Senior Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad on Saturday formally announced that the Congress would fight the upcoming Tamil Nadu Assembly elections in an alliance with the DMK, led by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. However, the DMK will not start seat sharing discussions with Congress until actor Vijayakanth—currently the Leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly—commits support of his party, DMDK. This puts a question mark on the future of the alliance even before it is struck, as the DMDK is not ready to commit itself to an alliance. Karunanidhi is eager to take the DMDK on board for the elections that are slated to be held in April-May this year.
“I am sure that we (Congress) will form a government under the leadership of DMK. That is our main goal,” Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Saturday after meeting DMK president M. Karunanidhi at his home in Chennai. Azad said that the Congress would identify other potential allies in the coming weeks and discuss the terms of a coalition.
DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin said that the Congress has assured the DMK of full cooperation and they are awaiting a positive response from DMDK.
“Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress have promised us full cooperation. Mr Karunanidhi has already invited the DMDK (for alliance discussions). We are hopeful that we will get a positive response from them,” Stalin told this newspaper.
A DMK leader, who is part of the alliance talks, told this newspaper: “We have conveyed our intention for an alliance with DMDK to Vijayakanth. But he is yet to commit to a coalition with us. That is why we cannot start any talks about seat sharing yet. Karunanidhi is keen on joining hands with the DMDK. We just might end up tying up with them. It’s all in the pipeline.”
DMDK has quashed all reports of its possible alliances as rumours. The party has not committed to anyone for an alliance. The DMDK will hold a general body meeting on 20 February where its election strategy will be decided.
“These are all rumours. We have not held discussions with any party. We will have a general body meeting with all our leaders and after hearing their views, along with of the party’s cadres, we will decide and announce whether we will ally with any party. We might even go alone, you should not rule that out,” DMDK leader Constandine Ravindra told this newspaper.
Experts are viewing DMDK as a key party in terms of forming a strong opposition front to the AIADMK. “DMDK is in a good position. The Congress and DMK, on their own, do not pose any challenge. They have lost a lot of ground. They need a third partner, possibly the DMDK,” said Professor Ramu Manivannan from the Department of Political Science, University of Madras. “Conversely, for a formidable alliance, BJP will be the better choice for DMDK.” According to him, DMDK will be able to dictate its seat-sharing terms with BJP, which will be its junior partner; also, it helps DMDK that BJP has increased its visibility in the state over the last few years.
Sources tell this newspaper that Vijayakanth is “still weighing his options, above all a possible tie-up with the BJP”.
The exit of G.K. Vasan from the Congress in 2014 to float his own outfit, Tamil Maanila Congress, has delivered a big blow to the Congress party. The former Union minister’s exit has decreased the Congress’ ground presence. He had resigned in 2014 after feeling sidelined in the Tamil Nadu unit of the Congress. “The cadre is not with them. They have no ground presence. This alliance (Congress and DMK) is irrelevant without a third major player. Congress has no chance,” G.K. Vasan told this newspaper.
AIADMK currently holds 150 seats in the 234-seat Tamil Nadu Assembly. The DMK holds 23, while the DMDK holds 29. The Congress holds a meagre 5 seats and the CPM has 10. In the 2006 elections, the AIADMK was able to win only 61 seats, while the DMK claimed 96 and the Congress won 34. DMDK had won only 1 seat then. However, DMDK has been consistently maintaining an around 10% vote share in almost all the major elections it has been contesting. “DMDK captured the AIADMK and DMK’s vote banks in the last elections. They will be a key ally. They might not be the deciding factor though,” Manivannan said.
In an attempt to stitch together a strong front against the Jayalalithaa-led ruling AIADMK, DMK chief Karunanidhi had extended invitations to the Congress and DMDK, for a poll pact, for the Assembly elections.
The 66-year-old Azad, who is also a former Union minister, is expected to take up extensive discussions with Karunanidhi and Vijayakanth on coalition prospects.
“Ghulam Nabi Azad has been tasked with giving the alliance some concrete form. Most of the senior Congress leaders from the state including Tamil Nadu Congress chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan support the alliance with the DMK,” a source close to Elangovan told this newspaper, on the condition of anonymity.
“But the DMDK seems to be leaning towards the BJP now. We need comprehensive discussions with them and after (BJP state president) Tamilisai Soundararajan commented against the likeliness of an alliance, we are more optimistic,” the source said.
DMK leaders, however, are positive about Ghulam Nabi Azad’s visit, citing this as an opportunity to revive the ties between the two old allies. “Ghulam Nabi Azad’s visit to Tamil Nadu is definitely a positive sign. It will also go a long way in reviving broken ties between the DMK and Congress. But substantive talks can only begin after we clearly identify and partner with our allies,” said a DMK leader close to Karunanidhi. “Congress has never been a major player in Tamil Nadu. But they have, indeed, commanded a captive vote bank of at least 5-6%. They can be a very good ally in these elections,” he said.
DMK had broken ties with the Congress in 2013 ostensibly over the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils, at a time when controversy over the 2G spectrum scam was raging.