The BJP is the DMK’s biggest ‘ally’ and saviour in Tamil Nadu

BJP's aggressive, muscular nationalism and attempts to push its agenda in the state provided the much-needed oxygen for DMK to revive itself.

ByR Rangaraj

Published Jun 18, 2024 | 2:00 PM Updated Jun 18, 2024 | 2:16 PM

Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin with PM Narendra Modi. (mkstalin/Twitter)

The biggest benefactor of the DMK in Tamil Nadu is the BJP. Likewise, the biggest benefactor of the BJP in Tamil Nadu is the DMK. They feed on each other. Therefore, much as the ruling DMK may appear to suffer from an anti-incumbency trend, ironically, it’s the BJP that comes to the DMK’s rescue. The 2019 and 2024 Lok Sabha results in Tamil Nadu clearly establish this trend.

In actual terms, the DMK, as a regional party that represented the interests of the Tamil Nadu people in terms of providing reservation in education and government jobs, fighting to protect Tamil culture and language, minimising the effects of superstitious beliefs in religion and society, fighting for women’s rights, and ending the domination of forward communities over the oppressed people, had long outlived its utility.

The saturation limit for reservation had already been reached several decades ago, with an upper limit of 69 percent in the State. Several generations of backward classes had used the reservation policy to secure benefits in education and government, and their communities are very much forward in terms of standard of living, stature in society, and economic growth, even enough to stand on their own legs.

Thanks to the rationalist movement and socio-economic reforms, women’s rights, including the right to property, re-marriage, etc., have been enshrined, while superstition has been largely put down.

So much so, the Brahmins, seen as the oppressors, have vacated the scene, most of them selling their agrarian lands and property and settling abroad to secure higher education (partially denied due to the adverse reservation policy where they had to fight among a small percentage of 31 per cent where, too, the BCs and SCs/STs were eligible). There is no point flogging a dead horse when the Brahmins are not in the field. It’s only the senior citizens who largely remain in Tamil Nadu.

Also read: How alliances fared in polls in Tamil Nadu

Dravidian dividends till 1980s

The anti-Hindi agitation of the mid-sixties led to an assurance from the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that Hindi would not be imposed on the southern states as long as they didn’t want it, which was largely adhered to by various governments at the Centre. This issue did not yield much dividends from the eighties and died down.

The DMK’s slogan from the sixties to the eighties, of Vadakku Vaazhgiradhu, Therkku Theygiradhu (North grows, South declines), were no longer logical as the Dravidian parties had joined governments at the Centre and were in charge of important ministries as well.

The DMK had run out of ammunition and even issues. Was it approaching the expiry date?

Therefore, in a sense, the DMK had no real issues to be on the ascendancy or even relevant in the changed scenario until a few years ago. Changes in the socio-political sectors from the 1990s had put their key and pet issues on the back burner.

Related: Modi’s Kashi Tamil Sangamam

Waking to muscular nationalism

Ironically, the BJP-led government of Narendra Modi has provided the necessary ammunition, live issues and relevancy on a platter, much-needed oxygen and impetus to the Dravidian party, for it to revive and become relevant.

The aggressive muscular nationalism and jingoism of Modi and the BJP, their attempts to push the Hindi agenda, and trying to list every sector in India as under a single monolith of one nation, one which negated the very concept of federalism and pluralism.

Suddenly, BJP-led Modi sought to build a new narrative that the regions did not matter, the States were not important, and the country could go forward only through the central engine. All the small moves added to the impression of this strategy—to minimise the role of the States and make the Centre all-important, obtrusive, and powerful at the expense of the States.

These measures deny the States their rightful share of petroleum products by charging a cess (one hundred per cent of these proceeds go to the Centre without sharing revenue with the States), curtailing the rights of States to raise loans, using Central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate, CBI and IT against State ministers, even Chief Ministers to try and denigrate these regional parties (like JMM, DMK, RJD, AAP, TMC, SS, NCP), and prevent their growth or even downsize them.

The onset of Covid-19 was used as an excuse to impose Central rules on every sphere of activity in the States, conducting Zoom movements from the Centre, making States puppets and dummies, and virtually taking over administration in all the States; a CPM MP from Tamil Nadu gets a reply from a Union government department in Hindi to his letter in Tamil; a CRPF guard at the airport taunts DMK MP Kanimozhi for not knowing Hindi; the corrupt structure of NEET weighing heavily in favour of North Indian candidates through a nexus between North Indian politicians many of them from the BJP and corrupt coaching centres cashing in on ‘leaks’ of question papers in North India; the partisan manner in which Central schemes and devolution of funds favoured BJP-ruled States while discriminating against non-BJP governments in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, even at times of distress like drought or floods.

Also read: Stalin will reject Centre’s Hindi hegemony

The regional response

The cumulative effect of all these has been the strong response from regional parties like the DMK, which feel threatened and to rally support for adequate funds for regional local governments, better compensation from the Centre on issues like GST, steps to protect the States’ culture and language from marauding and confrontationist Governors like R N Ravi in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in Kerala, West Bengal and New Delhi, trying to eclipse the State governments with popular mandates and impose a culture or system different from what was prevailing in the States for decades with political consensus.

Thus, it is that the DMK has successfully revived its platform of Tamil Nadu-versus-North, of Union Government hegemony, of throttling States’ interests, economic and cultural, of repression let loose by the Union government agencies in a partisan manner to target DMK ministers and government; the denial of adequate funds either from the GST account or towards disaster relief; the excessive use of Hindi by Union ministers and Modi himself at functions in the South and Parliament; and bringing together various parties to form an umbrella alliance against the BJP and its allies in the State, thus decimating the AIADMK as well.

The soft-pedalling of issues involving the Union government has helped the DMK reap harvests in the political and electoral arena and neutralise the AIADMK, covering up any anti-incumbency concerning implementing projects and government schemes in the State.

Related: Congress wouldn’t have won on its own, says BJP

Compulsion to stay united

This strategy has also helped the DMK play the victim card. The BJP is the glue that keeps the DMK-led alliance intact in the State despite fissures relating to ideological issues or the allotment of seats and constituencies. Unlike in the past, the allies have made sacrifices at every round of negotiations to keep the common enemy, the BJP, away.

In fact, if the BJP is not in the picture, there is a distinct possibility that some of the allies could part ways to field more candidates in elections or play the role of an aggressive opposition in the State. The alliance, for instance, makes the Left rein in upset comrades in the State, who cannot carry forward aggressive trade union activities, merely to keep the BJP at bay. However, considerations like the need to protect the anti-BJP front in Tamil Nadu and maintain electoral gains (Tamil Nadu is now a major source for the Left’s presence in Parliament) are more important for them and come to the rescue of the DMK.

It is also to the credit of the DMK that despite cracks, it has helped to keep the rainbow alliance ranging from the Left parties and the Congress, and even other Dravidian parties together right from 2017, thus earning victories over the rivals in the last nine elections of different kinds.

With the BJP and AIADMK still leading separate fronts against the DMK, the latter is still in a comfort zone, thanks to its allies. The populist measures of free rice and power have increased with the amounts of ₹1,000 payable to women in most homes, for girls and boys to continue higher studies.

So, it is a combination of freebies and a powerful alliance against a divided opposition that looms large over the political horizon. The BJP has to rework its strategy, meaning it would have to alter its national approach. That is highly unlike in the Modi dispensation, even if it boomeranged in major states in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

(R Rangaraj is a senior journalist based in Chennai. He has covered elections since 1977. Views are personal.)

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