Bharatanatyam and political power in TN

Bharatanatyam and political power in TN


A drummer beats out the rhythm and the dancer’s eyes dart from left to right.

Now India’s most popular classical dance, this ancient art originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu, and is a powerful expression of Tamil and Dravidian culture.

Tamils in India are proud of their identity and their desire to express it has extended into politics for a long time.

Both the main parties in this state — the DMK and the AIADMK — are Dravidian-based, and don’t take part in elections anywhere else. “For years now it has been a Dravidian party which has come into power,” says Hyma Ramakrishna, who is watching the dancer perform, “and I don’t think that will change.”

“Years ago it was the Congress party from the Central government which was ruling even over Tamil Nadu. But the Dravidian movement is too strong now and that is the way people vote.”

“People in Tamil Nadu will say I’m a Tamilian first, but I’m also an Indian,” says V V Sunderam, a Tamil businessman who divides his time between Chennai and the United States.

“They vote on local issues, and they express their local identity. But they also know they have tremendous influence on who becomes the Prime Minister in Delhi. Tamil Nadu is really one of the kingmakers in national politics.”

Deciding factors

Neither of the state’s most powerful politicians — the former film script writer Karunanidhi of the DMK, and the former actress Jayalalitha of the AIADMK — is actually standing in this election.

Their national power stems from their local strength. So why is it that politics in Tamil Nadu has become so distinct?

The markets in the city centre are full of people bargaining for jewellery and saris. But the hard political bargains have yet to be struck.

In one of the closest and most unpredictable elections for years, Tamil Nadu will send 39 MPs to the next Parliament in Delhi. It’s a potentially decisive bloc because historically voters here tend to hand big victories to one side or the other.

So people in this state know that if either of their main regional parties sweeps this election — last time it was a DMK-led alliance, this time could be different — then it will be in pole position to help form the next government in Delhi.

The lesson from Chennai is that this is a national election in which the role of states and regions grows ever stronger.

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