BY G. BABU JAYAKUMAR

In the otherwise politically vibrant state of Tamil Nadu there seems to be a lull now – a dull phase that apparently portents a sort of an uncertain and unpredictable future. Unlike most states of the Indian union, Tamil Nadu always charted its own political path and has never ceased to remain the cynosure of all observant eyes in the country. Its top political honchos have always been popular nationwide and its people, too, enjoy a traditional reputation of being conscious of certain political values and principles that are unique to Tamil Nadu. To put it otherwise, Tamil Nadu is one of the very few states in India that does not toe a ‘national line’ during elections. Its political free spiritedness has led to the state being ruled only by regional parties, professing Dravidian ideology, since 1967.

Exactly half a century after the DMK first stormed into Fort St George, the seat of power in Tamil Nadu, and allowed the reins to be taken over only by one of its own offshoots and never to any contender outside the realm of its declared Dravidian ideology, there are visible signs of an intrusion in the running of the state. Though the state overwhelmingly voted against the national trend in the 2014 Parliamentary elections, giving 37 of the 39 seats to the AIADMK party headed by the late J Jayalalithaa, the BJP that emerged with a massive mandate to rule the country then is now trying to hold the reins of the state administration by stealth.

What obviously emboldened the BJP, which just won just a single seat for itself and another for its local ally, the PMK, in the 2014 Parliament election and suffered a total rout in the 2016 Assembly elections, to influence the state government is nothing but the absence of Jayalalithaa, who passed away in December 2016. Looking back, Jayalalithaa had stood up boldly against the BJP in several fronts, including the implementation of GST and NEET, perhaps giving the national party’s managers sleepless nights. For, she was not ready to give in to the Central government’s whims and fancies and was charting a separate course for the state.

Jayalalithaa also ran her party with an iron hand as though it was her personal fiefdom and with absolute control. There was no leader other than her worth the salt in the monolith and every minister in her cabinet, MPs and MLAs just bowed before her like lowly subjects. If they cannot fall at her feet, they touched the wheels of the SUV in which she was seated, in an open display of servility. Those men and women who prostrated before her cannot be blamed for their reverence. For they were aware that if they had won the election that had given them any status it was only because of the party, its leader Jayalalithaa and the political legacy inherited from founder MGR.

When a set of such servile politicians, who have technically won elections to be MLAs till 2021, were catapulted to the seat of power by a quirk of fate, BJP felt that it could launch its project to conquer Tamil Nadu by prevailing upon them. Or, is it some kind of arm twisting? After all, the BJP knows that capturing the imagination of the common people and winning their votes is nothing but a distant dream otherwise. So, the ruling party at the centre, whose feeder organisations like the RSS have a perceptible presence even in Tamil Nadu, influenced the ruling dispensation, which is in power by default, and made them take decisions that would help the BJP, much to the chagrin of the common people.

Since the other Dravidian party with whom AIADMK has alternated power, the DMK, is waiting in the wings as not only the traditional alternative but also with a substantial number of MLAs in the House (the DMK and allies won 98 seats as against the 136 of the AIADMK and allies), the BJP, through its devious ways, ensured that the government did not fall, bringing upon the state another election, though several chinks developed in the AIADMK legislative party at various times.

At another level, with the prevailing political situation, in which the ruling AIADMK was giving scant respect to people’s aspirations as though they have no plans to contest the next election and the DMK unable to rise to the occasion and unseat its rival, causing perceptible popular disenchantment, many felt that there was a vacuum in the political leadership of the state. Perhaps it was that perception that led to the chimera of two popular film actors, Kamal Hassan and Rajinkanth, throwing down their gauntlets in the political arena, though the people have been left thoroughly confused.

Perhaps the actors felt that only someone from tinsel town can fill up the void in the political scene, going by the track record of Tamil Nadu’s choice of leaders since 1967. DMK’s M Karunanidhi and C N Annadurai were accomplished film scriptwriters though they also straddled politics from a young age and MGR and Jayalalithaa were matinee idols. Or did the two top actors of Kollywood today felt that the crores of AIADMK vote bank – party members, MGR followers and supporters – needs to be channelized as there is widespread disillusionment over the present regime, headed by Edapaddi K Palanisamy and his deputy O Pannerselvam.

In fact, the big question that looms large over the state’s political landscape is precisely that: Where will the AIADMK’s support base shift to when the next election comes? Both EPS and OPS, as the Chief Minister and his deputy, do not seem to enjoy the support of party cadre. It is not surprising, given the fact that they were also just one among them when Jayalalalithaa was alive. That leads one to the question if the party cadre and functionaries are loyal to Jayalalithaa’s confident, Sasikala? If so, Sasikala’s nephew T T V Dinakaran, who is now heading a faction of the AIADMK and making claims of a huge support base in the party, could channelize the vote bank.

The BJP, which was counting on the vote bank, hoping to win over the AIADMK supporters, may only end up disillusioned. For its popularity has nosedived of late in view of its open machinations to control the government after the death of Jayalalithaa and its loudmouthed local leaders. As far as the Congress is concerned, it does seem to be interested in winning elections and capturing power in the state as it has reconciled itself to the idea of riding piggy back with one of the Dravidian parties and winning a couple of seats. Maybe by continuing its alliance with the DMK, which has its own voter base that is unassailable, it could keep itself alive in the state. And for the DMK, the challenge will be in coercing the AIADMK voters to its camp – at least those who were once with the DMK but shifted loyalty during the split.

Yet, in future whichever party or leader aspiring to rule Tamil Nadu will have to address the phalanx of local concerns and livelihood issues that the people have been raising and protesting at various places across the state over the years to win votes. When the next election comes, unlike the past there may not be any larger-than-life idols extracting unquestioning patronage – provided Rajinikant and Kamal Hassan make a splash – but only issues that contenders for the throne will have to address. For the new generation of voters, those of the kind who thronged the Marina sands in January to revive Jallikattu, can be more demanding in seeking the protection of the quintessential cultural identity of Tamil people than the generation of voters who ushered in Dravidian party rule in 1967.

[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of THE CENTRIST OUTLOOK and TCO does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]

THE AUTHOR IS CURRENTLY THE EDITOR OF PROVOKE LIFESTYLE AND FORMERLY DEPUTY RESIDENT EDITOR OF THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS.