ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Crucible of Tamil Nadu’s Sociopolitical Ethos

2021 Assembly Elections

Based on shifts in Tamil Nadu’s economy and polity, the prospects for emergence of political alternatives to the two dominant Dravidian parties are examined in the context of the upcoming assembly elections. Despite the emergence of cracks in the constituency forged by Dravidian mobilisation, the core elements of Dravidian ethos continue to hold electoral appeal.


A state that has been relatively immune to the Narendra Modi wave, Tamil Nadu (TN) awaits assembly elections this year. Having alternated in power for more than half a century, the two Dravidian parties1 seek to sustain their electoral dominance. But many ­observers hold that the recent death of key leaders of both parties opens up possibilities for alternate political formations. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), through its alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam ­(AIADMK) and intense campaign against the ethos that informs Dravidian politics, is seeking a foothold. Other state-level political parties like Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar Katchi (NTK) that ­invokes an ethnicised Tamil identity and the recently launched Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) too are hopeful. The Dravida Munnetra Kaz­hagam (DMK) has been out of power for a decade, and this election is crucial for its political future as well as for the long-term sustenance of its ideological appeal. The upcoming election thus poses a ­series of questions for both immediate electoral prospects for the different political actors as well as for longer-term prospects of their competing political appeals.

What are the challenges faced by the two Dravidian parties, the DMK in particular, in articulating a political vision rooted in Dravidian-Tamil commonsense that can appeal to a transforming eco­nomy and society? To those commi­tted to a Dravidian vision of social justice through socio-economic empowerment of subaltern castes, the question is if TN would continue to electorally resist the BJP. In other words, can the ethos of Dravidian politics continue to shape electoral outcomes despite att­acks on it from other parties, the BJP in particular? A related question therefore is whether the strategies wielded by the BJP to make inroads into other states can actually work in TN. Third, what do state-level political parties like the NTK or the MNM mean for the two dominant parties? Finally, now that the AIADMK has decided to continue its alliance with the BJP, what does it mean for the party?

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Updated On : 15th Apr, 2021
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