolish enough to engage in an alliance which signals its political suicide?