The political situation currently in Tamil Nadu is akin to a rudderless ship lost in a stormy sea. The splits in the ruling AIADMK, the naked power struggles among the feuding groups, the holding of MLAs at secret resorts, cancellation of the bypoll for the deceased chief minister’s constituency due to corruption, income tax raids on an incumbent state Chief Secretary and more - all have only made a laughing stock of the state.
With all the drama and breaking news going on, the governance of the state does not appear to be on the agenda for the ruling party leaders. The state had a 62% deficit in monsoon rainfall as of December 2016. Further, the shortfall in Cauvery water receipts in 2016 has adversely impacted samba crop. The state’s own revenue (SOR) has shown sluggish growth thanks to years of populist schemes and handouts. The current state budget (2017-18) has a 2.9% revenue deficit i.e. of almost Rs. 16,000 crores. The government seems blissfully oblivious of the looming economic uncertainty as they are busy fighting for their political survival.
After the passing away of Jayalalitha, under circumstances still shrouded in mystery, the state is largely on administrative paralysis. The cause for this paralysis is only partly due to the splintering of the ruling AIADMK. The real culprit is the larger political and administrative ecosystem that has atrophied over the decades. The slow grind of the state has been long in coming. It is in this context of the state’s uneasy economic outlook and political disarray that the entry of film star Rajinikanth assumes significance.
But a brief review of the Dravidian politics over the last few decades that has eaten into the vitals of the state, will throw light on how the future is likely to play out. Dravidian politics as we see today, is a brain child of the old British divide and rule policy and has been spreading venom for decades disguised as a political ideology in south India. Based on the flawed and scientifically discarded Aryan invasion theory, it sought to divide the people into Dravidians or natives and non-Dravidians for short-term electoral gains. Regional separatism, anti-Hindi movement, rationalist movement etc. were thrown in to buttress this bogus ideology.
The resulting cocktail was in essence an unadulterated anti-national and anti-Hindu manifesto whose sole purpose was to fracture the polity and keep the divisions alive. The regimes of that two main Dravidian parties - that proffered varying shades of the above bogus ideology - is a shameless narrative of corruption, deception, loot, extortion, illicit businesses, voter fraud and what have you. It was a complete web of dishonesty that masqueraded as political ideology, very much like the case in any other state in India.
The people who have long been desperately yearning for a genuine alternative, were only given a Hobson’s choice - choosing between the lesser of two evils. The obvious casualty, over the years, has been the governance of the state. As a consequence, Tamil Nadu is today punching way below its weight in many areas nationally – infrastructure, healthcare, agricultural, digitization, GSDP or for that matter any developmental metric.
The ruling AIADMK dispensation is a house divided against itself and it is only a matter of time before it collapses like a house of cards. At the other end, the leading opposition party – the DMK is also in its last innings as a political entity. The party veteran, Karunanidhi, is 94 years old and in extremely poor health and unable to keep the party united. After Karunanidhi, political pundits expect a potential three-way split – one faction led by Stalin, the other by Alagiri and the rest by his daughter Kanimozhi together with party loyalists who would have nowhere else to go.
Apart from the steady erosion of public support due to anti-incumbency, it appears that the clean sweep by the BJP in the national elections of 2014 seems to have added to their discomfiture. The massive mandate in favor of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is also a frightening development for the Dravidian parties since they know that the BJP is at their door steps.
But for the BJP, Fort St George in Chennai is still some distance away. It may have to wait its turn to run the state. For a safe entry, they have to tag along with a charismatic leader who is blessed with a mass appeal who can open the doors for them. Hence it makes perfect political sense for the BJP to align with Rajinikanth, at least for the time being or until he formally joins them.
Despite the shrill noises and entry barriers erected by the entrenched parties, Rajinikanth’s entry into politics has been widely welcomed. Many view it as probably the best thing that has happened to the state politics in decades.
However, Rajinikanth too will not have an easy path to the Chief Minister’s office. No doubt, in the current political conditions, he is a very charismatic leader who commands the biggest chunk of followers - hence votes - and could potentially emerge as the leader of the single largest party. But he has the onerous task of outwitting the entrenched political rivals. This could be a major challenge.
But therein lies the opportunity for the BJP to step in and assist Rajinikanth, at least in the initial days of its long war to win the rights to rule Tamilnadu. A formal alliance between Rajinikanth and BJP could hold the secret recipe for winning the election. Indications are that either Rajinikanth will join the BJP or form a party that will firmly align with the BJP. The latter seems most probable. However, a lot will depend on how the BJP and Rajinikanth succeed in putting up a good partnership.
A change definitely seems in the offing, but only after the Presidential elections. The central government will probably give some more time for the rudderless AIADMK to make a complete fool of themselves and earn the fullest disgust of the people. President’s rule in Tamil Nadu will be imposed most likely a few months after electing the new President of India.
Decimation of the Dravidian parties appears certain and may be just around the corner. But the urgent need of the hour is the rebuilding of the state’s economy, particularly the agricultural sector. A huge challenge awaits the new Chief Minister. Rajinikanth will have the opportunity to transform and rebuild a new and resurgent Tamil Nadu.