Dravidian Progressive Party wins Tamil Nadu elections but will it improve lives of the poor and workers?

Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin, DMK leader and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

After a decade in opposition in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – Dravidian Progressive Party) captured power from the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam- All India Anna Dravidian Progressive Party).

Various exit polls had predicted a landslide for the DMK together with its allies. They expected up to 200 seats. But, in reality, in the 234 constituencies, the DMK, with its allies, won 159 seats; the DMK, on its own, won in 133 constituencies. The AIADMK, with its allies won 75 seats in which AIADMK won on its own in 66 constituencies. In terms of percentage of votes, the difference is a mere 4%.That is 37% of people voted for the DMK and 33% voted for the AIADMK.

Taking the anti-incumbency 10 years of into consideration the seats won by DMK alliance is low. Many political critics felt that the Thoothukudi Massacre and the GST issue (Raising of Goods and Service Tax) would have an impact on the voters. Many posts came round in the social media describing the inefficiency of the AIADMK in government and their inability to tackle the central government. A few even anticipated that the AIADMK would lose its deposit.

This is the very first time both parties were facing an election without popular leaders. The idea that the “AIADMK is nothing without Jayalalithaa” (the former Chief Minister who died in December 2016) prevailed within the progressive bubble. But the election result has helped in removing many blindfolds. It has revealed that the AIADMK still has a base in Tamil Nadu and this has also proved that the ideas that are prevalent in social media are far away from the ground reality.

Internet propaganda  

The DMK in the state of Tamil Nadu, and the BJP in the central government, are believed to have strong information technology wings. Usually, the ideas propagated on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms are a long way from reality.

Though the Modi government propagates the idea of ‘digital India’, the reach of the internet in the remote areas of the country is very low. So the propaganda that takes place in the internet bubble ends there. It hardly reaches the ground.

Election strategy

A few decades ago, no one in India would have imagined a political party appointing a political strategist for contesting in the election. This is the very first time in Tamil Nadu that one was appointed to come up with plans and strategies.

Appointing corporate strategists shows how the politicians see winning elections as an opportunity to fill their own pockets. These corporations usually do not have any ideological leanings, but work for payment. But the impact these strategists made in Tamil Nadu is very meagre.

Votes, caste and religion    

‘The Hindu’ published a post-poll survey calculating the caste votes that helped various parties. This post-poll survey shows that the support of Dalits, minorities and upper castes played a major role in helping the DMK alliance win. Details about how the survey took place and the sample rate were not made public, but the fact that the caste issue played a certain role cannot be denied.

According to the survey, the predominant backward castes offered only lukewarm support to the DMK alliance. In southern Tamil Nadu, a majority of the Thevar vote (55%) was won by the AIADMK alliance, with only two out of every 10 voters supporting the DMK-led front (19%). In the north, the AIADMK alliance, along with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), secured a majority of Vanniyar votes (54%). Parts of northern Tamil Nadu also saw a polarisation of the Mudaliar and Vanniyar votes in favour of the AIADMK alliance. However, from both these social groups, it was not a clean sweep for the AIADMK as the DMK coalition got at least four out of every 10 votes.

The Dalit vote for the DMK-led coalition helped them consolidate in the north and offset the loss of Vanniyar and Mudaliar support. In the west, the Gounder vote was firmly with the AIADMK front (59%). Here, the support of Arunthathiyar Dalits (68%) for the DMK alliance helped it garner votes and slash the winning margins for the AIADMK front. The support of the Nadars, the Devendrakula Velalars and Christians helped the DMK-led coalition in the South.

The PMK (caste party) protested in favour of Vanniyar reservation just a few months before the election and won a reservation of 10.5% of jobs. This was believed to help the party during the election and given an edge to the PMK and its ally AIADMK. The PMK contested in 23 seats and managed to win five seats, securing just over 4%.

On the other hand, the Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (VCK) managed to win four of the six seats it contested in alliance with the DMK.

