By B. Sivaraman
At the beginning of this month, it appeared that the AIADMK and the BJP had succeeded in putting together a formidable coalition in Tamil Nadu, electorally and socially. Despite having a nearly head start, hardly within a week after the poll dates were announced and the campaign formally began, the alliance is losing steam. An unmistakable anti-incumbency feeling is slowly rearing its head.
Urban and rural Tamil Nadu both have their own reasons to vent their anger at Modi-AIADMK. It is payback time in the cities—Modi would face severe disruption at the ballot-box for having disrupted the most urbanized and industrialized economy of Tamil Nadu with his demonetization and GST. In rural Tamil land, two alien names Ockhi and Gaja, would come to haunt Modi on counting day. These were two recent cyclones that wreaked maximum havoc with the crops and properties of farmers and took a toll of many lives of fishers. Professor Marx, a renowned scholar and activist, says, “Modi not visiting the State to empathize with the affected people is snowballing into an election issue. Dalit labourers did not get any compensation. Additionally, the southern districts experienced severe drought during the samba/rabi crop and numerous farmers could hardly harvest anything. Agrarian distress is acute”.
A huge sex racket scandal exploded like a bombshell in affluent Pollachi coinciding with the beginning of the poll campaign. Around 200 girls from well-to-do households in a small town with a population of around 70,000 were lured via Facebook, trapped and forcibly raped, the act video filmed, and they were being blackmailed and turned into continuing sex slaves for the last 6 or 7 years by a well-connected gang. This has caused widespread outrageamong the voters. The scandal would hurt the ruling AIADMK-BJP alliance all the more because a senior AIADMK leader and Deputy Speaker in the State Legislative Assembly, Pollachi Jayaraman’s name also got embroiled in the controversy owing to the alleged involvement of his son in the scandal.
It is true that at first sight BJP-AIADMK’s social engineering looked formidable. But caste identities and caste loyalties are not expected to play a decisive role this time. Caste groups are not expected to vote enbloc but show signs of polarizing and transcending caste affinities, thanks to the overriding impact of some local democratic issues. Despite the continuing overall bipolarity as electoral combines, political fragmentation at the level of parties and social fragmentation as caste groups is also a reality in the State.
For instance, by sewing up an alliance with PMK, the party predominantly of the numerically large OBC Vanniyar community in the northern districts, the AIADMK cannot take the votes of Vanniyars for granted as the Vanniyar peasantry has braved several rounds of severe state repression while protesting against the landgrab and ecological impact of a 8-lane Chennai-Salem freeway, a pet project of the AIADMK CM Edappadi Palaniswamy.
Likewise, farmers—mainly from Vanniyar and Kallar & Thevar OBC communities—are up in arms against several hydrocarbon projects (coal-bed methane extraction projects) proposed by the Centre in the Cauvery delta known as ‘rice bowl’ of Tamil Nadu, comprising Nagappatttinam, Thiruvarur, Tanjavur and Pudukkottai districts and Chidambaram taluk of Cuddalore district. Even more galling for the farmers is the fact that the Vedanta Company— which was responsible for the death of 13 people protesting against its pollution in police firing in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin)—has been given permission for 3 hydrocarbon projects in Nagappattinam.
With both its prominent leaders—Pon. Radhakrishnan and Thamizhisai Saoundarrajan—hailing from the mercantile community of Nadars, the BJP has been systematically wooing forces of Nadar capitalism. The Thoothukudi firing,the Centre allowing three ecologically disastrous thermal power plants in the district, including one by Adanis, and an atomic power plant in Koodankulam in adjacent Tirunelveli district haveto some extent alienated this community, including a large number of fishers. However, Professor Marx points out that the RSS-BJP has been methodically working very hard to build up a base in Nagarkoil district, where Pon. Radhakrishnan is contesting this time, and other areas like Mettupalayam and hence, the BJP’s rise in the State cannot be dismissed lightly.
Industrial towns like Sivakasi, Virudunagar and Rajapalayam in south where Nadars predominate and industrial towns in the west like Erode, Pallipalayam, Kumarapalayam, Namakkal and Karur, where industrializing Gounders are the major force, were among the worst hit due to demonetisation and GST. Farmers from CM Edappadi’s own community of Gounders too are agitating against a high-voltage power grid passing through their fertile agricultural lands in Coimbatore-Tiruppur-Erode districts.
Thevars-Kallars, numerically strong OBC groups in the southern districts, used to largely rally around AIADMK at the time of Jayalalithaa. But Thevar-Kallar elite are also highly agitated now over a Nutrino project—an atomic observatory-cum-research project—right in their heartland of Theni from where the AIADMK leader and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, belonging to their community, hails. They are so angry that it might even be difficult for him to campaign in his own area. This community is also upset that their leaders Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran have been singled out for special punishment by Modi due to political vendetta. Earlier, among AIADMK factions, TTV was on top, controlling majority of the lower ranksand mass base of AIADMK, but using the spoils of power Edappadi systematically wooed many local leaders back. Yet, TTV DInakaran still retains enough cadre- and mass-base to sufficiently divide the AIADMK votes to cause defeat to this alliance in at least 10 seats.
K. Balakrishnan, leader of Swaraj Abhiyan, says, “Elections this time in TN will not be dominated by charismatic personalities like Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. The only prominent figure is Modi but he is figuring as a villain”. Even at the height of the Modi wave in 2014, he could not open account in Tamil Nadu, and this time anti-Modi sentiments are strong among the youth. No wonder, it is in Tamil Nadu that Modi witnessed maximum number of black flag ‘receptions’. Rahul Gandhi declared in an election meeting that if they won, Modi would be sent to jail for the Rafale scam. This vibed well with the voters!