I’d like to add one more poser to this procession of inscrutable puzzles: “Can anyone ever think of beating the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu?”
No, Not at all. Because outsmarting the Dravidian majors in their own pettai is as difficult as squaring a circle. The key reason for it is that both the Amma and the Appa party follow a unique model of franchising that no national party is aware of.
Let me explain. The average political party in our country needs enormous resources and man power to set up offices at every level in our inner cities and towns. The high command structure was created to generate funds at the centre and to deploy it in states most receptive to the ideology of the party in power. When Congress was holding the reins, its organisational reach was awe inspiring. Ditto with the BJP. But take them out of power and the branches lose their potency even if it’s a cadre-based organisation. A dispassionate look at the current state of Left Front in West Bengal will give you an idea of the chinks that lie in the Top-Down model.
This is where it helps to study the Dravidian paradigm. Marketers would find it truly fascinating as it works on the same principles of franchising. The franchisor in our case is the political party, and the franchisee is the regional, local, panchayat or ward secretary. The glue that binds them is ‘mutual growth’. The product that’s franchised is ‘Tamil identity’ which conveniently comes in two flavours: Red & Black (DMK); and Red, Black & White (AIADMK). The franchisee has rights to logo usage (Two Leaves & Rising Sun). His job is to peddle the brand by projecting the CEO and winning more market share (‘vote share’ in political parlance). He makes all the investments for local promotion. The only thing that’s supplied by the HQ is the brand campaign and PR. A regular royalty is to be paid to the brand and during election time, larger contributions are to be made. If targets are achieved during elections, the successful franchisees will be given ‘important posts’. The onus of making the tenure ‘profitable’ is entirely up to the franchisee. The most important point to note is that every franchisee enjoys the right to sub-franchise this model.
As you can see, it’s a very robust ‘for-profit’ model. Irrespective of whether they are in power, the organisations remain viable and election-ready. Due to the elaborate financial empowerment, market shares and vote banks stay almost eternally loyal. And hence the entry barrier for new players has become very, very steep.
To illustrate the loyalty: At no point in time did DMK’s share of votes dip below 22% in the last fifty years. And for AIADMK, even in the worst of times, the vote share was 21%. Contrast this with the Congress party’s performance. The behemoth that notched up a massive 45.34% in 1957 ended up with an abysmal 2.48% in 2001.
How does one rewrite the script then? How does one ensure that the same old actors don’t stage the same old farce?
For developing a suitable plot, we need to delve deeper into Tamilnadu’s history. In 1967, the Congress seemed like a mighty monolith. Kamaraj was its national president and Bhaktavatsalam, the Chief Minister. Hindi imposition was at its peak, a rice shortage was looming large, and commodity prices had hit the roof. The DMK (then a fledgling party) was all set to reap the harvest when its mentor Periyar EV Ramasamy flummoxed his supporters by backing Kamaraj instead of his protégé Annadurai. At this critical juncture, an unlikely Tamil Brahmin changed the course of the movement against ‘Brahmin dominance’ by plotting a mega coalition of disparate parties. The man of the moment was Rajaji. He managed to sew up an alliance between DMK, Swatantra Party, CPI (M), Muslim League, Praja Socialist Party and a few more strange bedfellows. ‘Defeat Kamaraj’ was the only agenda. Shivaji Ganesan campaigned for Congress. MGR backed the grand alliance. As always the Shivaji jinx ensured that the Congress lost (just kidding). And the alliance bagged a whopping 76% of the votes. DMK’s share catapulted from 27.13% in 1962 to a 40.06% in 1967. And its seat-score almost trebled!
Don’t you see the parallels? The scenario is eerily similar. The lamentable performance of the state government during the floods, the power vacuum that was forced down our throats when O. Paneerselvam was passed off as our Chief Minister, the stench of corruption that permeates through the families that control both the parties, and the naked greed of an old man who refuses to make way for his rising son…To cut a long story short, TN is a state crying out for change and the only hurdle in the way appears to be the lack of a credible alternative.
The way out of the maze is clear: Someone needs to weld together a mahagatbandhan or a maaperumkootani. And that someone could very well be Narendra Modi.
