For nearly three decades, the Tamil Nadu electorate has changed sides between the AIADMK and DMK.
Since MG Ramachandran, no chief minister has managed to hold power for more than one term in the state. Considering this historical trend of cyclical swings, along with Amma's limited campaigning because of her poor health, perceived haughtiness and aloofness, lack of alliance partners, legal troubles over corruption cases and the widely-resented mismanagement of the Chennai floods, these elections should have been a walkover for the DMK.
Instead, when the results were declared on May 19, Amma became the first chief minister in Tamil Nadu since MGR to win two back-to-back terms. This defeat for the DMK exposes serious issues within the party itself.
It has been so discredited on account of its own corruption (2G scam under DMK's A Raja) and nepotism (many members of the Karunanidhi family occupy prime party posts) that it was unable to use Jayalalithaa's personal corruption sagas to its benefit.
Its vote bank has been smaller than that of the AIADMK and the party is dependent on allies, unlike Jayalalithaa. It has also failed to present a credible policy alternative to Jayalalithaa to inspire a vote of change.
But if these problems have ensured the DMK's three consecutive defeats in electoral outings (2011 Assembly, 2014 Lok Sabha and now 2016 Assembly elections), it's only going to get worse. It stares at a dark future ahead. Here's why:
1. Leadership crisis
For nearly half a century, Karunanidhi has been the face and undisputed leader of the DMK. His legendary scriptwriting, inspiring oratory, history of struggle for Tamilian and rational causes have empowered many a voter to remain DMK's staunch supporter. His charismatic personality has held the DMK in good stead against Jayalalithaa's flamboyance and appeal.
But at 91, how much can Karunanidhi do? This was perhaps the last election in which DMK benefited from his leadership. This time around, his campaigning seemed more restricted than ever. Winning this election would have landed him a perfect opportunity to pass on the baton to his heir apparent MK Stalin.
Unfortunately, things don't look good for Stalin too. As the lead strategist and planner of the DMK's campaign, Stalin will be blamed for the party's historic defeat.
Also, Stalin is more of a backroom operator, known more for his organisational acumen than for his ability to set the stage on fire. So in the coming time, the DMK will be devoid of a leader who can match its adversary, Jayalalithaa's appeal and charm.
In these critical times, it can be a fatal blow to the DMK.
2. Impending infighting
Karunanidhi's elder son and Madurai strongman MK Alagiri has already refused to accept Stalin as the DMK's next chief. He stayed away in these Assembly elections and had expressed his displeasure with the DMK leadership publicly.
|MK Alagiri. (PTI)|
Following DMK's loss in these polls, one can expect more bickering within the Karunanidhi family now. Let's not forget that Stalin's detractors and his siblings will not let go of this opportunity to get even with him. The DMK's loss could not have come at a worse time.
3. Longest time away from power may fuel desertions
The DMK has never stayed out of power this long. It will be a decade by the next Assembly elections before it gets a chance to redeem itself. None of its MPs have managed to grab a seat at the Centre since 2009. Also, Modi and Jayalalithaa's increasing bonhomie is a warning sign for the DMK.
Today, the DMK has been reduced to a fiefdom of a single family with no chances of any outsider to make it big in the party. Currently, it is viewed as a party merely run by power-hungry politicians. With such conditions prevailing in the party, it will be no surprise if members end up abandoning a sinking ship.
In light of these challenges, it's important that the DMK realises the loss of the Assembly elections is just the beginning of its many travails. A rougher road awaits the party.
How it measures up to the gargantuan task will determine if it still has a future in Tamil Nadu.