The Dravidian parties are among the very few political parties that can be termed ‘progressive’ in India. Their political platform combines a brand of linguistic chauvinism, welfare, tokenism and most importantly a philosophical basis for progressive egalitarianism.
Typically, between the two major Dravidian parties, the DMK is long on the philosophic roots of Dravidian movement while the AIADMK concentrates on actionable “schemes”. This was particularly true in the 2011 Assembly election manifestos. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the contrast between the two parties in terms of their manifestos is still interesting.
The DMK manifesto’s two important promises that make it the most progressive political party in India are,
- The party wants its most profound social reform in Tamil Nadu — The Self Respect Marriage Act of 1968 — implemented all over India.
- The party wants to abolish Death penalty. No ifs. No buts.
As recent observers of Tamil Nadu might have noted with much horror, the PMK and some other small caste parties have tried to argue for outlawing inter-caste marriages in a state that brought in legislation a generation and a half ago for explicitly encouraging it. Now the DMK reminds us, despite the problems of contemporary Tamil society, there is much in it that’s worthy of emulation. Especially by rest of India that did not have a rationalist or a self-respect movement spawning all of 20th Century.
The AIADMK is silent on both these issues. But there is a faithful convergence on most other pet Dravidian issues: like making Tamil an official language of India, making Tamil a language for use in the Madras High Court, sabre rattling on Sri Lanka, women’s reservation bill, welfare of fishermen, welfare of the old, young, minorities and everyone else who is a voting block, opposition to FDI in retail and many other aspects on which there is no political space for another opinion in Tamil Nadu. The two Dravidian Parties are also the only ones in India to have a transgender persons welfare agenda on their manifestos.
The traditional plank of federalism that is one of the philosophical basis of Dravidian polity offers an interesting divergence between the two parties. The DMK’s manifesto is long on rhetoric but offers little in concrete terms. Its opposition to Article 356 stays in the manifesto, given the number of times M Karunanidhi’s government has been dismissed. However, the AIADMK makes new and pointed critiques on the subject. The AIADMK manifesto, possibly the only one in the country, takes on the Raghuram Rajan Committee report and wants the Planning Commission to ignore it completely. The argument against it made by J Jayalalithaa is reminiscent of Indira Gandhi administration’s reason for freezing delimitation across states in 1976: progressive states are being punished for their success. J Jayalalithaa is perhaps the only Chief Minister from the list of states that the Rajan Commitee classifies as developed — Goa, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Haryana  — to take up the issue of reduced financial allocation to prosperous states in the name of redistribution of wealth to under-developed states. Along similar lines, the AIADMK manifesto also wants central grants shared under Article 275 to not be under the discretion of the Central government. Instead, it argues, the revenue raised from the states through cess etc should be equally shared with the state.
Both these are strong arguments against Delhi. And they seem to be moving towards a kind economic federalism, beyond the political one of DMK. Interestingly, in an era of Chief Ministerial aspirants for the Prime Minister’s post, no other candidate seems to have made such an argument.
Another area of curious divergence between the two Dravidian parties is economic policy. Both manifestos make a lot of noise on the role of government in society, given their social democrat and populist roots. However, it’s clear that the DMK has become a party of business in the recent years. While the AIADMK goes far enough to say it will not tolerate disinvestment of any kind in PSUs, the DMK is merely not in favour of shutting down certain sick PSUs. The AIADMK manifesto makes a distinction between FII and FDI; the party wants to tax the former a lot more and discourage it while encouraging the latter. This, the manifesto claims, is the way to achieve stability in currency. Meanwhile, the DMK is silent on these issues, possibly suggesting a far more business friendly tone.
 — It’s strange why Prakash Singh Badal or some of the BJP Chief Ministers in that list have remained silent.
 — China, according to many an apocryphal story in Madras, has fascinated the Thevar lobby in AIADMK for long.