It was party time in the Dravidian capital recently when AIADMK cadre celebrated their leader and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's birthday on February 24, and just a few days later, DMK partymen went to town celebrating their treasurer and 'heir apparent' MK Stalin's birthday on March 1.
Political observers once again marked the studied silence maintained by the two leaders towards each other. Both of them have traveled far in the decades that they have been in politics, and yet, on the day of the birthday there was no exchange of greetings . No bouquets went from one to the other, something political rivals routinely do to each other as a courtesy. The deep divide exists inside and outside the Assembly complex –the only place where they can stand to be under one roof — but no thank you, there will be none of that polite conversation that prevails in say Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh.
Clearly, the decades- old bitter brew continues to simmer between the two main parties in the state. What began as traditional political rivalry when MGR split from the DMK, floated the ADMK as an alternative and remaining the chief minister five consecutive times, has degenerated into a bitter enmity resulting in vindictive politics and a lack of a healthy political culture , says a political analyst.
Thus you have a state of affairs where the two rival leaders will never run into each other, but are more likely to come up with scathing, in-your-face criticism of the other. "Even in the case of an a-political event, like a social event in Rajinikanth's family(such as a wedding) , the two Dravidian party heavyweights will never share a photo- op," says an observer. "They look at each other as enemies, and not mere political rivals," adds the observer. The bitterness has percolated to such an extent that even the rank and file of one party will not be caught attending a social event at the enemy camp. Such flirtatious behavior is political hara kiri.
Some observers also say that the lingering bitterness is not helped by the fact that Jayalalithaa hails from the Brahmin community. "Dravidians are fiercely anti-Brahmin, they still see them as the community that exploited the other castes for centuries," says an observer, adding that whenever the Centre fails to act in a pro- Tamil Nadu manner, he has heard deep rumblings that the state is being slighted by 'the upper castes' there.
However, a senior political journalist rubbishes the caste factor theory. "Jayalalithaa has long shaken off her Brahmin tag. It is simply pathological hatred between Jayalalithaa and the DMK president, M Karunanidhi," he adds. It is not uncommon for both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi to rebut each other on practically every issue with pointed words and searing sarcasm. While all this makes for some entertainment in some quarters, the question really is whether the two leading parties in the state deal better with each other.
Isn't it time they shared a common platform on issues such as allocation of funds to the state or the emotive issue of rehabilitation of Sri Lankan Tamils or presenting a strong case against Lanka on its alleged human rights violations during the finals days of the civil war in the island nation.
Analysts however are not too optimistic. Despite the fact that is less acrimony between Jayalaithaa and Stalin. Like a perfectly brewed filter coffee, the strong aroma of the bitter brew in Dravidian politics could well linger for many more years.
After all, who can afford to be a Party pooper , specially in the time of birthdays? Other columns by the author