March 29, 2014

WHAT IS IN A MANIFESTO?


VIAKO'S BIZZARE POLL PROMISES

Courtesy: India 272

Led by the firebrand Tamil leader V Gopalsamy alias Vaiko, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) has never been able to break big in electoral politics in Tamil Nadu. Once seen by many as a potential challenger to the monopoly of the two main Dravidian parties in the state - the DMK and the AIADMK, the outfit has only tasted 'success', I mean, won a handful seats when it has allied with bigger players. Vaiko started his political journey with the DMK and was considered by many as the ideological successor to Karunanidhi. He was the undisputed No 2 in the party, boasting of a huge fan following of his own. However, after it became that Karuna had chosen his sons - M K Stalin and M K Alagiri to lead 'his' outfit, Vaiko left the DMK and floated his own party. Though a sizable number of the DMK cadre joined him, the outfit won no seats on its debut. As we can see from the below chart, Vaiko and his MDMK have been 'fringe' player in Tamil politics. Now, compare this to say, Vijaykanth's DMDK (Link) and you realize that in spite of entering politics in 2005, Captain has managed to attract the anti-DMK, anti-AIADMK votes. On the other hand, Vaiko has failed, rather failed miserably in this regards.

Its easy to see why, Vaiko has never fulfilled his 'true potential' despite being one of the most popular leader in the state. A fiery orator, he is arguably the most vociferous supporter of the banned LTTE in the country. He is said to have met chief Prabhakaran while on a visit to Jaffna and was also jailed under the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act by Jayalalitha for this. Though I personally do not believe in the Sri Lankan Tamil 'cause' (I think that we have too many problems in our own country and we should think about them rather than interfering in the internal matters of our neighbors), one has to give credit to Vaiko for being firm on his views, especially in a state where netas can change their stance based on which way the wind is blowing. Like a crusader who keeps on fighting for what he believes in, the MDMK boss never loses any opportunity to hit out at the Lankan government. However, what he fails to realize, or perhaps he ignores is the fact that while they have solidarity for their brethren across the Palk Strait, the people of Tamil Nadu, like in all other states want their leaders to tackle their basic needs. If only, the Lankan Tamils could vote in India Vaiko would surely have occupied the top posts.

Year
Election
Alliance
Seats Won
11996
State Elections
Left
0
21996
General Elections
-
0
31998
General Elections
AIADMK & BJP
3
41999
General Elections
DMK & BJP
4
52001
State Elections
-
0
62004
General Elections
DMK & Congress
4
72006
State Elections
AIADMK
6
82009
General Elections
Left
1
92011
State Elections
-
-

In the upcoming polls, Vaiko is a part of the BJP's grand alliance in Tamil Nadu (Link). Under the pre-poll agreement between the six parties that constitute this front, MDMK will contest seven seats. The coalition will be lead by Vijaykanth. Will this election see Vaiko making an impact? Actually, the MDMK has never won any seats when he has not allied either of the two big regional parties. Although, the NDA looks strong on paper, it remains to be seen if it can make an impact by winning 5 to 10 seats. At the same time you have to keep in mind that Vaiko is a strange politician. The fact that he did not contest the 2011 state elections after talks with Amma failed, proves that he is not power hungry. As such, unlike say the AGP (Link) or the INLD, it is not a do or die elections for him. Having dedicated 'his life to fight for the rights of the Lankan Tamils', electoral results won't impact him personally. However, keeping in mind, the future of his party, especially after he steps down, it needs a good tally to remain relevant.

For that to happen, Vaiko has to make the right kind of noise and strike a chord with the people. Sadly, one look at the MDMK's manifesto, you realize that he has not learnt from his past mistakes. He talks about Tamil pride, Tamils in Jaffna and in other parts of the world. However, regarding the things on the ground, the ones that matter to the electorate, he doesn't seem to have any opinion. I know many of the MDMK supporters will argue with me on this. They will say what has the BJP done on the issue of Ram Mandir which has been mentioned in its manifesto since its inception. This despite of being in power for 6 years. And the Congress has never been able to curb poverty even after ruling the nation for six decades. Moreover, unlike in the West, not many Indians read the manifesto before voting for a candidate. However, the point that I am trying to make is that after joining politics, you need to talk about the issues that concern the people whom you wish to represent. However, in the MDMK manifesto, I find rather 'trivial' subjects, some of which do not matter to anyone, except for Vaiko, I guess. I want to specifically pick up certain points mentioned in the document and show you how the MDMK seems to be losing the plot and may end up with no seats even in 2014.

There has always been a feeling amongst Southern Indians, particularly the Tamilians that politics in the country is dominated by the Hindi speaking people and to be frank, this is to some extent, is a valid argument. As such, Dravidian politicians have used the plank of 'federalism' to get even with the counterparts in the heartland. One of the key features in the manifesto of all Tamil parties has been increasing the powers of the state government and scrapping of the Concurrent List. However, Vaiko has other ideas too. To 'further strengthen the federal structure of the nation', the MDMK chief wants to rename the country as 'United States of India'. Now, can anyone please explain to me as to how adopting a new name will help make the states powerful? I agree that the USA is a model nation for any federal state; however, its success is certainly not because of its name. I hope Vaiko gets this point. Next, in a bid to strike an emotional chord with the electorate, he has asked for revoking the ban on the LTTE and pressurizing the Lankan government to hold a referendum in the Tamil dominated north. It is unfortunate that the MDMK supremo has not yet accepted the stark reality - the LTTE, a terrorist organization was responsible for the death of one of our Prime Ministers. Besides, it was responsible for the death of hundreds of Indian soldiers who were stationed in the island country as a part of the Peace Keeping force in the early 90s. There is no way that the people of the country can forgive these extremists for such incidents and there is no question, whatsoever of revoking the ban.

One can understand Vaiko's demand for a referendum; after all, he seems to care more about Lankan Tamils than people in his own state. However, the fact remains that India just cannot force Ceylon to take steps which can potential harm its territorial integrity. Sri Lanka is an important strategic partner for India and we cannot afford to anger them. While it may not be have much influence on the international stage, we need to realize that our relations with the islanders is extremely crucial. Moreover, if we end up 'hurting' the Lankans, they will gravitate towards the Chinese who are trying to increase their influence in the Indian Ocean region. Moreover, similar demands from nations like Pakistan to settle the long standing dispute of Kashmir will prove detrimental to our interests. As if these demand were not enough, the MDMK has called for Tamils to be appointed as ambassadors to countries with significant Tamil population. Well, the 70 year old will know that ambassadors are representative of the country and are expected to work towards improving bilateral talks and solve differences and not to protect that country's ethnic Tamil population. Some times I wonder whether leaders of smaller parties have 'small, narrow-minded outlook'. In a bid to cater to their own vote bank, they just fail to see the national picture.

There are certain points in the MDMK manifesto which are good - protecting Tamil fishermen, establishing a bench of the Supreme Court in the South and inter-linking of rivers. However, I expect a senior politician and in my opinion, the most honest Dravidian politician to be more thoughtful. It will help our country if even our regional players would see the big picture before making 'unnecessary noise'. That would go a long way in making India a true federal democracy.