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Blunt opposition, resurgent BJP—Why the churn in Tamil Nadu politics is a headache for Stalin

Tamil Nadu’s Stalin-led DMK has been pushing an anti-Centre, anti-Modi narrative. But the politics led by two ex-IPS officers signal worrying times for the CM.

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The politics against the MK Stalin-led DMK government in Tamil Nadu is not being steered by the AIADMK but through two former IPS officers.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah had guided the two retired IPS officers — governor Ravindra Narain Ravi and BJP state president K Annamalai — before they took their respective charge in 2021. They were told that a foundation needs to be created for an anti-DMK and Hindutva nationalism narrative.

The politics of Tamil Nadu has undergone a dramatic change. A state which oscillated between DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)— Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa — is witnessing two retired officials as arch rivals.

Ravindra Narain Ravi was a sleuth in the Intelligence Bureau in New Delhi. As Tamil Nadu’s governor, he is currently sitting on 25 bills passed by the state assembly, whose session he will address on 9 January. RN Ravi, who will read the script adopted by Stalin’s council of ministers, has been praising Sanatan Dharma and propagating temple worship in the land of Dravidian culture.

K Annamalai, state BJP president, is now spearheading anti-DMK propaganda. Annamalai is all set to undertake a padayatra in April to cover all 234 assembly and 39 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Should DMK be worried about the new turn that the state politics is taking?

Also read: Read between the lines to know why MK Stalin inducted son Udhayanidhi in Tamil Nadu cabinet

DMK’s 18-month administration

In the past 18 months, Tamil Nadu’s ruling party DMK has been pushing an anti-Centre, anti-Narendra Modi narrative. The state finance is in a precarious situation. No major foreign direct investment has come to the state. There is frequent clash with the Centre on claiming GST taxes.

Recently, Tata Sons chairman Chandrasekharan Natarajan had a meeting with CM Stalin. The former assured the state of huge investments. There are murmurs in the DMK camp over the presence of Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi at the meeting considering the previous Stalin-Natarajan meeting was attended by the CM’s son-in-law Sabareesan. Opposition parties questioned the DMK party and the government, accusing it of following dynasty politics.

Superstars’ domination on wane

Rajinikanth refused to float a political party. On the other hand, Kamal Hassan was at the forefront of fighting the DMK in the 2019 assembly election. But in the 18 months of Stalin being in power, Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) did not make any forward movement. Tamil Nadu’s cinematic world has witnessed the emergence of Vijay, whom the tinsel world is projecting as a challenger to superstar Rajinikanth.

In a recent survey by consulting firm Ormax Media, Vijay emerged as the most popular Tamil male star, followed by Ajith Kumar, Suriya, Dhanush, and Vikram. The twin pillars of Tamil cinema, Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth, feature in the list too. However, they hold the 8th and 10th positions. Vijay’s films have consistently created new records at the Tamil Nadu box office. He’s one of the few superstars who can guarantee minimum success for all the stakeholders in the value chain. Like Hassan, Vijay has political ambitions too.

Recently, Hassan joined Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. He is trying to form an alliance without DMK as is being prompted by Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan. Tamil Nadu elected 38 MPs for DMK alliance out of 39. But their performance in terms of bagging major projects for Tamil Nadu has been disappointing.

Also read: Stalin has won, but Udhayanidhi is the real ‘rising son’ of DMK

Shrinking opposition space in TN

It’s a sad commentary on Tamil Nadu’s politics that the state has no main opposition. Intense fighting among senior AIADMK leaders in the past 18 months has split the party in four parts. All four claim the ‘two leaves’ election symbol of AIADMK. All four groups are afraid of openly challenging DMK. The groups are divided along caste lines — Thevar, Gounder and others. The vacuum thus created in the opposition space is now being taken over by the BJP.

Leaders of other opposition parties like Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) have all been relegated to the margins. Tamil Nadu now witnesses bomb blast, alleged religious conversions, and NIA raids.

AIADMK leaders also allege that ‘drug trade’ has become rampant in the state. And the sorry state of affairs is heightened by the absence of an effective opposition group. Even Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, which started from Tamil Nadu, did not have much of a political impact. The Dravidian ideology, which was once the guiding force of Tamil Nadu politics, is now arguably shrinking whereas the BJP is trying to capture the space left by Jayalalithaa.

Also read: NEET to temples, Stalin’s Tamil Nadu has a new social justice formula — Mandal plus market

DMK is falling behind on manifesto

How has DMK fared on its pre-election promises? MK Stalin won a landslide victory in the 2021 assembly election, with the DMK-led alliance winning 159 seats in the 234-member assembly. The clear verdict of the people in favour of Stalin gave him a slight edge, although the AIADMK-led alliance had also secured 75 seats.

DMK had made tall claims in its manifesto. But has been unable to fulfil them. It hasn’t reduced the diesel price, or abolished the NEET exam, or given Rs 1,000 cash assistance to women. DMK is struggling to keep its assurances. In the 18 months he has ruled the state, Stalin, who had come to power carrying hope, is now unable to fulfil the wishes of his voters who are disgruntled.

Then there is the matter of internal strife, which is affecting the administration, and also dynasty politics with the elevation of Udhayanidhi as the minister for youth affairs and sports development. The BJP is accusing the government of indulging in corruption.

Also read: Udhayanidhi to Aaditya Thackeray — here’s a look at the ‘son rise’ in India’s new politics

Road ahead for Stalin, son Udhayanidhi

The political scenario in Tamil Nadu is fragile. G.K. Mani’s PMK, which dominates the Vanniyars in 6-8 districts, is now planning to leave the AIADMK alliance and join hands with the DMK-Congress alliance. The DMK will of course welcome PMK with a hug, but it would lose Dalit votes with the possible exit of Thirumavalavan’s VCK, which would likely cross over to AIADMK. The only uncertainty is over the group it would have to pick. Will it be Edappadi K. Palaniswami or O Panneerselvam?

The DMK is also going soft on Centre. The virulent attack on the Union government has slowed down. Stalin meeting PM Modi in November 2022 is said to be the turning point. Is Stalin adopting the style of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy (Andhra Pradesh CM) and Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal CM)? And then there is the matter of Stalin promoting his son Udhayanidhi. Will he play a role in the 2024 Lok Sabha election?

The author tweets @RAJAGOPALAN1951. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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