Sunday, April 13, 2014

Back to the 80s

The elections this year in Tamil Nadu will be reminiscent of the 80s, the last time when an election was fought by all parties in their own capacity. The DMK, AIADMK, Congress and Left are all going it alone this time, having either failed or wantonly stayed away from forging any alliances. In the case of the DMK, rumor has it that it was party chief-designate MK Stalin was behind the push to stay away from the Congress which, nationally, is seen as a liability to any ally. As for the AIADMK, it is clearly looking to maximize its own seats in the state, riding on the popularity of Jayalalitha's third government. That explains why she broke her alliance with the Left so abruptly after having offered them a pittance in terms of seats.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of this election is the only alliance in the fray - the BJP-led NDA, which has brought together the likes of the PMK, the DMDK and the MDMK in what is being seen as a game-changing turn of events orchestrated by BJP President Rajnath Singh, obviously at the behest of Narendra Modi. It has been estimated that this alliance has the ability to shore up a strong quarter of the vote share and possibly convert that to a few seats, thus opening the BJP's account in the state and allowing it to gain a foot in what has otherwise been a state that has rejected the saffron party.

For the Congress, which was once virtually a Chennai-based party controlled by powerful leader K Kamraj, until he was overthrown by Indira Gandhi, a massive defeat seems to be staring it in the face. Its key faces from the state - P Chidambaram and Mani Shankar Aiyar - are not in the fray, with the former fielding his son instead, who is considered to be a political novice. With three-cornered and even four-cornered races in virtually every seat that the Congress is contesting, combined with the massive anti-incumbency that it is battling, some polls have predicted a tally of zero seats for the Grand Old Party from Tamil Nadu, a first since elections were introduced in the colonial Madras Presidency.

By all accounts, this election is going to be swept by the AIADMK, except in the few constituencies where the NDA enjoys local clout. But the question remains - where will Jayalalitha go from there? She has made it quite clear that she holds ambitions to be PM, but also knows that she enjoys no clout nationally - in fact, during the entire election season, she has virtually stayed put in the state (in sharp contrast to 2009 when, as a part of the failed Third Front, she campaigned in other states). Therefore, depending on what the results are, she will have two options. One, if the current NDA, including the latest entrant the TDP, emerges with over 240 seats, she will have no choice but to join it because she cannot risk Tamil Nadu being entirely unrepresented in the Central Government (and, philosophically, this should not happen either, given how important the state is to the Union). Two, if the NDA as a whole fails to cross 210 (with the BJP failing to reach 180, which seems unlikely as of now), she can try to cobble up a so-called Federal Front with Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Pattanaik, although the former has her own PM ambitions.

As of now though, it seems clear to Jayalalitha that her bargaining power will depend on the quantum of seats which she brings to any alliance and hence, a fierce contest is on in the state. A contest where, it seems, the DMK will suffer serious burns and the Congress will be turned to dust. 

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