Tamil Nadu polity at the moment is facing a strange dynamism especially after the demise of both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. Both were the face of AIADMK and DMK respectively. Tamil Nadu’s polity is very different and unique. Here, the main rival parties are based on Dravid politics. It’s was earlier one party (DMK) founded by Anna Durai which later on split into some other parties among which AIADMK became more dominant.
Both Dravid parties although have their party cadres but not all are loyal to the party rather loyal to the personalities. Anna Durai, M.Karunanidhi, MGR (M. G. Ramachandran), and Jayalalithaa are the personalities who either win the election the party or lose. The strange dynamics of the present polity is that both the tall personalities of DMK and AIDMK are no more present and experts must be worrying how these personality-driven parties will perform in the absence of their mass leaders.
M.K. Stalin of DMK and EPS from AIADMK have not yet achieved a personality that will drive their parties to success. Thus, it’s always a herculean task to analyse and conclude which party is going to win the upcoming 2021 assembly election. Having said this, I think the data is enough to do a judicious analysis based on data available to us. But before that, let’s have a brief history of Dravidian politics from 1967 till 2011.
1967 is the year when Tamil Nadu never saw a national party ruling the state. DMK led by Anna Durai won the election of 1967 when Tamil Nadu was known as Madras state. In 1969, when Tamil Nadu is formed, Anna Durai was CM of TN for 20 days before his death. M.Karunanidhi inherited the leadership from Anna Durai and subsequently won the 1971 Assembly election. By 1977, DMK was split and MGR headed AIADMK which in fact won the assembly elections 1977, 1980, and 1984.
This is the period when both Dravid parties became main rivals and national parties like Congress and left etc became junior partners of one or another Dravid party. For example, Congress was an ally of DMK in 1980 and an ally of AIADMK in 1984.
In 1989, DMK made a comeback following the passing away of MGR and the factionalism in AIADMK especially between Janaki Ramachandran (wife of MGR) and J Jayalalitha who was by that time viewed as the most popular leader after MGR in AIADMK. But Jayalalithaa regained the leadership of AIADMK after expunging the group of Janaki Ramchandran and under her leadership, AIADMK returned to power in 1991. Since then, DMK and AIADMK usually win the alternate election till the 2016 assembly election when. AIADMK won 1991, 2001, and 2011 whereas DMK won the 1996 and 2006 assembly elections.
Before going to the 2016 assembly election, let’s see the vote shares of AIADMK and DMK since 1977. I have compiled the vote share data starting from 1977 to 2016 in the table below where it can be viewed that AIADMK got more than 30% vote share except in 1989 and 1996. In 1989, the AIDMK was split between the Jayalalithaa group and the Janaki Ramachandran Group where the latter got a 9.3% vote share. This means that in 1989 too, AIADMK as a whole got (21.1+9.3) = 30.4%, an excess of 30%. 1996 assembly election was an exception where AIADMK just got a 21.1% vote share which can be considered as an outliner.
Similarly, DMK crossed 30% vote share three times in 1989, 1996, 2001, and 2016. Out of these four elections, DMK won in 1996 only. That means DMK’s core vote share is always less than that of AIADMK because AIADMK, even when losing the election, got a 30% plus vote share. DMK always win with better alliance taking advantage of incumbency as around 2% of floating votes change sides every year. On the other hand, Congress lost its core vote share continuously and became a junior partner to either AIADMK or DMK.
In the 2016 assembly election, DMK supposed to win for the simple reason that the parties used to win alternatively. This is the election where M.Karunanidhi remained inactive due to age and M.K.Stalin took over and on the other hand, AIADMK was led by J Jayalalithaa despite having a health issue. DMK alliance just got a 39.85% vote share whereas the AIADMK alliance got a 40.88% vote share. (AIADMK had a very small alliance where AIADMK contested 227 seats out of a total of 234 seats). DMK fell short of just 1.03% vote share yet the alliance got just 98 seats compared to the AIADMK alliance’s 134 seats.
Why did DMK lose the 2016 assembly election? The answer is simple, it’s the congress’ performance. A close look at the table will show that Congress’s vote share in 2016 was 6.42% which was 2.88% less than its 9.3% vote share during 2011. That means if Congress at least repeated its 2011 vote share, the DMK alliance would have won the election with1.85% more vote share than AIADMK. DMK gave 40 seats to Congress and thus burnt its fingers. The same mistake was repeated by RJD in Bihar Election 2020 where Congress’s performance made RJD lose the election by a whisker.
Now let’s see the prospects of DMK in 2021. DMK under M.K.Stalin is not so strong as DMK under M.Karunanidhi. His brother M.K. Alagiri who has influence among DMK cadres of South Tamil Nadu is in a rebellious mode. In case Alagiri defected from DMK, then it would be in deep trouble. Thus, Stalin has a job to convince Alagiri to be part of DMK. Then Stalin needs to carefully craft the alliance to make it a winning alliance. In particular, it has to control the depleting Congress, satisfying them in providing a lesser number of seats. So, DMK is definitely in a hurdle and the road ahead is very difficult.
AIADMK also has some issues.
First, the public has an impression that BJP, or say, Narendra Modi, is, in fact, managing AIADMK’s party affairs especially keeping various groups unitedly. If EPS and OPS groups stay united, the credit goes to Narendra Modi. This has even been complained about by DMK. But then there’s an issue of Shasikala too. V.K. Sasikala was recently released from jail and displayed her political clout while returning to TN. Corruption is never an issue in Tamil Nadu polity. BJP wants Sasikala’s return to AIADMK to which EPS (Edappadi K. Palaniswami) is objecting seriously.
If Sasikala remains outside, she will definitely cut some AIADMK vote share which might be problematic for AIADMK which is also suffering 10 years of anti-incumbency. EPS is not yet recognized as the undisputed leader of AIADMK.
That means AIADMK too facing a lot of problems. BJP has not been a power-house in TN polity although it is expected that its vote share would be a bit more than that of Congress. However, if I have to put money on any party, I would refrain from doing so. Although it appears to be an advantage for DMK considering the 2019 Parliamentary election performance, in the absence of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, nothing is guaranteed in the present Tamil Nadu polity.