Resurgent DMK takes on post-Jaya AIADMK; debutants hold key

DMK workers at Stalin's rally (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

Along with Kerala, Tamil Nadu will choose its next government on Tuesday. The opposition DMK seemed set to rebound if opinion polls were any indication.

The political landscape witnessed visible signs of imminent cyclones too. Former chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s influential associate Sasikala was released from jail, sparking speculations of a renewed power struggle in the ruling AIADMK. Matinee idol Rajinikanth’s promised debut in politics seemed to be a game-changer in Tamil Nadu politics. Both events fizzled out, like the routine cyclone warnings triggered by the depressions over the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.

The 6 crore electors of Tamil Nadu, however, may have their own agendas when they go to the polling booths on Tuesday. These undercurrents will decide the destiny of the state for the next five years and transform the political landscape of the state.

The DMK seemed to have an upper hand as the campaign ended for the first election without former chief ministers M Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK is definitely missing the charisma and crowd-swaying capacity of Jayalalithaa but her powerful satraps are hopeful of carrying the day. Most of the party candidates are locally influential politicians with deep pockets and political connections.

DMK leader M K Stalin is leading an alliance that contains 13 parties including the Congress and the Left parties. A victory is inevitable for the party which has been out of power in the state for a decade.

Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy has emerged as a leader who can match Stalin’s stature. Not many observers expected him to last as the chief minister given the factional feuds of the AIADMK after the death of Jayalalithaa. However, he is well aware of the repercussions of an electoral fiasco.

Upsetting the equations are new political parties such as Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam, TTV Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhakam and Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi. The votes they manage to squeeze out of both dominant fronts could be decisive in any outcome. 

Each of the three debutants is expected to gain 5 per cent of votes at least. Dinakaran may eat into AIADMK’s base, especially in the southern parts of the state. Dinakaran has emerged as a force to reckon with by allying with Vijayakanth’s DMDK, which walked out of its alliance with the AIADMK and the BJP unable to agree on the seat-sharing. 

While Kamal Haasan could command votes in urban areas, activist-director Seeman’s sub-nationalistic arguments could arouse the rural voters. Who do they benefit from is anybody’s guess.

Freebies and law and order

The campaigns of all fronts initially pivoted on their respective manifestos. Wages for homemakers were mooted along with freebies including washing machines and cooking gas cylinders. 

The AIADMK highlighted the government’s welfare measures and raised the spectrum of a breakdown of law and order in case the DKM was elected. NDA leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi sniped at the dynasty politics in the DMK. 

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (L) along with Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister O Panneerselvam
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (L) along with Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister O Panneerselvam arrives to present the interim budget in the assembly, in Chennai, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. Photo: PTI

The DMK hit back at Palaniswamy, accusing him of submitting Tamil pride in front of the central government.

DMK ally Congress is contesting 25 seats. The party hopes to win at least 15 of them. The BJP has high stakes in the game. The party expects to win more than the four seats, its highest tally, it won as a DMK ally in 2001.

The CPI and the CPM are contesting from six seats each. They could win all seats if there is a wave in favour of the DMK-led alliance. The Muslim League is in the fray in three seats.

Star power

Kamal Haasan is definitely the top celebrity on the election scene. He is leading the onslaught of his new party as a candidate in Coimbatore South, where he is faced with Congress state working president Mayura Jayakumar and Mahila Morcha national president Vanati Sreenivasan. 

Actor Khushbu, who recently switched from the Congress to the BJP, is the party candidate in Chennai’s Thousand Lights constituency. Her active campaign is no guarantee to wrest the DMK stronghold.

Another actor in the fray is Udhayanidhi Stalin, the son of the DMK president, in Chepauk. Kamal Haasan’s associate and yesteryear actor Sripriya is contesting from Mylapore in the city.

Four directions

Tamil Nadu’s political landscapes can be divided into four. Each of these territories has its own social issues and electoral equations. Chennai and the northern parts of Tamil Nadu have stood by the DMK through the thick and thin of politics. Yet a PMK-AIADMK combine proves to be a force that can match the DMK’s strength. The combine may benefit from the government’s decision to grant 10.5 per cent reservation to the Vanniyar community, at the cost of driving the other communities to the DMK camp.

The AIADMK, however, is wary of the presence of Dinakaran in south Tamil Nadu. Sasikala and her team could portray herself as a victim before her community of Thevars. The Thevars are also peeved at the government’s decision to grant reservation to the Vanniyars. 

Sasikala has steered clear of politics but made her presence known in public life through temple visits. Dinakaran managed to win about 10 per cent votes in south Tamil Nadu in the Lok Sabha election. If he manages to pull it off again, the AIADMK has reasons to worry. Even deputy chief minister O P Panneerselvam would find it hard to sail through in Bodinayakanur.

VK Sasikala quits politics ahead of Assembly Elections in Tamil Nadu
VK Sasikala | Photo: IANS

The central part of the state with the fertile Cauvery delta is DMK territory. The Congress and the Left parties have their pockets of influence in the area. There is nothing to suggest an upset there.

The AIADMK avers by the western Tamil Nadu, also known as Kongunadu. The party won 47 seats in the sector that includes Coimbatore. The DMK was reduced to 13 seats. The Gounder community is expected to stand by the chief minister. 

The AIADMK will have a problem in Kongunadu if the Vanniyar appeasement leads to a consolidation of other communities. Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam could challenge both fronts in western parts of Tamil Nadu.

Puducherry drama

The BJP is trying to fish in the muddy waters of Puducherry, where it dislodged the Congress ministry by luring in rival MLAs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has campaigned twice in Puducherry. Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman have also conducted roadshows.

The NDA seemed to have an upper hand in the 30-seat state. The Congress is still smarting from the humiliating defections to the BJP. The Congress workers are also peeved at the decision to yield 13 seats to the DMK. Former chief minister V Narayana Swamy has opted out of the race. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s campaign did little to lift the spirit of Congress workers.


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