He’s the only one with the electoral nous to take on the franchisee-model and fight paisa-with-more-paisa. He’s the only one capable of bringing together the ever disputatious Anbumani & Vijayakanth. He’s the only one with enough guile to split the AIADMK. He’s the only one with the power aura to recruit Kollywood celebrities into the NDA fold.
He must urgently, emergently and immediately focus his energies in taking the following steps:
Announce a mega coalition
Vijayakanth or Anbumani do not have the political standing to win an election all by themselves. BJP does not have the ‘franchising model’ to find candidates and workers in all parts of the state. The three parties can come together with the single-minded agenda of freeing Tamil Nadu from the shackles of the Pinnetra Kazhagams (regressive fronts). Fortunately, by themselves, the trio form a ready-made block of around 20% of the vote share. To win TN in a 3-horse-derby, all one needs is 15% more votes from somewhere else. The floating ant-incumbency vote is around 18%. By taking a strong stance on prohibition and by promising to usher in ‘Munnetram’ (development), the NDA will be pitching itself as a serious alternative to DMK. It will help to note that in the past, the voter never had the luxury of a third front with 20% Plus Votes. Therefore it’s imperative to announce a getting together.
Get more partners on board
GK Vasan’s ‘TMC’ has an influence of around 2%. Get him to join NDA. Actor Vijay has been at the receiving end of Jaya’s ire, and he has a solid fan base that can readily be converted into a political organisation. Instead of co-opting him as an individual, encourage him to create a separate party of youth. And offer him tickets from BJP’s quota of seats. Another rich source of influential talent is the AIADMK. It has many disgruntled elements who will step out only during the elections. Incentivise them to join the NDA much before elections by offering them guaranteed seats. Also, persuade Vijayakanth & Anbumani to offer some seats to crusaders like Traffic Ramaswamy and the many souls who toiled hard during the Chennai floods. The very fact of so many people uniting under one umbrella would create the necessary momentum for the front.
Float new ideas & concrete plans
The DMK and AIADMK have traditionally been weak with fresh ideas. They can rarely think beyond freebies and AMMA canteens. To project NDA as the next big thing, start expounding more on new ideas for ushering in ‘real munnetram’. Announce steps to mobilise a Tamil Diaspora Fund to catalyse rural entrepreneurs. Publicise the ‘Smart City’ venture and how it will change the quality of life in 12 cities in the state. Float the idea of having Coimbatore as Summer Capital. Set up a National Tamil University in Delhi or Gurgaon. Commit to providing employment in the milk/farm products sector to those who lose jobs due to prohibition. Invite more suggestions from the voting public and develop a crow-sourced manifesto.
Shed the reluctance to attack DMK & AIADMK
Make no mistake. There’s a huge undercurrent of anger against the current establishment. The shambolic transfer of relief money has not healed the deep wounds in the state capital. The mindless extension of the AMMA brand has only frayed the nerves further. The throttling of people’s voices through defamation suits has added to the disenchantment. If the NDA doesn’t step up the attack on the ruling party’s non-performance, the DMK will walk away with the anti-establishment vote. To prevent the DMK from gaining traction, remind people of how DMK is no different from AIADMK. Turn the spotlight on the Kanimozhis, Rajas and the Marans. That should do the trick.
Jettison the Hindutva image and be more inclusive
Hindutva as an electoral strategy has diminishing returns. It may work in Uttar Pradesh or Jharkhand. But down south, it’s a no-hoper. Talk of beef ban in Thalapakatti Biriyani country will only evoke titters. Muslims and Christians are an intrinsic part of Tamil tapestry. For the BJP to be taken seriously, Narendra Modi has to emphasise development, and not the silliness associated with the saffronwallahs. By being sensitive to the needs of other communities, the BJP will be seen more mainstream and might endear itself to former Congress voters.
To sum up, the big battle for the Fort St. George is eminently winnable. And it’s entirely in the hands of Modi, Vijayakanth and Anbumani. Any attempts to let down Tamil Nadu, will only result in a massive comeback for the DMK. Only one man will smile if that happens. It’s the old fox with the dark glasses.