Rajinikanth and DMK president Stalin recently visited DMDK chief Vijayakanth at his house in Chennai. They said the visit had nothing to do with politics and they were only there to check on his health. But is there anything non political, especially in Tamil Nadu, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections? Both the DMK and the ADMK alliances want to get Vijayakanth and his DMDK on to their side, even if it means giving away some crucial seats.
A week ago, Vijayakanth returned from the US after undergoing treatment for a health condition. The actor-turned-politician came back in time for alliance formations and seat sharing talks. As of now, AIADMK, BJP and PMK have allied with five seats for BJP and seven seats for PMK. In light of this alliance, Stalin’s meeting with Vijayakanth is significant because DMDK, which allied with the AIADMK earlier, has been demanding seven Lok Sabha seats and one Rajya Sabha seat. They have said they will accept nothing less than what the PMK was offered, but the AIADMK is reportedly not in agreement with this demand. That, and Vijayakanth’s health condition meant the talks hadn’t reached any conclusion. Which is when Stalin went and met the DMDK leader.
A day after the AIADMK-BJP alliance was announced, the DMK and Congress sealed their alliance. The Rajya Sabha representative of DMK, Kanimozhi, met Congress president Rahul Gandhi on February 18 and 19 to discuss seat-sharing formula. Reports suggested that Congress may get nine out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu and the single Puducherry seat. DMK is likely to contest 20 to 25 seats. The rest of the seats may go to the other alliance partners – VCK, MDMK, CPI(M) and CPI.
However, today the DMK made a move signalling a shift in alliance. They have reportedly asked the Congress if they will let go of two seats from their share in the DMK-Congress alliance to bring DMDK into the fold. The Congress is yet to respond to this, but considering that Tamil Nadu Congress leader S Thirunavukarasar visited Vijayakanth earlier this week to speak about the possibility of an alliance, it is likely that they will agree.
A report in The News Minute quotes a DMK source: “The Congress is insisting that the DMDK should join the alliance, as it is a matter of perception. They want our side to look like they the most formidable alliance and numerical strength. We were not initially interested but are now in talks. The DMDK wants 5 seats, so for that, we have asked Congress if they will give up two.”
Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam was formed in 2005 in Madurai. In the 2006 assembly and general elections, his party garnered 10 per cent of votes, establishing their strong base. Since the start, Vijayakanth’s wife Premalatha has been a fore-runner of his politics and party. Later, Vijayakanth was the leader of opposition in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly from 2011 to 2016. 2011 was probably the most crucial year for him when his party won 29 seats in its alliance with the AIADMK during the assembly elections. Following this, 18 MLAs moved to AIADMK, leading to a rift between the then party leader J Jayalalithaa and him.
Vijayakanth’s politics has been at the centre of anti-Dravidian sentiments in the State. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the AIADMK-led alliance allocated 14 seats to his party, with seven seats for Ramdoss’ Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK).
Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam will contest independently
Days before the big AIADMK-BJP-PMK alliance was announced, actor Rajinikanth said that he will not contest the upcoming general elections, while actor Kamal Haasan said that his party Makkal Needhi Maiam will contest the general elections independently without allying with anyone. He said, “I think the very reason we came into politics as a party is because we wanted to displace both DMK and AIADMK. That was our intent. An alliance would mean ‘carrying the burden of others, and it might leave a stain on our party.” He said his party has achieved the interim goals it had set, and its plan to reach out to people through the gram sabhas have worked. Makkal Needhi Maiam will contest each of the 40 seats, and whether Kamal Haasan will contest or not will be decided by the party.
MNM is yet to release its manifesto, although the party leader Kamal Haasan outlined a set of goals, including education, water management and caste eradication. Their ideology has been unclear because of Kamal Haasan’s contradictory statements. However, when the party was formed in February 2018, he said it would be a ‘neo-Dravidian’ political party which, according to him, will recognise the pride of Dravidian identity, but will not take the ‘extreme form’ that it does among some sections in the state presently. He did not speak further about this but his disinterest in an alliance with DMK and AIADMK was clear, and he even said he would ally with the Congress if they broke their alliance with DMK.
KS Alagiri, the newly-appointed president of Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) recently invited Kamal Haasan for an alliance with DMK-Congress in the state and withdrew the invitation a day later. Kamal Haasan had said he didn’t want to ally with corrupt parties, which Alagiri didn’t know about. “I invited him with the good intention that the anti-BJP votes should not get split. When I made the comments, I was not aware that he had used harsh language to criticise the DMK,” he said, adding that such criticism ahead of the elections would only help BJP.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu’s BJP member Pon Radhakrishnan explained that they were allying with AIADMK despite the corruption charges against them because a victory in elections was their only present concern. When asked if the move was going against BJP’s anti-corruption propaganda, he said, “What is important in this election is who is going to form the government at the Centre. India and the people of Tamil Nadu need to re-elect PM Narendra Modi. It is not the time to discuss these [corruption] issues.”
Kamal Haasan, who cited corruption as one of the main reasons for not allying with other political parties, and who criticised both the ruling BJP and AIADMK for only furthering their own agendas in the recently announced union and state budgets, has however taken contradictory stances on people’s issues, making his own politics unclear. He spoke against the State government during Thoothukudi protests, continued supporting students’ fight against Central government for NEET exams, but did not call out BJP when he was given a chance to question the party about BJP members who garlanded those accused in lynching cases. Most recently he said that the government was afraid to call for plebiscite in Kashmir. When his comments blew up, he was quick to clarify that it was only in reference to an article he wrote three decades back, and was not a relevant option for Kashmir anymore.
No politician from Tamil Nadu or outside condemned attacks on Kashmiris, particularly the students in India in the wake of the Pulwama strike which killed CRPF troops in Kashmir. No one has also spoken against the Supreme Court’s recent order for eviction of over 10 lakh Adivasis and forest-dwelling families across 16 states whose lands were rejected under Forest Rights Act.
As per latest reports, the Election Commission is busy preparing poll charts for 543 constituencies for the general elections. Poll dates will likely be announced by the first week of March. The EC might announce the assembly poll dates for Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim too.
These elections are important in Tamil Nadu because both the Congress and BJP have a significant seat-share in the State’s constituencies. With politicians in Tamil Nadu allowing ideology to take a back seat while forming alliances and negotiating seat sharing, it is important to see who is still speaking for the people, against nationalist governments in the Centre. Though, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it all comes down to who is in which alliance, and which actor can draw crowds. No wonder then, the DMK is asking the Congress to give up two seats in favour of the DMK.