In late March, political circles were abuzz with an astounding development – much sought after politician, Vijayakanth, also known as Captain to his followers, leader of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, sealed a deal with the fledgling Third Front in Tamil Nadu.
The bolstered Third Front now consisted of the DMDK, the party with the largest voteshare of close of 8% (based on 2011 data), Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Thol Thirumavalan’s Dalit party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the two Left parties.
Vijaykanth was announced as the Front’s Chief Ministerial candidate. GK Vasan’s freshly formed Tamil Maanila Congress jumped onboard in April, weeks before the state went to polls.
But Vijaykanth suffered a humiliating defeat in Ulundurpet, forfeiting even his deposit, polling 34,447 votes, pipped by both the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, by 47,000 votes and 43,000 votes respectively.
Dalit leader Thol Thirumavalavan lost Kattumannarkoil by a mere 87 votes, possibly the singular biggest tragedy of the 2016 state elections.
The Left parties, for the first ever time in Tamil Nadu’s electoral history, did not send a single MLA to the state Assembly.
The MDMK and Vasan’s TMC too performed dismally.
So what happened to the shiny new Third Front, touted to be the alternative to the two Dravidian parties in the state? Why were they not seen as an alternative force? The answer, according to experts, lies in the Tamil psyche.
“Tamils make their moves in a very measured, cautious manner,” explained T Ramakrishnan, senior journalist and political analyst. “Change can only come in an incremental manner but the change will be consistent. Gimmicks are not appreciated by Tamil people. You have to work in a sustained manner over a period of time, otherwise people will not respond,” he said.
Parties which want to be an alternative to the established Dravidian forces will necessarily have to work akin to Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Ramakrishnan said. “A third force will have to battle two established formations (DMK and AIADMK), which is not very easy,” he argued.
“The third force, over a period of time, should give the firm impression that it will not compromise with the existing powers. Remember, it took Mamata Banerjee 15 years to wrest power from the Left in Bengal. People are looking for your commitment. If Tamil Nadu is in a position to create a Mamata-type of leader, only then will a third front arrive in the state,” he said.
No binding ideology
Other experts too said that although there is a need for an alternative force in the state, the final constituents of the Third Front turned into a recipe for disaster. They pointed to the lack of a binding ideology amongst the constituent parties of the Front. “The Left parties and VCK are firm in their ideology,” explained C Lakshmanan, Associate Professor with the Madras Institute of Development Studies and a political analyst.
“As far as the other parties are concerned, neither the DMDK, the TMC nor the MDMK has any ideological stance. They (Left and VCK) should continue, send out Vijayakanth, Vaiko and Vasan. A Left-Dalit parties front should come together and work for principled issue-based politics. This is the need today. They should not surrender to leaders like Vijayakanth and Vasan for electoral politics,” Lakshmanan said.
Analysts also agree that the antics of Vaiko, the most audible and visible leader in the combine, just ahead of polling, did immense damage to the credibility of the Front, resulting in the electorate not taking them seriously.
In early April, Vaiko spoke in a derogatory manner about DMK chief Karunanidhi in respect to the caste that he was born into. Just two weeks before the polls, he announced atop his campaign vehicle outside the Kovilpatti returning officer’s booth that he would not contest the polls. The reason he cited was that the DMK was instigating caste groups against him and that he did not wish to become a focus of caste hatred.
Vaiko, though, did not contest any other seat either. “The reasons he gave did not sound convincing and led to the Third Front being seen as unstable and a bit of a joke,” said Lakshmanan.
Tamil Nadu seems to have decided that the time is not yet ripe for a Third Front, with the AIADMK sweeping back to power for a second consecutive term, a record not seen since 1984. The state’s political map has now changed entirely in this election, with 135 seats out of 232 being won by the AIADMK and 97 seats taken by the DMK alliance.
Two more seats – Aravakurichi and Thanjavur – go to polls on May 23 and their results are expected to be announced on May 25.
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