Chennai: This Tamil Nadu election will be the first time where neither the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) or the primary opposition party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) will have its stalwart leaders M. Karunanidhi (‘Kalaignar’) or J. Jayalalithaa (‘Amma’) campaigning for them.
The state has traditionally seen the government baton pass between the two parties but many other smaller regional parties are playing a key role in filling the Kalaignar-Amma vacuum. In the 2016 elections, these regional parties even formed a third front called the Makkal Nala Kootani (People’s Welfare Alliance).
Tamil Nadu will vote for all 234 assembly seats in a single-phase election on 6 April.
ThePrint gives you a primer on the major alliances in play and the smaller regional parties as well as their past electoral performances.
Besides the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is actively campaigning in Tamil Nadu and even undertook a ‘Vetrivel Yatra’ in November 2020, the AIADMK, headed by Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, has roped in regional parties as well to consolidate the alliance.
Among them is the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). The ‘Working people’s party’, PMK was founded in 1989 by S. Ramadoss. The party has a strong support base among the Vanniyars, a sub-caste among Other Backwards Classes.
A long-standing demand for the party has been a separate reservation for Vanniyars. This was fulfilled by the AIADMK this year, which granted 10.5 per cent reservation to Vanniyars in February, just before the Model Code of Conduct kicked in which prohibits any incentivisation to voters by a sitting government before elections.
Speaking to ThePrint, PMK leader Balu K explained that this election will be concentrated on the Vanniyar reservation. “It is a remarkable achievement for us.”
In 1989, M. Karunanidhi, as chief minister, had divided the OBCs into Backward Classes and Most Backward Classes in Tamil Nadu. However, Ramadoss was not happy with the arrangement and demanded a 20 per cent reservation for Vanniyars.
In the 2016 election, the PMK contested alone on 232 seats, however didn’t manage to win a single seat. The party’s strong point is the hold on the Vanniyar community in north Tamil Nadu, but the last minute reservation for the community could seem like an election gimmick, opposition leaders say.
Besides the PMK, the AIADMK alliance also features G.K. Vasan-led Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and Krishnaswamy’s Puthiya Tamilagam. The TMC was founded in 1996 by G.K. Moopanar, who led a breakaway faction of the Congress party in Tamil Nadu. It merged with the Congress again from 2002 to 2014, only to split again in 2014. In the 2016 election, the party only managed a 0.53 per cent vote share. It has been in an alliance with the AIADMK since 2019 and their motto is to “bring back the ‘Golden Rule’ of K. Kamaraj in the state of Tamil Nadu”. Kamaraj was chief minister from 1954 to 1963 and instrumental in improving the educational infrastructure in the state.
The Puthiya Tamilagam (PT) was formed in 1997. According to Ramu Manivannan, professor of political science and head of department at Madras University, the discontentment among sub-castes within marginalised communities led to its rise. In 2016, the Puthiya Tamilagam allied with the DMK-Congress alliance but didn’t win a single seat of the four it contested. Like the TMC, it joined the AIADMK-BJP alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Strengths: Strong Vanniyar vote base due to PMK, focus on development, Covid management, high cash transfers for month of Pongal, popular among upper caste Hindus, strong voter base in north Tamil Nadu
Weakness: Anti-incumbency, criticism of diminishing Tamil pride and alliance with ‘outsider’ BJP, accused of being a ‘puppet government’, absence of Jayalalithaa
Headed by M.K. Stalin, the DMK is in alliance with the Congress, Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist). Also among its alliance partners are a range of parties such as the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK).
The VCK, which was started by Thol. Thirumavalavan and actively joined electoral politics in 1999, traces its origins to the Dalit Panthers Iyyakkam formed in 1982 to combat caste-based discrimination. Deputy general secretary of the party, Aloor Sha Navas explained that in the 2001 assembly election, VCK allied with the DMK. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, it contested as a third front and in 2006, it allied with AIADMK with nine seats, winning two.
The party’s strong voter base include the Dalit communities, Christian and Muslim voters. DMK leader and six-term MP S.S. Palanimanickam told ThePrint that Karunanidhi would think of Thol. Thirumavalavan as his own son. “He often told him to marry as it would help his public life image.”
