Karunanidhi’s vaccuum will test the festering rivalry between DMK and AIADMK

By Prarthana Mitra

The rivalry between DMK and AIADMK, two of the leading Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, has raged for decades. Now, with the recent deaths of AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa and DMK president Karunanidhi, the animosity has attained grave proportions with the potential to reach new lows.

Although present DMK chief MK Stalin and Chief Minister Palaniswami bring new faces, priorities, and temperaments to the existing spat, it is too early to tell if this is bound for better or for worse.

Falling out over Bharat Ratna

With Stalin stepping into his father’s giant shoes as party leader, the burden to allay the hate-mongering falls on him. But with the Bharat Ratna in sight, both parties are resorting to petty tricks to secure it for their respective chiefs. With Karuna’s passing, moreover, the facade of diplomacy and gentility is completely off, and both parties are gung-ho about the reward.

Official demands were made at Rajya Sabha last week when DMK MP Tiruchi Seva sought an honour for seven decades of contribution to South Indian politics. On Sunday, the AIADMK also started a similar campaign, founded on earlier attempts and speculation about Jayalalithaa being one of the nominees for Bharat Ratna this year.

The highly prestigious and coveted award may be the immediate bone of contention, but ever since the AIADMK was founded by former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), their unwavering agenda was to demonise Karunanidhi which worked out for Jayalalithaa who sang the same tune till her death in December 2016.

Recent upsets

The festering relations between DMK and AIADMK reached a point of no-return when the DMK lost to their arch-rival for the second consecutive time in the 2016 Assembly elections.

A third front put together under Jayalalithaa’s watch was believed to be responsible for Stalin’s defeat, who had conducted a nine-month-long state-wide campaign to secure the chief ministerial seat. The coalition, comprising mostly of Tamil-Left-Dalit parties split anti-government votes and derailed Stalin’s plan but with 89 MLAs in the DMK alliance, Stalin still continues to lead one of the most powerful oppositions in the state Assembly.

Trying to find his footing as a party leader, Stalin currently faces considerable threat within his own party, especially from former Union Minister and Karuna’s once-politician-son M K Alagiri who was ousted from the DMK after challenging Stalin to the CM candidature.

Burning all bridges that could lead to an alliance

Questions are being raised about the futility of carrying Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa’s hostile politics on even after their deaths. But it is not that simple. AIADMK has to first re-engineer itself to overcome the survival threat, says political strategist John Arokiasamy, since it is perceived as a party led by a weak leadership in the indirect clutches of BJP.

“I see a need for both AIADMK and DMK to reposition themselves and require ideology and leadership approach re-engineering,” he further told Quint.

AIADMK spokesperson and former Finance Minister C. Ponnaiyan, on the other hand, sees no such need. “Our party founder MGR was against family control of DMK and corruption[,] and floated the AIADMK. The condition in DMK has not changed now,” he said.

The corruption charges are being countered with equal fervour, with income tax raids on the Chief Minister’s relatives, which some believe are deliberate and politically motivated. Stalin himself said the IT raids on relatives of the now-jailed Sasikala were selective, a sign that the former was hoping that Dinakaran would bring down the state government.

At a time when all major regional parties are eyeing a grand alliance in the upcoming elections, Stalin could settle differences with Palaniswami, redesign and align their game plans against a common enemy. And that is why DMK and AIADMK would be better off passing all past scuffles and future awards as water under the bridge. But with both parties taking pot-shots against each other, there isn’t an inkling of an alliance in sight.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

JayalalithaaKarunanidhiPoliticsTamil Nadu