Each split in Dravidian parties changed course of TN politics


Whether it is the Dravidar Kazha­gam (DK), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and, now, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), a split has always changed the course of politics in Tamil Nadu.

A horizontal split, if not a vertical one, has now set the AIADMK on a new course after its leader J Jayalalithaa’s demise.

Is there a lesson for everyone in the history of the Dravidian movement, which emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to understand the impact of
such splits? 

Way back in the 1930s, the ‘Self Respect Movement’ (SRM) begun by Periyar E V Ramasami (who had left the Congress over its conservative approach to then prevailing caste order) had empowerment of the backward classes as its core political philosophy. In 1938, Justice Party (founded in 1916) and SRM (1925) came together under Periyar’s leadership. In 1944, the new outfit was renamed Dravidar Kazhagam.

In the same year, when Rajagopalachari-led Congress ministry introduced Hindi in the state, the DK launched protests that became a movement for an independent Dravida nation (that DK is today led by K Veeramani who supports V K Sasikala, now in jail on corruption charges).

In 1949, Annadurai formed the DMK to contest elections abandoning the idea of a Dravida nation. But it was not until 1967 that the DMK won office after unseating the Congress from power. In 1969, Annadurai died and M Karunanidhi took control of DMK.

In 1972, the differences between Karuna­nidhi and popular actor M G Ramachandran (MGR) over the use of party funds led to a split. MGR was then treasurer of the DMK. In 1977, MGR came to power, and remained undefeated until his death in 1987.

Ever since Jayalalithaa’s aide for the last 30 years, V K Sasikala, replaced O Panneerselvam (OPS) as the AIADMK legislature party leader and presented herself as the prospective chief minister two weeks ago, there has been a huge churning involving not just senior leaders but hundreds of party workers, too.

An unexpected revolt by former loyalist OPS sought to challenge Sasikala’s bid. Finally, the Supreme Court’s verdict in the infamous disproportionate assets case found her back in the Bengaluru jail for the next four years. But this was not before Sasikala asserted her authority and grip over the party.

She installed her nephew T T V Dinakaran, who is no less a controversial figure, at the helm of the AIADMK as deputy general secretary. She found a new proxy in Edappadi K Palaniswami to occupy the CM’s chair at Fort St George, the seat of the government, in Chennai.

Hours after Palaniswami took oath, OPS was back at Jayalalithaa’s memorial from where he had launched his rebellion against Sasikala last week. In first remarks after the governor invited Palaniswami to take charge, Panneerselvam said his fight against Sasikala and her family will continue.

“Let us all together stop the party and government from going into the hands of a single family again,” he said. The reference to a “single family,” which marks a new phase of the intra-politics of the AIADMK, was directed at the 20-odd members of the family of Sasikala whose influence has grown over the years, despite Jayalalithaa’s open resolve to keep them at bay.

“Mannargudi group”

Called “Mannargudi group” they have come to be seen as scripting a new course for the party. But unlike MGR, whose sheer charisma caught the imagination of the masses and who rode to power in 1977, today’s actors are rudderless and no match compared to the icons they seek to emulate.

After MGR’s death, the AIADMK split into two factions, one led by his wife, Janaki Ramachandran, the other by Jayalalithaa. In 1989, after a heavy electoral defeat, the factions merged under Jayalalithaa’s leadership. In 1991, Jayalalithaa became CM for the first time. Even her success was largely because of her cinematic appeal and long association with MGR.

Like MGR, Jayalalithaa ran the party with a strong hand. But, before she could realise, a group of people – mostly Sasikala's family members – had already formed her inner circle. In 2012, she expelled them including Sasikala, who was later brought back on a condition that she would stay away from active politics. However, as a backroom player, she became powerful again.

After Jayalalithaa’s death, Sasikala chose to make a foray, invoking her association with “Amma” for the last 33 years in spite of several ups and downs in their relationship. But the circumstances surrounding Jayalalithaa’s extended hospitalisation  and death and events thereafter, however, robbed her of a rightful legitimacy to be an unquestionable leader.

For that matter, none of today's AIADMK players have a mass appeal across the state. For Palaniswami, the battle has only just begun. He is seen as a puppet after Sasikala’s attempt to replace Panneerselvam and become CM herself did not succeed because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the disproportionate assets case. His first task would very well be to keep the MLAs together and face the forthcoming panchayat polls.

On the other hand, Panneerselvam may well try to don the mantle of a “conscience keeper” and hope to galvanise support of those ministers who may feel marginalised. Dinkaran is expected to consolidate his position. He may attempt to displace Palaniswami from the CM’s seat eventually, as some party insiders believe.

On the other hand, the DMK leadership feels re-energised by events following Jaya­lalithaa’s demise. Even though the Karuna­nidhi family is still divided between sons Stalin and Azhagiri, the former has managed to emerge as number two.

Karunanidhi, who is 92 and not keeping well, has left to Stalin to sort out the party's future. To his credit, the DMK patriarch has steered the party through several splits to remain as a major political unit. The DMK faced a major split in 1994 when Vaiko formed the MDMK due to differences with Karunanidhi over his promotion of his son, Stalin.

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