The alliance led by DMK along with 12 other parties including Congress, CPI, CPIM, Vaiko’s MDMK, two major Muslim parties AlUML and MMK, and 6 other minor parties won the recent Assembly election in Tamil Nadu.

Despite the presence of two major Muslim parties in the alliance, ironically they call it ‘The Secular Progressive Alliance’ (SPA). They won 159 seats out of 234, forty-one more than the required number for an absolute majority.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by AIADMK along with BJP, PMK and five other minor parties won only 75.

Though the two alliances had their minority partners the electoral competition boiled down to the two major Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK .

All the other alliance partners had a vote base less than 5% of the vote.  Most of these smaller parties, had a common factor that they are mostly caste-based.

However, in a highly politicized body polity, where two major Dravidian parties, who have been dominating the political landscape of Tamil Nadu since 1967, struggle with depleting vote banks due to the fragmentation of their respective organisations.


Amidst a mixed pickle of welfare oriented, socialistic and parochial caste-based policies, encompassing film personalities and religious entities, these tiny vote percentages have become unduly important in the political arithmetic of the two major parties.

This is where the success of SPA was seen in its political arithmetic calculations. DMK was successful in weaving around a broad-based coalition that included Congress, Left parties, two of the major Muslim parties, a major Dalit party and several minor parties representing influential communities from the Western and Southern regions, around their cadre-based political machinery.


AIADMK on the other hand was in turmoil. They were about to face a rebellion from within by supporters of Jayalalitha’s aide Sasikala, who belongs to the Thevar community and supposedly has substantial support within that community.

Hence, the present leadership was more concerned about protecting the party rather than having a broader alliance that could be a potential threat to its leadership after the election.

They decided not to have any alliance with TTV Dinakaran’s AMMK (Sasikala faction), risking some losses from their traditional support base; the Thevars. AIADMK, ever since Jayalalitha took over, has been known as a Thevar party. Whenever she was in power major Ministries and important police and administrative posts were dominated by the Thevars. Even now, Jayalalitha’s former close confidantes, the present deputy leader of the party and former deputy Chief Minister, O Panneerselvam, senior leaders like Naththam Viswanathan and Vaithialingam are the prominent faces of Thevars in the party. Adding on to their caste equation, the present party leader and former Chief Minister, Edapadi Panneerselvam is a popular face among the Gounders, another major community in Tamil Nadu.

By inducting BJP and Pattali Makkal Katchi, the party of the Vanniars, also became a major community, they strategized their political arithmetic on the three major communities, the Thevars, Gounders, Vanniars, and on the 3-4% of the BJP votes and on five other minor parties. Eventually, they ended up as an eight-party alliance, which had to face the mighty SPA, AMMK alliance, MNM alliance led by actor Kamal Hassan and the Tamil Nationalist Party Nam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) headed by Seeman and many other smaller players in the electoral arena. In addition to the party and alliance issues, the AIADMK also has to face anti-incumbency issues being the incumbent government for the last decade.


The net result is that DMK is back in power after 10 years.


SPA’s victory looks impressive, in terms of the number of seats, though they fell short of their expectation based on their 2019 Parliamentary election results, in which they lead with 205 Assembly electorates with 51% votes and AIADMK winning only in 29 electorates with 31% votes. In that respect in the Assembly election, AIADMK has tremendously improved its position from 31% to 40% while DMK fell from 51% to 46%. This was possible because the preference for a Congress government in New Delhi was higher than the preference for a DMK government in Chennai. Moreover, a substantial section of the AIADMK voters, who voted for AMMK – the first timer in the electoral arena – has come back to AIADMK. However, they lost this election by 43 seats short of an absolute majority. They lost because they refused to take the Sasikala faction back, due to their eagerness to protect the party. Also because they lost a thin layer of their traditional Thevar votes from the Central and Sothern areas of Tamil Nadu, and hence lost 50 of the Thevar dominated electorates in the Central and Sothern districts, which they had won in the 2016 Assembly election. They could not make up for this loss from the other districts as the political arithmetic in those districts was more in favor of the DMK alliance except in a few Gounder-dominated districts like Salem, Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Erode and Thirupur.

However, considering the organizational, anti-incumbency and coalition constraints the AIADMK had to face, their performance in this election was commendable. With a 6% difference in the vote shares in a first-past-post system, they have come to a striking distance. AIADMK is certainly not a spent force, despite not having a charismatic leader at its helm.


