Thursday, April 10, 2014


Over the last four decades, Tamil Nadu’s electoral pendulum has swung smoothly and decisively between All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Despite the state’s polity fragmented by several small caste based parties, one of the two main parties has always forged a strong alliance to win a clear mandate.

In 2014, Narendra Modi led BJP, in an alliance with Tamil action hero turned politician Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and other smaller parties, hopes to disrupt the Dravidian pendulum. Can they?

Since 1967, when the Congress lost power to the DMK, it has played a junior partner to one of the two main Dravidian parties. Vote share of the Congress added to vote share of one side and ensured a clear result. Smaller caste based parties, like OBC Vanniyar caste party Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) which has joined the BJP alliance now, piggy backed on the side with better arithmetic and won a few seats.

In 2006, Vijayakanth entered politics and has since established his party as a third force in the state. The DMDK has maintained a vote share of 8 to 10 percent but, on its own it could win only one assembly seat and drew a blank in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. It is only in an alliance with Jayalalithaa in the 2011 assembly polls that the DMDK won 29 assembly seats. This is because the DMDK’s vote share does not even come close to what the big two hold. 

In their worst elections, the DMK and AIADMK have polled around 23 to 25 percent votes and the best a third force has polled is around 10 percent. This is why, in Tamil Nadu, smaller players are decisive only if they take sides and tip the balance in a head on battle between the two biggies.

Despite this history, BJP leaders claim that a ‘Modi Factor’ in addition to caste arithmetic in select seats could make them winners. For instance, both PMK and DMDK have concentrated pockets of presence in northern Tamil Nadu but, the trouble is that even their combined vote share does not take them to second place in most constituencies.

The BJP as a party has only a marginal presence. It polled less than three percent vote in a vast majority of the 39 seats in the 2009 polls, it came second only in one seat – Kanyakaumari. This leaves the third alliance almost entirely dependent on claims of a ‘Modi factor’.

But, how much can Modi matter amongst voters who have neither seen him before nor understand Hindi, the language he speaks in? His oratory is a crowd puller elsewhere but, not here. Ironically, his biggest advantage is a virtual walkover given by the Congress.

Some of the party’s tallest leaders, like finance minister P.Chidambaram, refused to contest elections and this has demoralized the party further. Even in a state dominated by regional parties, voters, in a general election, are keen to understand the national picture and in this picture there seems to be no one else.

AIADMK General Secretary and Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa, has positioned herself as a possible Prime Ministerial aspirant but, that is not seen as a realistic possibility, at least not at the moment. Ironically, her campaign is focused on “throwing the UPA out”, the same as Modi’s! M.Karunanidhi led DMK’s campaign is focused on “poor governance in the state by Jayalalithaa”. This has left the third alliance and its claims of a ‘Modi factor’ virtually unchallenged.   

 These are reasons why a Modi factor exsits here but, the magnitude of it is anybody’s guess. At the moment, the battle remains firmly between Jayalalithaa and KArunanidhi, their individual strengths will be tested. There are around 3 or 4 seats where the BJP alliance has strong candidates and the fight is expected to be close. But, in the broader picture, the pendulum does not do a three way swing, at least not yet!