Over the last 2-3 decades, politics in Tamil Nadu has plummeted to its nadir in terms of ideological bereftness of the parties and the distancing of successive governments from the launching of developmental schemes in preference to populist measures and freebies. Furthermore, the political parties ride to electoral victory on the wings of sheer demagoguery. Unfortunately, the political class in the state has been monopolized by film stars, junior artistes, script writers and sundry other categories of people associated with the tinsel town. Catchy slogans and alluring promises for freebies have enabled them to conveniently sideline the need for a vision to develop the state on the lines of economic progress and social development. Time and again, the electorate has, on their part, fallen hook, line and sinker, for bogus political manifestos, promising the ushering in of an era of clean governance and corruption-free administration for the evolution of a truly egalitarian society.
All they got in return for their votes have been freebies and empty pre-poll promises besides, of course, a few bobs generously doled out by cash-rich political parties. After winning elections, these parties have been quick on the rise to make money during their stints in power by flagrantly resorting to corrupt practices and entering into all kinds of dubious methods and murky deals, with nary a care for the welfare of the state or high standards expected in public life. The descent of the state to political ignominy has, however, been anything but sudden. Surprisingly, it has not come as a shocker to either the right thinking people within the state or the political observers across the nation. The nosedive started as long ago as 1969 and has since continued unabated.
Eclipsing of INC
The year 1969 marked the downshifting of electoral politics in Tamil Nadu, which had till then been cruising at a sedate pace since Independence. That year, the Indian National Congress (INC), which had come to be identified by the common man as the rightful inheritor of political power from the outgoing British colonial masters, received a jolt at the Assembly elections from a grand coalition, cobbled up by the Machiavellian master politician C Rajagopalachari (popularly known as Rajaji) with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) at the vanguard. Rajaji had sworn to rid the state of INC, which had become the groundswell of corruption, nepotism and pseudo secularism. This came as a shot in the arm for the DMK, which had been a secessionist party not long ago. It had been demanding a separate sovereign state called Dravida Nadu and had given up on its demand only as late as 1962 in the face of stringent anti-secession laws enacted by the Centre at the time of the India-China war.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and tilted the balance against INC at the state general elections was, however, the successful manipulation of the Centre’s official language policy by the DMK along the lines of its extremely narrow regional stance. The party launched a massive people’s movement, with the participation of the student community, against the Centre’s move to introduce Hindi as the sole official language of the nation. The movement, marred by incidents of violence, turned out to be hugely successful in whipping up popular sentiments against the Central Government. Goaded by the bogey of Hindi, which was projected by the DMK as a Trojan horse meant to subvert self-rule by the Tamils and obliteration of their interests in favour of a fictitious North Indian ruling class and Rajaji’s clarion call for a Congress-free state, the electorate heavily voted in favour of the DMK and its allies. The DMK completely overshadowed its electoral allies and formed the government.
Emergence of Dravidian Politics
Here, a brief introduction to the growth of DMK on the political horizon would be in order. Its forerunner, Dravida Kazhagam (DK), was founded by E V Ramaswamy Naicker (EVR), referred to as Periyar by his followers. He was a one-time Congress loyalist and political comrade and good friend of Rajaji. Along the lines of the now-defunct Justice Party that wholeheartedly supported the British rule in India, DK too stoutly defended the British rule and was vehemently against India being granted Independence. On the eve of Independence, EVR went on to write to the British government in London, fervently pleading its continuance in India or, at least in the then Madras Presidency. Those days the Madras Presidency comprised today’s entire Tamil Nadu and swathes of territories of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, which, along with Karnataka, were termed by him as constituents of Dravida Nadu. The British, however, acted entirely in their self interest and walked out of India, leaving behind a great country in fragments. Consequently, EVR became a bitter man and turned hostile against the INC, which he feared would take over the reins of power to become the new political masters.
EVR identified INC with Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus of North India and called them the descendants of the Aryan hordes from Central Asia that had purportedly invaded India thousands of years ago and subjugated Dravidians, the native people of the southern part of the country. On the eclipse of the British Empire in India, he feared that the Brahmins of the north would once again capture the reins of power and subjugate the Dravidians. He insisted that the goblin of Brahmanism was out to gobble the Shudras, the sons of the soil. With the planting by EVR of the insidious seeds of hatred against the North Indian centrifugal forces of the national politics that were bound to suck in and subsume their helpless South Indian adversaries, the state gave birth to a monstrous child in the shape of the great North-South divide and anti-Brahmin sentiments. Sadly, the monstrosity has survived till date despite the turbulent times and political vicissitudes that the state has undergone and it still continues to cast its dark shadow on the political scene.
How the Wheels Turn
Although Dravida Kazhagam has always remained an ideological umbrella organization and spoken about social reforms and the need to fight social evils of casteism and archaic practices and never directly contested elections, a host of its offshoots like the DMK, the AIDMK (which later on splintered into at least two major factions), MDMK, etc swearing allegiance to the parental organization, have been in the political fray with various degrees of success. The glaringly striking array of political parties of various shades and hues of the Dravida ideology have either as its leading lights or star campaigners, popular film stars and an assorted category of personalities of the filmdom. In these parties, which have no clear delineation and takers outside the boundaries of Tamil Nadu, the reigning film stars bring up the lead whereas the faded or fading ones bring up the rear, and the moneybags and power brokers provide the packing material. Furthermore, dynastic politics and parochialism are accepted norms, in the Dravidian political war game.
