Tamil Nadu politics in Transition

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By Prof. R.Vaidyanathan on 16th October 2015

There is lot of churn in the social situation which is reflected in the political scene in Tamil Nadu (TN). The recently mounted “Nammaku Nam-e” [we help ourselves] campaign by M K Stalin the younger son of M Karunanidhi brings out the changing ethos in the political vocabulary and situation. Stalin is an aspirant for the CM position if his party—Dravida Munnetra Kazhaham]DMK] wins the coming state assembly elections in 2016.

The following two articles in the erudite The News Minute paper explains the changes attempted by Stalin.

This campaign is essentially to enthuse his cadres after a disastrous performance in the last Assembly elections held in 2011 as well as Lok Sabha elections in 2014. DMK which was once ruling party in the state is in dire straits due to an aging leader and quarrels within first family which controls the party.

M Karunanidhi who has been leading the party from 1969 after the death of its founder C N Annadurai has made the party subservient to his family. His elder son[ Azhagiri] was a central cabinet minister before his split with his younger brother and leaving the party. His daughter Kanimozhi- through his third [unofficial] wife is a Member of Parliament –upper house- but enmeshed in a massive scam related to 2G spectrum allotment for which case is going on. His grandnephew [Maran} was the telecom minister at the centre and again enmeshed in corruption cases along with his elder brother who is a media baron.

Even though he is 90+ he does not want to give up power and still his son Stalin projects his father as prospective CM if his party wins.
The original Party DK from which DMK split is known for its separatist ideology and anti-Hindu diatribes. Its Founder E.V. Ramaswamy used to propagate that there is no god and those who believe in that are barbarians. He also believed and propagated [now completely discredited] Aryan Invasion theory. According to him the Brahmins in Tamil Nadu are Aryans who invaded in to India from north and settled in south India after harassing original Dravidians. That ideology gave rise to massive anti-Brahmin sentiments and resulted in reservation for intermediate and other castes in education as well as employment in government services.

The party of Annadurai-DMK- split from its parent DK after Indian independence since DK did not recognise nor celebrate the independence. Also Annadurai unlike his mentor suggested that “all [Dravidians] are one race and have one God” His follower M. Karunanidhi [MK] is an atheist and fierce anti-Hindu. He has even remarked quoting some obscure sources that the word Hindu means a thief.

Tamil Nadu which is having largest number of temples among Indian states is fiercely religious with its population thronging temples and performing rituals even for minor festivals/occasions.
Even though the leader MK is avowedly atheist most of party cadres are not and they continue their worships etc. Even the wives of many senior leaders including that of Stalin are regular visitors to temples and partake in rituals.

In his tour of the state, Stalin is trying to re-position the party and that has created major upheavals within the party. He visited temples and mentioned that since the party has 90% of its members as Hindus –there is nothing wrong about it. He even attended a conference of temple priests which is unprecedented in DMK history. There is more than 15% gap between the vote share of the ruling Party namely AIADMK and his own party.

The changing social situation in Tamil Nadu is a major factor in the Stalin’s new strategy. For once the anti-Brahmin rhetoric does not work anymore since in Administration/ Judiciary etc. the role of Brahmins is miniscule compared to fifties and sixties. In the last two decades every year one finds hardly one or two Brahmins among top 100 ranking candidates in medical entrance exams — Most of them have opted for Engineering etc. education and substantial number have moved to places like California. a good number of them are working in IT sphere in many Silicon Valley companies now.

The other development is the emerging business communities of Tamil Nadu like Gounders [in Tiruppur– Garments with a turnover of $2.8B] and Nadars [Sivakasi—matches/crackers & printing- with a turnover of $300M] etc. are more community oriented and have become custodians of many temples and local festivals. They are traditionally very religious and have no use for the “anti- Hindu” rhetoric. Plus the competition from Muslims and Christians have made many Hindu castes in Business to come closer.

The RSS and its affiliated organisations have done phenomenal work during Tsunami and other disasters and have earned a name among large number of people. They are also facilitating many public functions like Ganesh Puja pandals and unifying all communities of Hindus. The election of BJP—a Hindu oriented party at the centre and the popularity of the PM -Narendra Modi has also contributed to the resurgence of Pro-Hindu sentiments among people.

In this context we need to look at the strategic change attempted by Stalin. But his father’s rhetoric of the last 4 decades and the venom he used to pour on Hindu Gods and practices when he participated in Ramzan feasts are still in the memory of large number of people. It might take Stalin a herculean effort to present a new DMK which is not anti-Hindu. He may also lose some part of his traditional support base. In the process he should not become a Trishanku of the ancient puranas who was left hanging between heaven and earth.

He is also talking about improving the “freebie” schemes of the current Government. What he should offer is an altered vision for TN where job creation is a dominant need/ issue and also reducing the ministries. The State has become a huge “charity show” financed by liquor sold through Government shops. Liquor sales is the largest source of revenue for the TN govt. The Tamil Nadu families are nationalised by freebies and this model is not sustainable. He should boldly enunciate policies that shrink the state reduce costs and generate employment in private enterprises. He should position his party as Pro-market and non –anti-Hindu. Will he bite the bullet?

He may be doing too little and too late in convincing the people about his new strategy—which is same as that of current ruling party with some tinkering. Will he succeed? Time alone can provide the answer.

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