Yearning for change, Tamil youth favouring MNM & NTK?

Yearning for change, Tamil youth favouring MNM & NTK?

MNM and NTK together polled more than 7 per cent of the votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls

Tamil Nadu’s youth have found two new political options in actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) and the Tamil nationalist outfit Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK). This is one of the less obvious messages coming out of the just concluded Lok Sabha elections that has the potential play out in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections scheduled for 2021.

The two new outfits together polled 30 lakh votes. Whether or not they will actually manage to emerge as a significant counter to the Dravidian parties depend on an array of factors, but it’s worth looking what made them tick. 

First, let’s look at how the parties performed. Neither the MNM not the NTK won a single seat or even came close to achieving the feat. Yet, they together polled more than 7 per cent of the votes indicating that voters, especially the younger lot, are yearning for a change.

Kamal Haasan’s war cry this election was changed from the “dynastic” Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and “corrupt” All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), while the NTK, led by the actor, Seeman, pinned the blame for all “ills faced by Tamil Nadu” on the two Dravidian majors.

If one were to look at the performance of the individual parties, then we find that the MNM has polled 15,76,620 votes in 36 Lok Sabha constituencies bringing its vote share percentage to 3.72. The party’s candidates in four constituencies – Chennai South, Chennai North, Sriperumbudur and Coimbatore – polled more than 1 lakh votes and its nominees in seven other constituencies, mostly urban, polled more than 50,000 votes. For a 15-months-old outfit that was assigned its election symbol barely a month before the polls, this is indeed a creditable debut.

The NTK for its part performed well in rural areas by garnering 16,45,185 votes in all 37 Lok Sabha constituencies, aggregating 3.88 per cent of votes. This is the second poll that the party has faced since the 2016 Assembly elections. The party which is infamous for its strong Tamil sub-nationalism, earned praise this time around for its choice of candidates and the issues they raised.

All in all, the MNM bagged the third position in 11 constituencies, mostly urban, while the NTK stood third in five seats. While the MNM performed better in urban areas – it fared much better than TTV Dinakaran’s Amma Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) in cities like Coimbatore, Chennai, Erode and Tiruppur – the NTK seems to have found support in rural Tamil Nadu. The two parties may have an effect in the assembly polls due in 2021, provided they continue to stay the course and maintain the momentum gained.

In a state dominated by the two Dravidian majors since 1967, there is a desire for change and the need for a credible alternative. Kamal Haasan has tried to present himself as a candidate by speaking in the same language as the DMK. He invokes federalism, Tamil pride and Dravidianism, while also maintaining that his political colour can never be “saffron”.

Kamal Haasan is the primary challenger to the DMK for now since both cater to the same audience and he himself has been targeting the MK Stalin-led party in all his election meetings. It would, therefore, be the end of the road for him if were to land up in one of the Dravidian camps like his colleague from tinsel town, Vijayakant, of Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, did.

According to P Ramajayam, Assistant Professor, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli, the crisis in the AIADMK due to J Jayalalithaa’s death and the split engineered by rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran has given room for the MNM and the NTK to garner the number of votes they have.

“The peripheral votes of the AIADMK – the core vote bank remains with the AIADMK and (Dinakaran’s) AMMK – have shifted to these groups. But whether these voters will remain with the two parties depend only on how they sustain among the Dravidian political parties and the new entrant BJP,” he said.

Political commentator Prof Ramu Manivannan says he is not too sure whether Kamal Haasan can transform into a force in Tamil Nadu politics in the long run. “He would certainly be a factor, but not a force even in the coming years. Kamal Haasan cannot inspire beyond a particular constituency and it would take too long for him to make any impact,” he told DH.

Ramajayam also said the very purpose of the MNM and the NTK, particularly their ideology or principle, is not clear and that could be a reason for these two parties losing steam over a period of time. “By criticising the Dravidian parties, anyone can get some number of votes because there is dissatisfaction and dissent among youngsters. But to sustain is the problem. Only time can tell whether they sustain.”

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