Voting patterns, Anti-Hindutva Assertion and Caste Dynamics at Play in Tamil Nadu Elections 2020

In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, challenge to centre's policies such as the farm laws, the CAA, etc, have played a major role in opposing BJP and mainstreaming criticism of Hindutva ideology in the electoral arena.

Tamil Nadu
DMK wins state assembly elections

Tamil Nadu Election results did not come as a surprise when one looks at the victory of DMK alliance winning with a majority of 159 seats in the 234 seats. AIADMK came to second with securing 75 seats in the house.

While the Secular Progressive Alliance led by DMK and the National Democratic Alliance led by AIADMK managed to secure the majority of the vote share, other parties included, Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi, Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), and TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munentra Kazhagam (AMMK). Other than NTK, the others did not manage to make much gains in the state.

In 2016, the AIADMK government secured a 41.1% vote share having a mere 1.1% lead over DMK’s 39.8. At the time, the party contested alone; this time around it allied itself with Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), BJP, the Tamil Maanila Congress and few others.

The DMK this time around had allied itself with parties such as Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), left parties such as CPI and CPI(Marxist), and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. 

Nature of Campaigning in Tamil Nadu

Parties of the secular alliance have been strong critics of the AIADMK and BJP’s  policies, with President of the DMK alliance, MK.Stalin calling the AIADMK, “slaves of the BJP”. This theme of the AIADMK having ‘sold-out’ to the BJP, and both having failed in many promises, was common throughout the party’s campaign. A memorable instance of this is when, Udayanidhi Stalin, who won the seat in Chepauk constituency, as part of his campaign in Sattur in southern Tamil Nadu, carried a brick with the word AIIMS written on it saying

When Prime Minister Modi visited Tamil Nadu back in 2017, the Centre promised to construct an AIIMS hospital in Madurai; I happened to visit AIIMS, and this was all I found!

Thol Thirumavalavan is known for his Ambedkarite-Periyarist Polictcs

Parties such as the VCK (which won 4 out of 6 seats contested) were especially vocal in highlighting the sanatani forces in BJP’s politics, stating in its manifesto that rather than attaining power, the goal was to “ wage ideological warfare” against forces of oppression, fascism, and communalism. Reservation rights of dalits, adivasis, and women, as well as banning all projects in the delta districts, are prominent parts of the manifesto as well. The work of VCK president Thol. Thirumalavalan in the elections is important to note here, as he strongly aligned his party with secular forces outside of electoral politics, for example he organised several anti-CAA protests across Tamil Nadu, he also led protests and demonstrations against the Manusmriti. He has constantly asserted a social justice, ambedkarite and periyarist framework, that has extended beyond merely elections, and acknowledged the importance of social and ideological transformation. 

BJP’s campaigning in the state was characterised by many attempts to show allegiance to, and appropriate ‘Tamil culture’ into the Hindutva fold, which is inherently brahmanical, ideologically and in terms of key leadership positions within Hindutva parties often being dominated by Brahmins. In an interview we have done with Sasikanth Senthil, he mentions how the foundations laid by the self-respect and rationalist movements led by Periyar, have played a key role in opposing Hindutva forces from entering the state. With the focus on linguistic unity among Tamils and Dravidian identity within these movements, religion is not as polarising in the state as it is up north. Along with this, the rise of intermediate castes in electoral politics in the state as opposed to a primarily Brahmin dominated electoral arena, as can be seen in states such as West Bengal, UP, etc, has also contributed to the hostility towards Hindutva parties in the state. 

Voting Patterns along Caste lines 

There was a different voting patterns in different regions of Tamil Nadu. Both northern and southern districts as well as the Delta region, saw a sweep for the DMK alliance. The sustained protests organised by the DMK and left parties against farm laws in the delta region specifically helped secure a victory for the alliance. A large number of voters who contributed to DMK vote share in the northern regions belong to the Vanniyar and Mudhiliar castes. 

Western parts of the state however, see an AIADMK majority. This could be due to the fact that this region is dominated by people from the Gounder caste. Considering that President of AIADMK, Edappadi Palaniswami himself is from the Gounder caste, many from the community might’ve been inclined to vote in favour of his party. There are a number of small industries in the western region, run by members of the Gounder caste, who want to consolidate an “all india market” and thus were more inclined to vote for the AIADMK-BJP alliance. The AIADMK move leading up to the elections (on the demands of PMK), to create a separate quota for reservation of Vanniyars within the MBC reservations, led to backlash by non-Vanniyar castes; this definitely reduced AIADMK’s numbers significantly. 

The BJP’ won seats in 4 constituencies namely Coimbatore South, Nagercoil, Tirunalveli, and Modakurichi. In terms of BJP winning a seat in southern Coimbatore, the presence of Gujaratis and Marwadis, many of whom run businesses in the district, has contributed heavily to the pro-BJP atmosphere in the district. 

Increase in Popularity in Xenophobic Nationalism?

An interesting result in the election was the heavy vote share that Tamil Nationalist party, Naam Tamilar Katchi received.

While in the run-up to the elections, Kamal Hassan’s party, MNM and TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK were thought to be the alternative parties people would opt to vote for, it came as a surprise that Seeman’s NTK has come up as the second or third runner up in a number of constituencies especially in urban areas such as Thiruverumbur, Tiruchy East, Tambaram, Sriperumbudur, Alandur, Avadi. It also managed to secure votes in a number of rural pockets such as Thiruvaiyaru, Kallakurichi, Thiruvadanai, Kunnam, Jayankondam, among others.

We spoke to social activist Bhaskar on this phenomenon. Bhaskar said- this could be an indication of growing popularity of Tamil Chauvinism and xenophobia. The party is known for its anti-Telugu, anti- Kanada and anti-Malayali stance, and often the castes of members of these communities are antagonised by the party ideology. 

The DMK alliance, coming to power in the state, poses a challenge to the leadership at the center. The same can be seen in states like West Bengal and Kerala. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, specifically, local bodies have put in ground level work, and aligned themselves with secular forces, to challenge policies such as the farm laws, the CAA, etc, which has played a major role in opposing BJP and mainstreaming criticism of Hindutva ideology in the electoral arena. In Tamil Nadu the presence of Ambedkarite and  Periyarist ideology as can be seen in parties such as VCK and DMK, manage to expose Brahmanical roots of BJP and their policies.

The author thanks Bhaskar for his inputs. 

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