New narrative: DMK’s eloquent speakers now face a challenge from two different ideologies, each headed by an equally proficient orator — Seeman and Annamalai
New narrative: DMK’s eloquent speakers now face a challenge from two different ideologies, each headed by an equally proficient orator — Seeman and Annamalai

Ever since the Dravidian movement took root in Tamil Nadu, elections have been only about who will come to power. Now, for the first time, the elections in Tamil Nadu are as much about a clash of ideologies, as about who would occupy the throne for the next five years.

The State is set to see a four-cornered fight, representing three vastly differing ideologies.

First, there is the incumbent, Periyarist ideology, upheld by the Dravidian parties DMK and AIADMK. This lays emphasis on social justice and equality, leftist approach to the economy and Tamil identity. The difference between DMK and AIADMK is that the latter is less atheistic than the former. Periyar and Anna are the gurus of this ideology.

The second ideology is that of development-oriented, somewhat right-of-centre, Indian nationalism with a whiff of Hindutva, upheld and propagated by BJP. This philosophy was totally absent until very recently but has firmly taken root and is growing fast. Notably, during all these years, BJP was a junior member of some formation, but this time around, as the preceptor of the ideology, it leads the alliance.

The third creed is that of fierce Tamil nationalism, led by the Naam Tamilar Katchi (We Tamils Party), whose philosophical underpinnings spring from the late Sri Lankan Tamil separatist leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. Naam Tamilar Katchi is still small, with about 7 per cent vote share, but is gaining ground, mainly because of the brilliant, fiery oratorical skills of its leader, Seeman. Some like this thinking, while others believe it to be inimical, as it dangerously borders on Tamil separatism.

Thus, we have two differing doctrines challenging the well-entrenched Peryarist Dravidian thinking and chipping it away at the edges. The 2024 elections will put wind behind the sails of one of them. Political analyst, Prashant Kishore, has repeatedly made the point that the combined vote share of the two Dravidian parties (DMK and AIADMK) has slipped below 70 per cent and is losing ground — meaning that a third of Tamil Nadu is now willing to experiment with an ideology that has not been around for six decades.

After successfully persuading PMK to join its fold, BJP has formed a solid alliance. Its mission in the 2024 elections is to demonstrate a respectable vote share, regardless of seat wins — for, after all, BJP is not dependent upon Tamil Nadu for forming government at Delhi. Its success will be a barometer to gauge the inroads that its ideology has made in the State.

The one to watch — not without some trepidation — is the growth of Naam Tamilar Katchi. In the assembly elections of 2021, it did not win a single seat but displayed its growing heft by coming third in several constituencies. In his speeches, Seeman stops just short of preaching violence and repeatedly invokes Prabhakaran. He manages to gather good crowds by his screechy underscoring of the supremacy of the Tamils, which he embellishes by wild gesticulations and shakes of fisted, outstretched arms. He wins hearts by pointing out that despite receiving multiple, ‘lucrative’ offers for alliance he has stood alone, even if only to be a pauper. However, Seeman is not known for his knowledge of economics or science. His faith is in a well-walled economy which finds resources for everybody within.

As for science, well, here is a story he recently told an audience. The US and USSR were in the race for space supremacy. Neil Armstrong and Yuri Gagarin were up there and it was a question of who would land on the moon first. Yuri Gagarin got a message from Earth saying, “jump”, but he hesitated. Neil Armstrong seized that moment of hesitation and jumped on to the moon, thus winning the race for the US. Heartbroken and consumed by shame, Yuri Gagarin committed suicide. (Gagarin actually died in a plane crash in 1968.)

The lesson of the story, Seeman told his delighted audience, is that you should not hesitate. This is the now-or-never moment to save the Tamil race, he said.

DMK has always been known for its army of eloquent speakers whose magnetic oratory pulled people to itself. Now, it is challenged by two different ideologies, each headed by an equally proficient orator — Seeman and BJP’s Annamalai.

Therefore, the 2024 elections is for Tamil Nadu an epochal one.