Tamil Nadu woke up to a splash of red, black and yellow on the front pages of all dailies. “In five years you would have seen the Chief Minister on stickers, on banners, even on television. Have you seen her in person?” screamed the advertisement. Following this was a hashtag #EnnammaIpdiPanreengalemma (Tamil dialogue meaning “What Amma, Why are you doing such things Amma?”) which has amused Twitterati no end.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has launched its election campaign on the day the Chief Minister and ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief Jayalalithaa’s 19-year-old case on disproportionate assets began to be heard in the Supreme Court. The prosecution, the Karnataka government began its final arguments in Supreme Court in their appeal against the acquittal of Jayalalithaa in a Rs 65 crore corruption case by the Karnataka High Court in May 2015.
The DMK’s heir apparent MK Stalin tweeted – “Do u want an absentee CM who’s seen only on stickers and hoardings, even during floods?” A video too has been released online by the DMK showing a young man saying the same dialogue that appeared in newspapers. The hashtag has also unleashed a number of memes mocking the ruling party and the Chief Minister by Kalaimani A .
The AIADMK has hit back in a similar vein through WhatsApp and social media. Their repartee goes like this – “In five years you would have seen Karunanidhi at the weddings of actresses, at functions held just to praise him, you would have even watched shows like Maanada Mayilaada (sarcastic dig at a popular dance show on Kalaignar TV which Karuna is said to be fond of). Have you seen him in the state Assembly?” Another meme along similar lines goes on to use the hashtag #EnnadaIpdipanreengaleda (Tamil term “da” is used to refer to men/boys to show familiarity).
The hashtag #EnnammaIpdipanreengalemma used by the DMK is a popular phrase among the youth since 2015, when it was originally used by television host Lakshmy Ramakrishnan during her show Solvathellam Unmai on Zee Tamil. The phrase caught popular imagination and was used widely in movies and songs subsequently in a mocking, comic manner.
Political analysts say that the DMK choosing to use slogans linked with popular culture is a tradition. “DMK’s political culture has always been linked with popular culture – with cinema, drama and mass media,” said Gnani Sankaran, author and political hawk. “There is nothing surprising about them using phrases like these. The DMK always tries to be trendy,” he laughed.
In the 1950s when the Congress was in power and the DMK sat in the Opposition, there was a railway accident near Ariyalur, narrated Gnani. Ovi Alagesan was the Railway Minister at the time. In line with the popular culture at the time, the DMK coined the slogan – “Ariyalur Alagesa, nee aandadhu podhaadha, makkal maandadhu podhaadha” meaning “Ariyalur Alagesan, isn’t it time for you to stop ruling and for people to stop suffering?”
Similarly in the 1950s there was a practice, a relic of the British Raj, whereby legislative Assembly sessions would be held in the cool climes of Ooty in summer. The DMK coined a slogan in those days – “Umbi eriyudhu, kudal karugudhu, kulukulu Ooty oru kaeda” meaning “Stomachs are burning, intestines are melting, where is the need for chilly Ooty?”
This campaign by the DMK is targeted mainly at young voters, the upwardly mobile and tech savvy who want access to leaders and demand engagement. The AIADMK, on the other hand, is on a massive branding spree, erecting banners and hoardings of their leader across the state, on buses and even at mass weddings conducted by the party. The ruling party is hoping that the welfare schemes rolled out by this regime would stand them in good stead in the upcoming Assembly polls.
“It looks like a very difficult election,” said Gnani Sankaran. “There are no specific trends indicated. Even now there is no perceptible anti-AIADMK mood despite the opposition making a lot of noise. At the moment it appears that there is also a possibility of a hung Assembly in the elections. That would be a first for Tamil Nadu if it happens,” he said.
The DMK is also pinning its hopes on the appeal in Supreme Court against Jayalalithaa’s acquittal swinging their way. Arguments have commenced in the appeal and the verdict would be a crucial one for Tamil Nadu as it would mean the difference between a possible jail term and a possible consecutive term as Chief Minister for Jayalalithaa.
For the first time, Tamil Nadu politics is witnessing many fronts as smaller parties group together to form various ‘alternative’ fronts against the two major Dravidian parties. How these fronts will splinter votes and how alliances will take shape will likely decide the victor in 2016. The final countdown has begun – for all leaders and political parties in the southern state.