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The buzz lately in political circles has been that the DMK could be sidling up to the BJP. But if one looks at the past patterns of partnership of the two main Dravidian parties, it becomes evident that the people of Tamil Nadu have always picked the secular alliance.

The biggest danger therefore to the DMK party and its government in Tamil Nadu could be from within—a sense of complacency or over-confidence that could bring about electoral defeat as in 2001.What created a dent in the fortunes of the DMK was its alliance with the BJP for the 1999 Lok Sabha elections.

DMK made the shocking decision to ally with the BJP at the time for three reasons. One was the lure of the post of Union Minister offered to DMK president M Karunanidhi’s nephew Murasoli Maran. The second was the need to oust the AIADMK from the ruling alliance at the Centre as J Jayalalithaa had used offices in Delhi to try and wriggle out of various corruption cases against her. And the third was the possibility of grabbing union ministerial portfolios at the Centre to fortify the DMK both in the State and at the Centre—a double barrel gun to crush the AIADMK.

Had the DMK put an end to the alliance in 2001 when the State held Assembly elections were held, it could have retained power by keeping some allies from 1996 allies still in its fold. However, the DMK went ahead with the BJP, pushing the secular parties of the Left, the Tamil Maanila Congress and the Congress into the AIADMK combine. The overconfidence of the DMK, buoyed by the 1999 results, led to its ouster from power in the state in 2001.

In 2001, the DMK paid a huge price for carrying the BJP on its shoulders. Similarly, AIADMK, after its victory in 2001, thought that it was a mandate for Jayalalithaa and her party, and not for the strong, secular alliance that outnumbered the DMK-BJP combine.

Stung by this defeat, the DMK began rectifications and started to pull out from the BJP-led government at the Centre in 2003-2004, which led to a new DMK-led secular alliance for the 2004 elections.

The irony was that its main rival, the AIADMK, made the same mistake in 2004. Having failed to diagnose the cause of the DMK’s 2001 defeat, it was now the turn of the overconfident AIADMK to go downhill in the company of the BJP.

After its 2004 Lok Sabha poor show, the AIADMK began course correction from 2006. Jayalalithaa remained steadfast in her decision not to align with the BJP anymore, and the AIADMK went on to taste success in the 2011, 2014 and 2016 elections. It was only after the death of its supremo that the AIADMK again turned to the BJP as an ally, resulting in its massive defeats in 2019 and 2021.

Thus, it’s evident what the fate of the party that ties up with the BJP has been. The DMK would do well to realise that considering an alliance with the BJP would result in a self-goal, a path to political suicide.

In 2001, the DMK paid a huge price for carrying the BJP on its shoulders. Similarly, AIADMK, after its victory in 2001, thought that it was a mandate for Jayalalithaa and her party, and not for the strong, secular alliance that outnumbered the DMK-BJP combine. But the key to success in Tamil Nadu is quite evidently the creation of a strong, powerful alliance that can be formed only if the BJP is kept out.

There may be some who unwisely believe that the DMK should come closer to the BJP. But the party led by MK Stalin as chief minister would do well to remember that only as long as it maintains the secular alliance with the Left, Congress and VCK is its position safe. Any disruption in the alliance could enable the AIADMK to turn tables on the DMK.

The DMK’s three most recent electoral successes in successive elections—the 2019 LS polls, the local body elections that followed and the 2021 Assembly polls—has been with the secular alliance in place. The margin of victory was about seven per cent (it was higher in the 2019 LS election). This makes it apparent that the gap between the vote shares of the DMK combine and the AIADMK alliance was bridged almost entirely by the allies—the Congress, left, VCK and the MDMK, all of which were firm in opposition to the BJP.

It is also evident that DMK’s failure to create a strong secular alliance is what led to its defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2016 Assembly elections. So, as long as the AIADMK maintains the status quo of an alliance with the BJP, the DMK can consider itself safe.

It is also evident that DMK’s failure to create a strong secular alliance is what led to its defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2016 Assembly elections. So, as long as the AIADMK maintains the status quo of an alliance with the BJP, the DMK can consider itself safe.

For anyone not knowing the AIADMK, it would seem strange that the party leadership continues to maintain ties with the ruling party at the centre. It knows fully well that it has no scope of weaning away DMK’s allies and expanding its own front, while still being in a relationship with the saffron party.

It’s then fairly obvious what the AIADMK must do to return to its winning ways. Why then does the AIADMK not want to break away from the BJP?

This reason is the attitude of AIADMK leaders who, like a drowning man clutching at a straw, are clinging to the alliance with the BJP mainly to try and save themselves in corruption cases.

The AIADMK leaders, who are on the defensive in the face of action by state government agencies like the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption bureaus, believe they can get a reprieve from courts both in Chennai and Delhi if they are in the good books of the ruling party at the Centre.

At present therefore, allies of the DMK have little choice but to stick with Stalin and his crew. They are not in a mood to form or join a third front, as things stand. However, that would change if the DMK got close to the BJP and created a situation where the secular parties would not be welcome in the front. The secular alliance would then crumble, and that could become the turning point in the electoral arena of Tamil Nadu.

It is therefore in the interest of the DMK to maintain and consolidate the gains from the secular alliance.


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