Calling it a historical movement for his ‘Panthers’ party, the VCK leader, Thol Thirumavalavan, tweeted that his party has shattered hate politics by its victory. “Those who tried to restrict, contain and isolate us only as a Dalit party have been defeated,” he tweeted. He further said VCK’s pot symbol (Electoral Symbol of the party) has smashed the hate propaganda of caste and religious fanatics.

Religion has never played a role in influencing the voters in TN. Unlike in the north of India, election manifestos in the South will not carry promises of building temples and so on. The Hindu majority sentiment tactics of the BJP does not have a base in Tamil Nadu.

Having said that, M.K. Stalin (Leader of DMK and now a chief minister) to an extend succumbed to BJP’s religious tactics. During TN BJP’s vetrivel yatra, M.K. Stalin openly stated that he isn’t against the Hindus. This statement received wide criticism.

Kamal Haasan’s MNM

After registering a new regional political party in Tamil Nadu in February 2018, called Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) Centre of People’s Justice, the actor-cum-producer, Kamal Haasan, made a debut in the Lok Sabha (National Parliament) election campaign of 2019, for the first time.

This time, for the state Assembly polls, he has taken a bet on himself and contested in the election. Although pollsters never gave the party a winning chance in any constituency, Haasan himself was hoping to send as many candidates as possible to the new legislative assembly. In fact, not a single candidate from his party managed to win.

The MNM was catering to the needs of the urban elite (who are not very numerous). MNM was leading in only one seat, Coimbatore South, where Haasan himself was the candidate. However, by the end of the counting, that too was lost. Vanathi Srinivasan from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is also the national leader of the ruling saffron party’s women’s wing, won Coimbatore South by a margin of a few hundred votes.

Seeman’s NTK

The Naam Thamizhar Katchi (NTK- We Tamils Party) of Senthamizhan Seeman, did not win a single seat but Seeman and his party got more votes than last time. The party’s vote share is likely to be around 7%, up from 1% in 2016 and 4% in 2019. It has also come third in many constituencies.

This party is well known for preaching fundamental nationalism. They gain votes by triggering the Tamil language sentiments. Many times they also resort to other factors such as farmers’ goodwill etc. Many voters for this party are first-time voters.

BJP in Tamil Nadu

There was a time in Tamil Nadu when there would not be much difference between the votes for ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) and the votes for the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). But the fact that the cadres of the BJP are really working at the ground level cannot be denied. Increased numbers of Shakhas (local RSS schools/units), Vel Yatras and Ganesh Yatras (Religious Marches) have been seen over the years.

This has also been reflected in the election results. Four out of the 20 BJP candidates emerged victorious in the TN assembly election. They ended a 15-year long wait for the party to have members in the state assembly.

The Left in TN

The traditional Stalinist left parties usually form alliances with one of the regional parties to safeguard their position. In the recent 2021 election, the lefts formed an alliance with the DMK. Both the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the CPI (Marxist) contested in six constituencies and secured two seats each.

Other lefts belonging to the Maoist tradition, members from tiny left parties and individuals from different walks of life, organised themselves into a group without any clear position or class consciousness. It was formed a few months before the election. The only motive was to campaign against the BJP. They claimed to have done this in the past. They took credit for the BJP’s failure. But this organisation seems to have disappeared now. This group of individuals did not even publish a statement regarding the election results nor analyse the victory of the BJP in the four constituencies.

DMK’s Victory

Though its vote share is low, the DMK has formed a government after a decade’s wait. The party’s manifesto promised to deliver for all sections of oppressed people. The party is trying hard to show itself as a progressive party. But it also has its economic limitations. The previous AIADMK government wrote off huge loans and the amount of GST that has to be provided to the central government is also pending.

The new government has been sworn in during the peak of the pandemic. There is no sign that the DMK will challenge the capitalists in order to deliver for the workers and poor in Tamil Nadu. It is the lack of any clear alternative for the masses that increased the hopes being invested in the DMK. It is not likely that all the promises of the DMK will be met or the conditions of the workers and poor improve.

There is no point in socialists recommending a vote for any of the existing parties. The idea that there can be a viable ‘lesser evil’ amongst capitalist parties is erroneous. None of them bases itself on a programme for opposing the bosses and building a workers’ party. We must move forward with building our own forces.

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May 2021