Decade to power-up: What did MK Stalin’s DMK do right?

In Tamil Nadu Assembly Election 2021, many factors worked in the favour of the MK Stalin-led DMK.
Decade to power-up: What did MK Stalin’s DMK do right?
DMK leader, MK Stalin is all set to head the government in Tamil NaduThe Bridge Chronicle

On Sunday, a decade of wait ended for Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) as the party emerged a winner in Tamil Nadu Assembly Polls 2021. Led by MK Stalin, the Dravidian party is voted back to power as the DMK-alliance, Secular Progressive Alliance, won 159 seats in an assembly of 234 seats. The DMK leader is set to be the first-time oldest, 68, chief minister of the state.

Even though it is a significant win for DMK, which has been in opposition for 10 years, the two main parties – DMK and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - and their alliances once again dominate the seats in the state assembly. Anyone out of the gambit of the two prominent alliances – Secular Progressive Alliance and National Democratic Alliance – like Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam, Naam Tamilar Katchi and rebel TTV Dhinakaran's Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam faced defeat, shutting the doors on the so-called "Third Front”.

A decade in opposition, Stalin-led DMK mapped the blueprint for the state elections very carefully. Here are a couple of factors that helped Stalin to secure a win.

DMK leader, MK Stalin is all set to head the government in Tamil Nadu
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DMK president MK Stalin visits his father and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu late M Karunanidhi's memorial after receives the victory certificate , in Chennai, Sunday night, May 3, 2021.
DMK president MK Stalin visits his father and former chief minister of Tamil Nadu late M Karunanidhi's memorial after receives the victory certificate , in Chennai, Sunday night, May 3, 2021.PTI Photo/R Senthil Kumar

Capitalised on Leadership Vaccum

The demise of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa created room for an internal rift in AIADMK, which certainly helped DMK. Both major Dravidian parties lost their leaders - J Jayalalithaa and K Karunanidhi - in the past few years. While DMK’s Stalin, who was the Deputy Chief Minister during DMK rule (2006-11), swooped in with big promises and a will to fulfil them, AIADMK struggled with top brass locking their horns.

The power tussle between top leaders of AIADMK - O Panneerselvam and Edappadi K Palaniswami – caused friction in the party. If that was not enough, ahead of the polls, the party kept losing its allies as well as had to face the Dhinakaran-Sasikala faction. Six alliance parties including DMDK, Puthiya Tamilagam, Mukkulathor Pulipadai, Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi, New Justice Party, and All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi left the AIADMK’s side.

Even though the parties who broke off alliance with AIADMK did not join hands with DMK, the dwindling leadership created confusion for the prospects of the party, which is one of the things that worked in Stalin's favour.

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DMK party workers celebrate their party's victory in Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly elections, at party headquarters in Chennai on Sunday.
DMK party workers celebrate their party's victory in Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly elections, at party headquarters in Chennai on Sunday. ANI Photo

Aftermath of Lok Sabha Election 2019

Another fact proved to be a huge stepping stone for Stalin – his party’s win in the 2019 General Elections. For some time, then, many within DMK and otherwise doubted Stalin and his capability to emerge from his larger-than-life father M Karunanidhi’s shadow.

While most other Indian states allowed BJP to camp, in Tamil Nadu DMK played the big fat goalie. Out of 39 Tamil Nadu seats in Lok Sabha, DMK bagged 38 seats while AIADMK secured 1 seat, leaving none for BJP. Since AIADMK was in alliance with BJP, it may be important to note that with DMK’s recent sweeping win, the voters in the state have once again made it clear that BJP won’t get clear access to the Dravidian state.

Security of Secularity

A strong, well-calculated and calibrated alliance is one of the keys to winning an election. On one hand, AIADMK aligned itself with BJP and Pattali Makkal Katchi, among others; on the other hand, DMK built an alliance with the Congress, CPM, CPI, Dalit party VCK, MDMK, and Muslim parties like Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and Manithenya Makkal Katchi (MMK).

DMK party workers burn firecrackers as they celebrate their party's victory in Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly elections, at party headquarters in Chennai on Sunday
DMK party workers burn firecrackers as they celebrate their party's victory in Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly elections, at party headquarters in Chennai on SundayANI

Tamil Nadu’s major parties, DMK and AIADMK, both claims to function on secular ideology. More than DMK, AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa was always vocal about her amity with the minorities. On occasions, the former chief minister has even detested BJP’s Saffron politics.

This election, while AIADMK rolled the dice for BJP, DMK went with Congress clearly stating its stand on secularism. The ruling party’s support of CAA in the capital and its silence on minority issues, made it easier for DMK to secure a major win since those who voted for Jayalalithaa felt left out.

MK Stalin’s win can be credited to a well-curated campaign, alliance with assorted parties for wider voter reach, and his 2019 general election win, among other factors.

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