The State dominated by personality-based Dravidian parties since 1967, hardly witnessed any debate about the CM candidate in the past

Tamil Nadu witnessed an unusual political drama this Independence Day within hours of Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami unfurling the national flag at Fort St. George. The subdued celebrations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were overtaken by dramatic scenes of Ministers shuttling in SUVs between the official residences of Mr. Palaniswami and his deputy in government O. Panneerselvam, ostensibly to resolve a row over who would be the AIADMK’s Chief Ministerial candidate for 2021.

Also read: AIADMK may not win next election but it will not disappear: Thirunavukkarasar

The development, eight months ahead of Assembly elections, was unusual, as the State dominated by personality-based Dravidian parties since 1967, hardly witnessed any debate about the CM candidate in the past.

For the time being, the AIADMK has decided to keep in abeyance a decision on the CM candidate.

In the Opposition camp, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) chief K.S. Alagiri on Monday declared that DMK president M.K. Stalin would be the Secular Progressive Alliance’s choice for the post.

Also read: Alliance with DMK will continue, says Cong.

In the last 60-odd years, the general practice with the major parties was not to make any formal announcement about the nominee for the CM’s post prior to the Assembly polls. It was well known that K. Kamaraj, C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa were the natural choices for the post.

A few exceptions

There were a few exceptions. In the 1980 Assembly polls when the DMK and the Congress had agreed to contest 110 seats each, a controversy erupted whether the office of Chief Minister should go to the DMK or the Congress, in the event of the alliance getting a majority in the polls. The delay in resolving the issue had even led to suspension of talks between the two parties at one stage. Eventually, it was left to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to announce that the office would go to the DMK which meant Karunanidhi.

Also read: Amidst debate over CM candidate, OPS calls for unity

At that time, Karunanidhi came in for criticism within the party as the perception about the tie-up was that the Congress had been allotted seats disproportionate to its actual electoral strength. But the DMK chief was looking for the political resurrection of his party, given the fact that it had been out of power for four years since the dismissal of his Ministry in January 1976.

At the same time, there was another view in the DMK that the partnership with the Congress was needed to stage a comeback, as the national party was regarded as a catalyst in elections in the State, ensuring the success of whichever party joined hands with it. This was based on the victory achieved by the DMK-Congress combine during the 1971 Lok Sabha-Assembly polls and the 1980 parliamentary elections, and that of the AIADMK-Congress alliance in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls.

It was another matter that in 1980, the DMK’s arch rival, AIADMK, whose Ministry too was dismissed in February, made a triumphant return to power and its founder M.G. Ramachandran became Chief Minister again.

In 2006, DMDK founder Vijayakant entered the poll fray as the CM candidate but he was the lone candidate to win. Ten years later, when the Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) contested alone, it had announced that Anbumani Ramadoss would be the CM candidate. But, the party drew a blank.

A senior AIADMK leader feels that the advent of 24/7 electronic media has pushed parties to declare CM candidates making it a campaign of sorts.

‘Strong, reliable candidate’

A. Saravanan, DMK spokesperson, however, says, “While there is confusion in the rival camp about the CM candidate, we want to send out a message that we have a strong and reliable leader in Mr. Stalin.”

Projecting a potential CM candidate or the absence of it sometimes makes no difference for the electorate. For instance in 2001, the electorate voted for the AIADMK alliance though Jayalalithaa’s nominations were rejected in four constituencies.

The absence of “charismatic” leaders in the AIADMK may however leave the floor open, it is felt.

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