Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sense of Tamland

There is really nothing new one can say about the massive Modi win except sounding a monotonous bore grinding the same old half-truisms. In any case, I will stick (for the time being) to opinionating on Tamland only because I feel that I have not read any sensible analysis and parsing of the numbers so far. 

1) General trends: The BJP and its partners took part in 38 constituencies (barring the Nilgiris mishap) of which 14 contested on a DMDK ticket, 8 on PMK, 7 on MDMK and 9 on BJP (including the KMDK and IJK candidates). Of these, there were two first place finishes (Kanni and Dharmapuri), six second place finishes, 29 third place finishes, and one fourth place finish. 

The fourth place finish of PMK in Naagai was one of wrong candidate selection -- a non-existent PMK fighting in a reasonably deep South seat which is somewhere close to religious polarization than to caste polarization. The two first place finishes were ones where strategic alignment worked successfully, Pon. Radhakrishnan in Kanni and Anbumani in Dharmapuri. If the Congress and the DMK had aligned, there is a good likelihood that Pon. Radhakrishnan would have finished second (just as in 2004 and 09). Dharmapuri (in North Tamland) presents a more confusing picture. While the caste violence between the numerically vastly dominating Vanniyars and Adi-draavidars (a Dalit sub-caste) and the subsequent action against the PMK partymen and leaders by the ADMK regime had meant that the Dalits were in favor of a ADMK candidate, the ADMK bent down to demographic destiny in picking a Vanniyar candidate. Also, picking a Vanniyar candidate was DMK. With the waters murky, some BJP-MDMK-DMDK vote bank alignment helped Anbumani cross the post by around 75000 votes -- a performance that is not much to crow about given the Vanniyar dominance in the seat. 

The six second place finishes were in Coimbatore, Erode, Pollachi, Tiruppur, Vellore and Virudhunagar. Of these, the first four are in the Kongunaadu-Gounder belt, Vellore in the Vanniyar belt and Virudhunagar in the Naicker/Naidu belt. That said, none of these were close finishes with the ADMK walking a winner comfortably in all the six seats, which just goes to show how caste consolidation behind a rainbow coalition was an ephemeral idea from the very beginning. Of the 29 third place finishes, there were close contests (defined as approx. 10K votes) with the second place candidate only in Aarani (PMK candidate) and Perambalur (IJK). Five seats were complete washouts (defined as < 1 lakh votes): North Madras, Dindigul, Karur, Thanjai, Tiruchi. Of these, four were contested by the DMDK (the other by BJP in Thanjai) showing how much DMDK punched over its weight in the coalition. Of the eight seats contested by the PMK, their candidates got over 2 lakh votes in 5 constituencies. On the other hand, DMDK could get over 2 lakh votes in just 4 of the 14 contested whereas for MDMK, this number was 3 in 7. 

Almost all the constituencies had the classic Chandu Lal Sahu episode in some form or the other. In some seats, it was a clear case of a prop candidate with the same or similar name (Chandrakasi vs. Chandragasan, etc.), in some seats, it was a creative way to introduce confusion (K. Nandagopalakrishnan vs. K. R. Radhakrishnan). Clearly, Tamlanders have some weird unique names that cannot be easily copied and there is the oft-mentioned statement: "vote for the [xyz] symbol." Those two probably explain the nonchalance of the mainstream parties to this menace. 

2) Modi wave: There most definitely was a Modi wave in Bihar and UP (and much of north and west India for that matter), but whether there was one in Tamland requires some serious statistical introspection. In the last elections, none of the BJP candidates except Pon. Radhakrishnan from Kanni and the eternal-party-hopper Su. Thirunaavukkarasar from Ramnad could get anything over 50K votes. Ela Ganesan could get no more than 43K votes in South Madras. In 2014, this scene has changed dramatically with 6 in 9 of BJP contestants securing over 2 lakh votes. Ela Ganesan in fact could win over 2.5 lakh votes, a no mean feat even in South Madras given that it has most likely no more than a few 1000s of upper castes (aka Brahmins). If Ganesan could sew up so many votes, it must have come from the educated, aspiring and climbing middle-class, of which there is plenty in South Madras. Only the total BJP washout in Thanjai is surprising given the temple town's vibes. So yes, there was a Modi wave, but not as big as in UP and Bihar. But big enough to be noticed and recognized. However, whether this is a sustaining wave is a 108$ question.

