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Emergence of ‘Third Front’ in Tamil Nadu

May 10, 2016

Can the Third Front – the first significant conglomeration of smaller parties against the two major Dravidian forces in Tamil Nadu – cut through their dominance this election?

third front in tamil-nadu

Dalit-Backward centric focus in Tamil Nadu elections

Analysts are already referring to the dilution of Dravidian ideology as a reflection of “no wave” elections this time. This means, the collective Dravidian identity is now being overtaken by individual’s caste. Some analysts have even gone to the extent of highlighting the shift of focus in state politics from being Dravida-centric to Dalit-Backward centric. And they have reasons too.

Political Apathy towards Attacks on Dalits

There have been spate of attacks on the Dalits in the largely OBC-dominated Tamil Nadu (The Dravida movement was actually an OBC movement) in recent times. Consider how political touch was given to the attack on the dalit Paraiyars by the Vanniyars, who are categorised as “most backward class” – a sub-category of the broader ‘other backward classes’ or OBC group – in Seshasamudram village of Villipuram district in northern Tamil Nadu on Independence Day in 2015.

Around 200 people from the Paraiyar community had then attacked a procession of the Paraiyars and torched 15 Dalit houses. Fortunately, no one had died then. However, none of the two major Dravidian parties – the ruling AIADMK or the main opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – had then shown any urgency to condemn the attack. What added twist to the political brinkmanship over the issue was that just a day before the attacks, S.Ramadoss’s political outfit, the Vaniyar-dominated Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), had organised its rally just about 18 km from Seshasamudram.

While Vanniyars constitute about 12% of Tamil Nadu’s population, it is for the first time that the PMK is contesting from all the 234 constituencies in the state and has projected Ramadoss’s son, Dr. Ambumani Ramadoss, who is a former union minister, as its CM candidate. Obviously, to win support of the Veniyar community, the party exploited the Vanniyar’s long history of clashing with Paraiyars!

Take another incident of a Dalit youth being attacked and injured by upper caste Hindus for not folding the lungi till the toes, at the Kulasekarapattinam beach in August 2015. What was more intimidating was that the attackers went on to warn other Dalits in the village against folding up their lungi and asked them to cover their entire feet while walking through the streets of Caste Hindus as a mark of respect.

In yet another incident in March 2016, an upper caste father-in-law was allegedly behind the gruesome murder of his dalit son-in-law by armed goons in broad daylight in Udumalaipettai town of Tirupur district.

Assertion of Dalit Identity ahead of Tamil Nadu Elections

Little doubt, therefore, that the present election in the state is now being watched keenly for as to how the caste combinations behave in the state, especially in light of a widely perceived notion that for the first time in the state, small Dalit sub-castes have started asserting their identity. On a broader canvas, the entire process could be seen as the manifestation of the anger of those fringe groups that felt being left out of the empowerment.

Third Front vs. Dravidian politics

It is in this light, therefore, the decision of the PMK to go solo in the election as well as the emergence of the Third Front in Tamil Nadu for the first time needs to be seen. In that sense, the outcome of the current election would be historic from the perspective of Dravidian versus caste politics in the state.

The constituents of the Third Front or the People’s Welfare Front are those parties, who, in past had allied either with the two Dravidian forces – AIADMK and the DMK – or were constituents of either the Congress or the BJP-led NDA.

While one of the Third Front constituents, MDMK’s leader Vaiko, was originally from the DMK and was even once seen as an ideological protege of DMK Supremo M. Karunanidhi, the MDMK was once also a part of the NDA. The MDMK, though, had boycotted the 2011 Assembly elections following issues of seat sharing with its then alliance partner AIADMK.

During 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the MDMK had allied with the NDA. It had drawn a blank then and Vaiko had then lost from Virudhunagar. Within six months of the formation of the NDA government at the Centre, he snapped ties with the NDA.

Prospects of MDMK

Can the MDMK make a dent into Dravidian politics? Besides, can the Dalit-centric Third Front constituent Vidhuthalai Chirutaigal Katchi (VCK) of Thol Thirumavalavan fetch Dalit votes for the Front. In 2011, the VCK had sided with the DMK, but was unable to open its account. Yet another key constituent – GK Vasan’s Tamil Maanila Congress – would also be tested this elections. Vasan was a Congress national secretary and a union minister till 2014 when he parted ways to revive his father late GK Moopanar’s TMC once again.

Can he reap the benefits of his father’s reputation of crusader against untouchability and win the confidence of the Dalits in the state? Afterall, his father, Moopanar, had given dalit parties – the Puthiya Tamizhagam and the Dalit Panthers – credibility by making them the TMC’s allies in 1999.

Should the Third Front Side with the Left Parties?

One can say with some certainty that the siding of the Left parties, the CPM and the CPI, with the Third Front will surely give the Front an edge among the Dalits. In the last assembly, 5 of the 8 CPI MLAs were Dalits and there is a growing perception of more Dalits turning to Left.

This finally brings the focus on the Front’s CM face Vijaykanth. His DMDK, too, has changed affiliations in the past. After its formation in 2005, this party had contested in all 234 seats in the state elections in May 2006, but was able of win only one seat (Vijaykanth’s). In 2009 general elections, DMDK contested from all 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state but could not win any seat. Falling in the lines of the Dravidian parties, it allied with the AIADMK and emerged as the second largest party in the state assembly in 2011 by winning 29 seats. However, before the 2014 general elections, it sided with the BJP-led NDA but could not win a single seat and its vote share even dropped to 5 per cent!

The question, though, is can Vijaykanth, himself a Naidu – an upper caste – challenge the fabric of Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu? Can he be acceptable to the Dalits either? He does have the support of some but he is careful. His party has also chosen to attack the AIADMK for its populist measures and the DMK for corruption: “We were with Jayalalithaa first. But I got angry with her for hiking milk prices and bus fares… Karunanidhi turns everything to his advantage.”

After all, Vijaykanth does hope to be the king, if not kingmaker! But for him to be the CM, the Third Front first needs to create history.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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