Monday, December 17, 2012

Losing the plot -- in Tamil Nadu

Some simple electoral conclusions on Tamil Nadu based on share of valid votes received by each party in Tamil Nadu from the Assembly elections in 1991 to 2011 (from Linky)

Nationalist Parties (in %) 
1)  BJP                 1.70    1.81    3.19    2.02    2.22
2a) INC               15.19    5.61    2.48    8.38    9.30
2b) TMC                  -      9.30     6.73        -         -
2) INC + TMC      15.19   14.91    9.21    8.38    9.30
3)  CPI                 1.24    2.12    1.59     1.61   1.97
4) CPM                3.15    1.68     1.68    2.65    2.41

State/Regional Parties:
1) ADMK           44.39   21.47   31.44  32.64  38.40
2) DMK             22.46   42.07   30.92  26.46  22.39

Caste/Splinterist Outfits: 
1) PMK              5.89     3.84     5.56    5.65    5.23
2) MDMK              -       5.78     4.65     5.98        -
3) DMDK               -           -          -      8.38    7.88
4) VCK                 -           -          -      1.29    1.51
5) PT                   -           -      1.27         -     0.40

The three nationalist parties -- BJP, CPI and CPM -- have a certain captive votebank that more or less faithfully votes for them time and again. Unless the agenda of these three parties focusses on devolving power to the masses as a credible alternative, there is no hope for these parties. The CPI and CPM have to move past their "workers, unite" rhetoric as Tamil Nadu is becoming a middle-class state (faster than these parties can transform) and with that, the discourse changes from rights to duties. The BJP has to move past its "Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan" rhetoric as the last time that rhetoric could have worked in the state was under Rajaji or Bhaktavatsalam. Even then, it might not have given the impact of rationality (selective, though it may have been) in worldview. Perhaps under Kumarasami Raja or Omandoor Ramasami when universal adult franchise was not in vogue.

Similarly, the INC has its own captive votebank (which it split with TMC in the heydays of G. K. Mooppanar). Kowtowing to either regional outfit will not allow the INC to grow and it needs to stand up for what it believes in if it has to make a mark. Of course, standing up against a duopoly is a hard job, but noone succeeded in a job they did not pursue. Sadly, even during the days of Rajiv Gandhi, most of his speeches were not held in Madras city, but in places such as Maraimalai Nagar -- as distant from the masses and the power center as there could be -- shabbily translated by the likes of P. Chidambaram. Why, even his being assassinated in Sriperumbudur -- a cradle of the auto industry today and a shallow backwater in 1991 with nothing much to boast except that it was the constituency of family friend Maragatham Chandrasekhar -- says a lot about how the Congress party has/had avoided Madras city like a plague because its rhetoric gets/got booed out by the TASMAC-induced masses.

With this backdrop, there seems to be little hope for nationalist parties in Tamil Nadu today. This trend will continue unless India faces a war-like situation or if there is a blackswan event where self-respect gets commoditized as a good with a value that it commands. The zero-th step in winning the Tamils begins with finding good orators, speechwriters and literary luminaries who could monologue their way into the people's hearts and minds. Even here, the precedents in both the Congress and the BJP camps have been terrible. Mooppanar's koozhangal speeches never energized anyone, even though a better speaker in Kumari Anandan had to repeat telecast the TMC moves with no change in the central leadership at the end. Ela Ganesan may not be koozhangal, but he is not very far in a state where even Sathyaraj or T. Rajendar -- karadis that they are -- can energize the audience.

The narrow focus of PMK as the Vanniyars' paradise will match up with their ~5% vote share for as long as they so choose. For all the Dalit assertion in Tamil Nadu, voiced by the types of VCK and PT and paragon-ed by the revolutionary outlets and media, most Dalits still choose to vote for either the ADMK or the DMK. In other words, one could have a victimist mindset, real or perceived, but unless there is a credible alternative, the minorities will continue to transact business with the parties that are perceived to be credible. The distance of DMDK from power will ensure that it will die a natural death over a period of time unless the post-Karunanidhi era brings some hope that could push it to displace either of the post-DMK outfits. The case of MDMK is simpler: natural death without much fanfare.

The only short-term events that could make a dent in Tamil Nadu's electoral saga are: the health of Jayalalitha and the post-Karunanidhi phase vis-a-vis the DMK. Truly, Tamil Nadu stands divorced from a lethargic nationalist polity that does not know how to conduct business with the state. And in that sense, Tamil Nadu is in a league of its own. Even states that have seen much terrorist violence such as Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, the Northeastern states, have at least one of the two mainstream nationalist parties as an electoral alternative. The buck for this mega-trend lies not with the Tamils...

PS: Caveats remain on the use of the data. The percentages above are for valid votes polled. This has to be re-normalized appropriately based on electoral turn-out and demographic inflation.

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