What AAP should learn from the failure of Tamil Manila Congress-Aditi Phadnis | New Delhi/BS

December 9, 2013 at 12:14 am

The year was 1996, the atmosphere not that different from today. Stung by several scams, including one that brought the Prime Minister’s Office under direct scrutiny, the PV Narasimha Rao government was on its last shred of credibility. The Harshad Mehta stock market scam broke towards the middle of Rao’s term – where an iconic stock market broker used ready forward deals and fake bank receipts to fund a bull run in the market that was almost entirely without substance.
Rao also used CBI to ‘find’ fictitious diaries alleging payments made to politicians and got CBI to file cases against them. The government (it was a minority government) also paid off the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) to vote in its favour in a no-confidence motion. The Ram Mandir movement had already been launched by LK Advani.

In other words, in an environment not unlike today, of loss of hope, innocence and Rao’s less than charismatic personality, the Congress decided to change partners in Tamil Nadu. The DMK was already an untouchable, having been cited in the Jain Commission as being responsible for Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. So instead of going it alone on the state, the Congress approached another party that also had as many cases of corruption against it, the ADMK.
Angered by this, there was a rebellion in the Congress cadres in the state. One of the Congress’s most loyal stalwarts, GK Moopanar was virtually handed over the leadership of the movement. In the Congress headquarters in Chennai, cadres tore down portraits of Narasimha rao, stamped on them and urinated on them for pushing them into an alliance they did not want. The rallying cry was: back to Kamaraj rule, the era when austerity, clean politics and ideology had ruled.
In short it was a lot like the birth of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
But what happened after that ?
P Chidambaram became the Finance Minister in two successive governments – one led by HD Deve Gowda and another by IK Gujral. In the 1996 assembly elections the party won 39 assembly seats and in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, it seemed it had become a phenomenon that had come to stay, winning 20 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu.
GK Moopanar’s own diffidence led him to turn down the prime ministership of the United Front government. This was a mistake. In the 1998 general election, the Tamil Maanila Congress got just three Lok Sabha seats. But the spark was still there. In the 2001 assembly elections, TMC managed as many as 23 assembly seats.
But Moopanar died in 2001. the party came unstuck and most of it went back to the Congress. Chidambaram fought and won the 2004 election as a Congress nominee. To this day he believes that it was a mistake to wind up the Tamil Maanila Congress.
There are many who believe the space for a set up like AAP is limited on the national scene. But it is worth studying the Tamil Maanila Congress to understand what not to do when launching a new party.