With the principal Dravidian players not aligning with either of the national parties in this summer’s multiparty contest to elect a new Lok Sabha, the Tamil Nadu voters have been left to answer if they would buck past trends of favouring a national party in Parliamentary elections.
Since 1957 when the DMK entered the electoral fray, only twice - 1967 and 1996 - have the voters given landslide victories to the regional parties in Lok Sabha polls.
In the remaining 13 Parliamentary elections only national parties or an alliance in which the Congress or BJP was a constituent have won.
In 1967 when a strong anti-Congress wave swept the State following the anti-Hindi agitation led by Dravidian stalwart C N Annadurai, the Congress was routed bagging just three seats.
The DMK and its allies, including the Swatantra Party headed by C Rajagopalachari and the CPM, won 36 seats.
With the Congress aligning with the DMK in the very next Lok Sabha election in 1971, the trend of the electorate rooting for a national party became synonymous with Tamil Nadu.
This pattern became significantly noticeable in 1980 when the electorate resorted to “split voting” in the Parliamentary
and Assembly elections held separated by a gap of four months. In January 1980, the DMK renewed its ties with the Congress after a bitter break up and emerged triumphant winning 37 seats.
However, in the Assembly elections in May, the AIADMK romped home defeating the very same DMK-Congress combine.
Similarly in 1989 though the DMK was in power, its alliance candidates lost to Congress-AIADMK nominees in 38 constituencies.
This trend was broken in 1996 when the DMK forged a last-minute alliance with the Tamil Maanila Congress, a regional offshoot of the Congress, and won both the Assembly and Parliamentary elections routing the AIADMK-Congress combine.
Two years later, the electorate ditched the DMK-TMC alliance and voted for the AIADMK-BJP formation reestablishing the trend of voting for a national party.
In this backdrop, it would be interesting to watch the response of the Tamil Nadu electorate now when the Dravidian parties are pitted against the BJP’s rainbow alliance.
C Lakshmanan, Assistant Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, who specialises in Dravidian politics, says, “As of now this election seems to be a contest between the AIADMK and the BJP alliance. The DMK has dug its grave.”
DMK leaders, however, are banking on the pro-Dalit and non-Hindutva plank to prove the doomsayers wrong. The AIADMK, which like the Congress, is going solo, is keen to ensure that its leader J Jayalalithaa is catapulted to the national stage after the election.
Veteran AIADMK leader and former State Finance Minister C Ponnaiyan is optimistic that the ‘national’ trend will be broken a third time. “The people are fed up with the step-motherly treatment meted out to Tamil Nadu by the Centre in the past 50 years. They feel it is time for Tamil Nadu to have some say in the Centre. I am practically seeing this mood during my election tour,” he says.
He feels that the Centre’s “betrayal” of the ethnic Tamils
in Sri Lanka and hectic campaigning by Jayalalithaa will do the trick. “The younger generation, which is active on social media, is angry over the brutal massacre and bloodshed in Sri Lanka,” he adds.