The entire cavalcade of merriment runs, however, on the steam of a frenzied mob of fan clubs, fuelled into frenetic political activity at the mere nod by the stars. Political campaigns are quite a spectacle. Campaigning centres on character assassination of the opponents, full of vituperative and vile language. The party leaders, however, graciously dismiss such crude depictions of their opponents (for whom they claim to have “highest” regards), which are downright vulgar or obscene, as unfortunate incidents of the well meaning cadre getting emotional and carried away by popular sentiments, and not to be taken too seriously. The more colourful the language, the more popular the campaigners who conduct roadshows of mirth and merriment where characters of the high and mighty are ruthlessly trodden on and the personal life of the hapless rivals besmirched, with nary a thought for their personal life or social standing.
Notwithstanding its claim to stand for secularism, social reforms and political justice, all the sound and fury emitted by DK thus far have remained focused on the denigration of Hindu gods and Hindu religious practices and customs as well as trivializing of the Hindu festivals. The central government and the Brahmin community are targeted for the evils of the society and the RSS and the BJP are branded communal. The other religions and minority political organizations are conveniently overlooked and spared. Pseudo-secularism and vote bank politics are at play, with all the Dravidian parties throwing their hats in the ring with glee, for the top slot. Thrown in are freebies and cash for votes. In the ensuing melee, substantive issues like harnessing of river waters, woes of the farming community, industrial development, etc have been eclipsed by trivial issues like Jallikattu, opposition to Hindi in the schools, etc. Some fringe parties and NGOs with ulterior motives and funding from dubious foreign sources have been trying to fish in the murky political waters by whipping up Tamil sentiments against nationalism and extending support to anti-national forces such as the Azadi brigade, stone pelters in Kashmir, human rights for Naxals and Maoists, etc.
Ramblings in the Edifice
Such is the dubious state of Tamil Nadu politics, which has shown little signs of willingness to pull itself up by its bootstraps out of the inglorious depths of corruption and regionalism seldom matched elsewhere in the country. There have, however, been ramblings in the yonder and seismic fissures in the decaying political organism of the Dravidian politics. The high and mighty have fallen with the disappearance of J Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi from the scene, and their citadels have developed cracks, which are beyond wall papering. Several scams and scandals ranging from amassing of wealth disproportionate to known sources of income, land grabbing, hawala transactions, money laundering, and sand mining to cash for vote have been unearthed. The consequences have been cataclysmic. A reigning Chief Minister and her close aides and associates were indicted by the highest court of the land and several lynch pins of corruption, including a serving Chief Secretary, have landed in the jail.
Flashes of Hope
However, lately there have been flashes of hope with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the only party in the state with strong ideological moorings, pitching for the coming together of progressive forces to rally round the strong and stable leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Despite BJP’s failure to make its presence felt in the state legislature thus far, its appeal for the people to get out of the rut of regionalism in favour of the mainstream politics of nationalism has found traction among all the right thinking men and women of the state. Superstar Rajinikanth, an actor with a difference and untainted past, who has given indications in the last few days to venture into politics to fight for restoration of the system that has not been working could, perhaps, act as a catalyst in bringing about a much-desired transformation in the state politics. Rajni, who with only a few words of criticism for Jayalalithaa cost her 1996 state elections, is the best possible face for the BJP. He, however, needs to be convinced that the role he envisages to play in socio-economic betterment of the state will be well-served only when he becomes a part of the political landscape from within. PM Modi’s overall national charisma and Rajni’s God-like standing in the southern parts of India will tilt the mood in BJP’s favour with this single stroke.
Though it is too early to foresee whether the BJP can win some seats or hope to come to power in Tamil Nadu, here it needs to be emphasized that to make inroads into the state any political party will need to keep the following points in mind. Since the Tamilians are very proud of their language and culture, any political party that meddles with their language and culture has no chance to come to power in the state. As such, the BJP should not only refrain from imposing Hindi, but also nurture Tamil language in the state and learn to appreciate the culture of Tamilians. Here, it needs to be reiterated that because the then Congress Party had tried to impose Hindi in Tamil Nadu in 1965, even a tall leader like K Kamaraj could not avert the collapse of the party in the state and till date the Congress has not been able to capture power again. Furthermore, to make the BJP appealing to the voters of Tamil Nadu, BJP leaders would have to learn to connect with the masses, which is possible only if it overcomes the language disconnect disadvantage and communicate with the common man in Tamil. So the party needs to rope in a strong and visionary leader who can appreciate the people’s mentality, connect well with them and respond rightly to their sentiments. If Rajinikanth joins the BJP before the next Assembly elections, this problem will get sorted out automatically. However, if Rajini is unwilling to take the plunge, the BJP must act fast and rope in a charismatic and popular personality with great oratorical skills as a potential face to lead the party in Tamil Nadu in the coming years. In all cases, the bottom line is to better the lives of people in the state with focus on inclusive development and zero tolerance on corruption.