First Andhra Pradesh, and now Tamil Nadu — the unravelling of the Congress’s election strategy, and that of the United Progressive Alliance by extension— could not have happened in a more spectacular fashion. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has refused to have any truck with the Congress for the 2014 general elections, thereby putting an end to a decade-old partnership that has been on a roller-coaster ride since 2011 when the DMK lost the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. The DMK’s decision is not surprising. It could not have stuck on after the recent assembly election results in several states proved the Congress to be a sinking ship. Both the Dravida Kazhagam parties in the state have been attracted to the Congress for the dividends it fetched them at the Centre. The DMK’s ditching of its partner at the penultimate hour, having extracted the last pound in the form of Congress support for the Rajya Sabha membership of Kanimozhi earlier this year, shows that the DMK sees the Congress’s winnability at the Centre to be zero. That makes it over-zealous to preserve its own turf in the state, especially since there is a possibility — given Tamil Nadu’s tradition of returning opposite verdicts for the assembly and Lok Sabha elections — that the electorate might not be completely indifferent to its charm. At the recent bypolls in Yercaud, the DMK managed to attract almost 30 per cent of the votes despite having lost the elections. Without the Congress, which stands accused of having sacrificed the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils, the DMK might improve its performance. The DMK is also realistic enough to admit that it needs alliances to make a significant impact on the electoral scenario. That could only mean fresh churning as the Dravida Kazhagam parties battle it out to put as many smaller parties as they can into their kitty so as to garner the maximum possible vote share. Like the Congress, the other national party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, may find itself left out of this fray.
For Tamil Nadu’s state Congress unit, this is a moment of reckoning. Factionalism and memories of the 1996 split continue to haunt it. Despite the many leaders it has sent to national politics, the Tamil Nadu Congress remains a faceless entity among the swirl of the Dravida Kazhagam parties and innumerable caste-based outfits. As with the central leadership, this may be a time of “deep introspection” for the state Congress unit as well.