3) Deep south and religious faultlines: I define the deep south as the four semi-religiously polarized constituencies of Thirunelveli, Thoothukkudi, Kanni and Ramnad. It is remarkably surprising that the BJP contested only Kanni and Ramnad of these four. May be the fact that BJP could not secure anything more than 50K votes in the last elections had something to do with this calculation. But in any case, the story of Kanni has been told before. In addition to the lack of DMK-INC coalition, too many Christian candidates indeed mucked up the broth in a case of reverse polarization chronicled well here: Linky. The same can be said for Ramnad except that Muslims replace the role (to a certain level) of Christians in Kanni.

The strong showing in Aaduthurai of a MMK candidate is most likely because of the DMK vote bank which got transferred to MMK instead of Mani Shankar Aiyar of INC. The only other faultline that is seen is in Vellore with a strong third place finish by the IUML candidate. Again, the DMK vote bank that could have been transferred to the IUML candidate is suspect behind this strong finish.

4) Caste faultlines: The Vanniyar-Dalit fistfight in Dharmapuri spilled over into killing the bonhomie between Ramadoss and Thol. Thirumaavalavan of VCK. It was no wonder that PMK jumped at the opportunity presented by the INC's bumbling (Linky). Even some new-found bonhomie could nt help Thirumaa pull a fast one over the ADMK candidate. To rub salt into the wounds, the PMK candidate finished 30K votes behind Thirumaa, a sharp drop from the 1 lakh margin in the previous election.

The case of PT's K. Krishnasamy in Thenkasi is similar. The Pallar/Devendrakula Vellalar-Thevar faultline is seen even if the constituency is SC-reserved. The MDMK candidate finishes a strong third to rub salt into the wounds festered open by the ADMK whipping.

5) Three idiots: Three members of Idinthakarai/PMANE (Linky) that took part in the protests over the Kudankulam nuclear plant took part in elections as AAP candidates: SP Udhayakumar from Kanni, Pushparayan from Thoothukkudi, and Jesuraj from Thirunelveli. The net votes received by these rabble-rousers were 15K, 26K and 18K, so much for their credibility. More power from the power plant, please.

6) Azhagiri: With DMK suspending MK Azhagiri from the party, he was on a one-man mission to scupper DMK and Stalin's chances anywhere and everywhere. That he saw the complete decimation of DMK is no surprise given Tamland's bipolar disorder in terms of love affair with one party/coalition. Whether Azhagiri was indeed responsible for the decimation is a bit questionable though. In Madurai, he vowed to push the DMK candidate Velusamy to the third or even fourth position. However, Velusamy finished a strong second. Ditto for Theni where the DMK candidate came a strong second. Given that even a swing of a few votes in each ward could push a winner to a losing position, Azhagiri did get away with what he wanted despite their being limits on what Anjaanenjan can do (aka Anjaanenjan can fly, but not do a rope trick!).

7) Happy to see 'em get whipped: Mani Shankar Aiyar from Aaduthurai (my home town of sorts, courtesy my paternal side). Suffice it to say that, Modi's win is important because it takes upward mobility (in politics) in India from the realm of the improbable to the possible, provided one aspires for it unabashedly and with unapologetic determination -- a lesson reinforced in the vaporware circles of academe. Anyone who pisses on the climbers deserves to lose and badly so. MSA ended up fourth with < 60K votes, which just goes to show how much he badly depended on the DMK coalition to win 3.2 lakh votes last time around. Glass house, stones, anyone?! 

The bequest of Sivagangai from papa-jaan ex-Home/Finance minister was not enough to help the one-man destroyer of Indian tennis (Linky), Karti Chidambaram, get a win from there despite Sivagangai being a Nattukottai Chettiyaar bastion of sorts. Despite the Chettiyaars' philanthropy all over Madras and in Chettinaadu in particular, the deference people have for the Azhagappas, the Muthaiahs and the Annamalaiars does not easily translate to the Chidambarams, go figure! Given the high impact that the Kaanaadukathan Annamalaiar had on people in the vicinity, it is indeed a remarkable surprise to see a one-man demolition army three generations ahead. As for me, I am just happy to see that PC at least bowed down without too much mud on his face. Now if only he would have closed shop on his lectures to Modi over the last few days and let his son roil in the muck, it would have been even better. 

The other progeny to bite the dust again was EVKS Elangovan, the grand-relative of Periyar. Swapping Erode from where he finished runner-up last time to Thiruppur only got him the wooden spoon with less than 50K votes. In a land where the catcalls of "Anna naamam vaazhga, Periyaar naamam vaazhga" have been hijacked by a semi-theist outfit, it is indeed a no-brainer that there are so many DKs, let alone *MKs. 