Karunanidhi’s once right-hand man Vaiyapuri Gopalsamy, popularly known as Vaiko, started the MDMK in 1994 after being expelled from the DMK. Between 1996 and 2006, the MDMK contested 423 seats over three elections and won just six. In 2006, it was part of the AIADMK alliance. In 2011, it did not contest the assembly election as it was unable to find an ally. In the 2016 state polls, the MDMK was part of the third front where it did not win a single seat despite contesting 29 of them. It registered a vote share of 0.86 per cent.
Also part of the DMK alliance, the MMK was formed in 2009 by M. Jawahirullah on the principles of social justice and equality. In 2011, the MMK allied with the AIADMK in the state assembly polls, however in 2016 it switched to the DMK. It has a strong base among Muslim voters in northern and central Tamil Nadu in constituencies such as Vellore and Ranipet. Prof Manivannan says the MMK manages to transfer a considerable vote share to the alliance it is a part of.
Strengths: Original Dravida party, strong vote base among Dalits and other marginalised communities, Christian and Muslim voters, anti-incumbency against AIADMK, makeover of Stalin as a leader
Weakness: Seen as anti-Hindu party as Stalin is a professed atheist, rise of BJP in Tamil Nadu
Led by Vijayakanth, a Tamil film actor also known as ‘Captain’ or Karappu MGR, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) was formed 16 years ago in 2005, with no set ideology, a senior party member told ThePrint.
“We work for everyone in the society.”
The DMDK was part of the AIADMK-BJP alliance in the upcoming state polls, however quit the alliance Tuesday due to problems in seat sharing. Shortly after the announcement was made, another party official told ThePrint that it would soon announce whether the DMDK will ally with another party or contest the election alone. Vijayakanth, along with the VCK, MDMK, CPI(M), CPI and TMC, formed the third front in the 2016 assembly election.
The DMDK’s rise has stemmed from voter disillusionment with the AIADMK and the DMK, Manivannan explained. “However, ultimately, DMDK could not handle the responsibility of being the leader of the opposition.” In the 2016 polls, the DMDK only managed a 2.39 per cent vote share and won none of the 104 seats it contested.
Strengths: Popular among socially and economically backward Dalits and OBCs, hold over the Telugu Naidu community, where Vijayakanth is from
Weakness: Due to his ill-health, Vijayakanth has not been able to campaign for the election. Party’s star factor rests on him
Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala’s nephew, T.T.V Dhinakaran started the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) in 2018, a breakaway faction of the AIADMK. Just prior to the party being founded, Dhinakaran contested as an independent candidate in the 2017 by-elections and won by a huge margin. This was the first time in 18 years that the ruling party lost the by-election.
However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the party only managed a vote share of 5 per cent. For the 2021 election, the AMMK has tied up with Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM.
Strength: Strong vote base among the dominant Thevar community which Sasikala has cultivated
Weakness: Thevar vote being split and also going to AIADMK-BJP alliance, no strong leaders in party
Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM)
The youngest party on the bloc, Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) was started by popular Tamil actor Kamal Haasan in February 2018. It’s main party members are below the age of 35. According to C.K. Kumaravel, MNM’s general secretary, the party’s USP is “no caste, no creed, no corruption … Progress for all and not progress for few.”
Kumaravel referred to the upcoming state elections as defining not just for Tamil Nadu but for India as well, as for the first time the turf has opened for everyone with the absence of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi.
The MNM is in alliance with the Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK) and actor R. Sarathkumar’s party, All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi.
Strengths: Appeal among young voters and women, popular in urban areas
Weakness: Lacks support in rural areas. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, secured only 3 per cent vote share. Fading allure of cinema stars in current politics
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)
(The report has been updated to correct the vote shares of DMDK, PMK and MDMK in the 2016 assembly election as well as the number of seats the Puthiya Tamilagam won in the same election. It has also been updated to reflect that PMK leader Balu K is not the Villupuram MLA. The error is regretted.)