By K R Sudhaman
It is really amusing that there is a raging tug-of-war between two national parties, Congress and BJP over who finished poor 3rd or 4th in the recently held Tamil Nadu urban local body elections where none of the party made it to single corporation even though they managed to get a few seats. In fact these two parties have relegated as marginal players in the state elections, be it local body, assembly or Lok Sabha elections.
Right from 1967 when congress lost power in southern state, none of these national parties have captured power and have won Lok Sabha or assembly seats without alliance with regional DMK or AIADMK. The BJP came into existence in 1980 and was previously Jana Sangh, which was part of Janata Party as well. The only difference this time is that while Congress contested in alliance with ruling DMK, the BJP contested on its own, breaking away the alliance it had with AIADMK during the state assembly elections in 2021. AIADMK, which was the ruling party before the elections in 2021 feels contesting with BJP had contributed to its defeat last year.
While the BJP says that it has snatched the third position from Congress, the latter disputes the claim. If one goes by the number of seats, congress has won more seats and the strike rate too is much better as it contested less number of seats in alliance with DMK as compared to BJP. BJP contested alone this time and hence fielded many more candidates it’s vote share is marginally more.
Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai said immediately after the results were announced on February 22 that the party has jumped to the third position in the state and this prompted a strong rebuttal from his congress counterpart K S Alagiri, who said his party was the third force in the state after DMK and AIADMK. This is because the overall percentage votes polled by BJP came to 5.4 per cent (final tally). But If one takes the number of seats won by parties, congress won 586 wards and hence got the third position as compared to 305 seats in the urban local body elections to corporations, municipalities and town panchayats.
There is also a huge gap in the number of seats contested by the two national parties. BJP fielded its candidates in 5,594 seats accounting for 45 per cent of the seats while the congress contested just 1,370 seats accounting for just 10 per cent of the seats in the DMK led alliance. The strike rate of BJP is around 9 per cent as compared to 42 per cent of congress. BJP got 5.87 lakh votes in 5,594 seats as against 4.99 lakh votes of congress in 1,370 seats.
Notwithstanding the claims, it is a fact that both the national parties do not matter in the state politics and will have to piggy-back on one of the two Dravidian parties in the hustings. Congress led by late K Kamaraj had a strong base in Tamil Nadu and after it lost elections in 1967, most of its cadre has shifted to AIADMK after it was formed by M G Ramachandran breaking away from DMK in the 1970s.
Both AIADMK and DMK are cadre based parties in the state and both parties have strong charismatic leaders. Both the parties have committed vote share and the party which captured the floating votes invariably captured power in the state. Strangely even after AIADMK lost its supremo J Jayalalithaa, the cadre had remained intact and have rallied around O Pannerselvam-Edapadi Palaniswamy leadership even after the party lost assembly elections last year. Chief Minister M K Stalin heads DMK after the passing away of its supremo M Karunanidhi.
While congress still has some small cadre in all the districts of the state, the BJP is spreading its tentacles with the help of RSS. BJP considers itself has a long-term player and appears to be gradually spreading its presence in the state. But there seems to be no such effort on the part of congress, which is still happy to play a second fiddle to DMK and has made little effort to widen its base to reinvent itself.
Political strategist Prashant Kishor is right when he says Congress as an Idea, that is secularism as envisaged by India’s founding fathers will never die. It is a question of getting its act together shunning vote-bank and appeasement politics which no longer works in the face of strong BJP. The saffron party has thrived on Hindutva politics combining it with nationalism. But in south India these two national parties have very little say in state politics at the moment barring Karnataka where regional party JD (S) seems to be not that strong. Whether Congress or BJP came third or fourth, they are nowhere near capturing power in Tamil Nadu, be it local body, assembly or Lok Sabha. (IPA Service)