It is indeed a pleasure to see the flopshow of VaiKo in Virudhunagar. Only a glutton for punishment would like to see one more LTTE fanboi shackle India's hands in normalizing relations with Sri Lanka with a carrot and stick approach, a much needed Modi-JJ bandwagon that could set things reasonably ok on the ground in Sri Lanka over the next few years. 

8) Corruption: If the BJP candidate had indeed filed his nomination papers right, Andimuthu Raja of the 2G infamy could have actually won the Neelagiri seat given that the BJP candidate would have split the ADMK votes happily. That around 3.6 lakh voters did not see a problem in electing Raja again shows how corruption is not so much of an issue with which one could whip up sentiments in Tamland anymore. Gone are those Rajnikanth's 1996 avatar days, may be people are just that numb of the sordid reality that is political India. If so, more power to them! Harping endlessly on corruption never got any society cleaner than a completely agnostic one. One point failure models like AAP and their fanbois can keep harping endlessly on how corruption-mukt-India is ah-so-great, but what is needed is not a mukt for corruption, but a mukt for unreasonable corruption. 

9) DMDK and BJP: The no-name brother-in-law of Narasimha aka "Tamland's original transformer-buster" came in third at Salem (and ditto for the DMDK candidate in Madurai) -- a far cry from the days when DMDK was touted as the replacement for DMK and ADMK. That should bring a sobering calm to those who tout the BJP to be a replacement to the *MK parties in Tamland. That reality seems more wishful than real, more fantastically fictituous than fanatically factual, especially given that BJP has repeatedly shown no interest or keenness or alacrity in understanding what drives Tamils. That accusation in the light of a super-strong performance might seem orthogonal, but someone needs to drive home the point that winning one polarized seat, a dynasty does not make. 

Giving a speech in Hindi in Madras may buy a few curious looks and a polite "hmmm", but that does not translate to wins that matter. For that matter, an outfit that goes with the name "aam aadmi" can hardly make any inroads in Tamland, even if Tamland is not necessarily completely agnostic to corruption matters. As far as BJP goes, aligning with casteist outfits like PMK, DMDK and MDMK might have helped an eternal runner up in Ponnar into a first place, but that does nt sync with holding a nationalist chip on the shoulder often enough. But if that was the norm, there could never have been an alliance with an LTTE-ambivalent (at best) DMK or for that matter a Khalistani-ambivalent SAD in the first place. 

The DMK's numbers are not exactly numbered in Tamland. The DMK is a resilient family-first unit that will be around in some form or the other for at least the next decade and more. While Mu Ka and Stalin draw an eerie parallel with Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, there is already a next generation in the form of Udhayanidhi who is all that Mu Ka Muthu could never be. What DMK lacks, just like what the ADMK lacks in a more serious form, is a strong rank and file that is deep in terms of intellect or strategic thinking. DMK leading men such as Naavalar Nedunchezhiyan, NVN Somu, Veerapandi Aarumugam are no more and it is not far from the day when more will pass away. That the idealistic enterprise has transformed into a family business with a hand in every profitable pie is no surprise. Yet, the business-first mentality will make the unit survive in some form. 

Less can be said about ADMK given the absolutely asymmetrical power structure of the organization. Nevertheless, the ADMK's steady vote bank today (the Thevars) is not necessarily available for poaching by the BJP. One look at the ADMK candidate list shows how JJ has been cultivating pockets of deep influence in the Vanniyar and Gounder belts, in addition to the traditional Thevar belt. Some post-Congress feelings in the Naadar community is also seen to lead to some bonhomie with BJP and to a certain extent with ADMK. The broad point being, the lack of a second rung leadership hierarchy NOW does not in any case disabuse or suspend the (magical) formation of such as and when the need arises. The eternal truth is that nature abhors vacuum! 

10) Net winners and losers from the hustings:
Winners: JJ, BJP/Modi, Pon. Radhakrishnan, Anbumani Ramadoss 
Hon. mention: Azhagiri 

Losers: Stalin, the Maarans, A. Raja, Vijayakanth, Vai Ko, Dalit parties 
Hon. mention: Today's Chaanakya with a 7 plus or minus 3 seat prediction which was always laughable in the first place for anyone who has a grasp of what drives Tamland 

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