The Take Away from this election:


National Parties

In the Dravidian political milieu, the Congress would continue to be happy to be a junior partner in the DMK alliance and would continue to be content as long as they pick up 3-5 Parliamentary seats in the best scenario. For BJP on the other hand the story is different. BJP’s larger scheme of politicization of the Hindus by de-Dravidianising the Tamil Hindus has to face insurmountable cultural and ideological challenges. This is because, in Tamil Nadu, politics is neither communal nor secular. It’s all about Tamil, Tamilian, and Dravidianism, even though 88% of the population are hard-core Hindus by all means. Even the minorities (6% Christians and 5% Muslims), more or less with an even distribution all over, are not a noticeable deciding factor in the elections, except in four Christian dominated electorates (two in Kanyakumari, and one each in Thoothukudi and Thirunelveli districts) and three Muslim dominated electorates (one each in Nilgiri, Thirunelveli and Thirupathur districts). Therefore unlike in the West, North, Central and East India, there is no scope for BJP oriented politics in Tamil Nadu. Nevertheless, BJP’s ‘heavy artillery political approach’ has managed to create a minor ‘Hindu tremor’ in the impenetrable Dravidian polity. And that tremor spontaneously moved the so-called secular media lobby, including social media, and they have almost become an echo chamber in support of the SPA and given a larger than the real persona for BJP in Tamil Nadu, and in the process even infused some Hindu turbulence in the Dravidian polity. Even DMK, which is supposedly an atheist party, began to exhibit some sort of soft-Hinduism on their campaign rallies. Instead of Jai Sri Ram, Lord Murugan’s devotional songs resonated. Lord Murugan’s Vel appeared on DMK stages with temple cut-outs in the background. DMK leaders even announced some development schemes for Hindu temples. The DMK intellectuals became unhappy. However, the moment the SPA defeated the NDA, that victory was immediately applauded by a chorus of secular verbosities by the Indian as well as international liberal intellectuals. They gloated over how the DMK has successfully prevented Modi’s ‘Bharat Matha’ from expanding her footprint into the Dravidian territory.


Sri Lanka and the Tamil Nadu Factor   

The so-called Tamil Nadu factor would continue to resonate in its sound and fury irrespective of the governments in Tamil Nadu. Because that Mantra is eternally ingrained into the ‘Dravidian political Gita.’ As usual, the tenacity of its tone and tenor may vary from the National parties to the major Dravidian parties to the minor ones and finally to Seeman’s Naam Namilar Katchi. However, it should be noted that the DMK, Viko’s MDMK, and Thirumavalavan’s VCK, who are ideologically closer to the so-called ‘Tamil Nadu Factor’, are all part of the same government. Therefore, more and stronger responses, in the form of Resolutions in the Assembly, Memorandums and demonstrations in front of our Mission in Chennai, are to be expected more often. And those responses will be used by the national as well as International Media and the Foreign Policy pundits according to their whims and fancies, and the Tamil Nadu factor would continue to float around as Diplomatic leverage to be used against Sri Lanka.


Islam Radicalism 

Tamil Nadu is one of the three South Indian States, other than Karnataka and Kerala, where Islam radicalism is quite active with its active cells. The history of their activities gives an impression that they become even more proactive whenever there is a favorable government in the relevant States. In this context, it should be noted that the two major Muslim parties – Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Manitheneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) – are part of the winning DMK coalition. It also should be noted that the MMK is the political wing of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kalagam (TMMK), which was involved in the devastating bomb blast in Coimbatore in 1998, which killed 58 people and nearly killed BJP leader LK Advani, who had a miraculous escape as his flight was delayed. Prof. MH Jawahirulla, the present leader of the MMK was the leader of the TMMK at the time of the bomb blast. Mr. Jawahirulla and many others were arrested right after the blast. His party and some of its affiliated organizations are known for adversely reacting to any developments that are presumably affecting Muslims and Islam in Sri Lanka and for organizing vociferous demonstrations in front of our Mission in Chennai.


Naam Tamilar Kachi’s (NTK) Growth

The most disturbing trend from Sri Lanka’s point of view in this election is the growth of NTK led by Seeman. It has been exponentially growing from 460,000 votes (1.07%) in the 2016 Assembly election to 1.6 million votes (3.4%) in the 2019 Parliamentary election and to 3.1 million votes (6.6%), a solid gain of 1.4 million votes, in the 2021 Assembly election. NTK is in the third position in 225 out of 234 electorates. They are the deciding factor in around 70 electorates. In other words, had their votes been with the NDA they would have won the election handsomely. Ideologically NTK is an extreme version of DMK and therefore it looks like its growth is at the expense of DMK, and that explains how DMK lost 1.75 million votes from their 2019 Parliamentary votes. If this trend continues NTK would be one of the most sought-after alliance partners for both the major Dravidian parties in the future elections. Though its leader Seeman, who counts V. Prabhakaran as his idol, kept on saying that he would keep all the other corrupt parties at an equidistance, like any other politicians he also might reach his critical mass and would tilt towards power. In that scenario, he would certainly bargain for his pound of flesh, and that would radicalize the Dravidian politics further. The ultimate dream of his Party is the creation of a Tamil Nation comprising Tamil Nadu and the Tamil speaking areas of Sri Lanka. He and his party are also well known for protests against nuclear reactors in Kudamkulam and against multi-national companies and industries that allegedly exploit the State’s resources. The RSS and many other Hindu organizations brand him as an anti-Hindu Christian, funded by some International NGOs, as he is well known for ridiculing Hindu Gods, culture and philosophy on public platforms. His stated objective, on the other hand, is the protection of Tamil land, Tamil soil, Tamil language, culture and tradition.


In essence, the Dravidian political Achchaaru (pickle) is bound to get increasingly spicy and pungent.

The writer is Former Deputy High Commissioner in Chennai and Former Ambassador to Sweden 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here