Tamil Nadu, known for Dravidian duopoly, is now facing a new round of intense electoral battle between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in the absence of their stalwarts, Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi, respectively. And a new dimension in this election is the aggressive efforts by the BJP to make inroads into the State’s politics.
There are players too in the fray such as Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK). They, however, are likely to occupy a portion of the space available for formations other than those led by the two major parties.
In the 2016 Assembly elections, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), six-party Makkal Nala Kootani (People’s Welfare Front), the BJP and the NTK, which contested on their own, together netted 15.3% of the votes polled. With V.K. Sasikala, AMMK leader Mr. Dhinakaran’s aunt and former aide of Jayalalithaa, opting to step aside from active politics, the three-year-old AMMK, which secured a vote share of 5.25% in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, appeared to have suffered a setback.
Unlike in 2016, the AIADMK is contesting as the dominant constituent of a multi-party coalition. Five years ago, Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa took a gamble of going it alone, even though she allotted one seat each to seven parties that contested the election on her party symbol.
After her death in December 2016, the AIADMK gravitated towards the BJP, with which Jayalalithaa maintained a respectable distance between 2014 and 2016. The two parties, along with others, including the PMK and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Katchi (DMDK), went to the 2019 Lok Sabha election together and met with disastrous results. The alliance could fetch only one seat. The “anti-Modi” factor was cited as a major reason for the debacle.
The composition of the AIADMK-led front now may undergo changes with the ruling party’s talks with the DMDK having failed to yield any tangible result. As of now, the seat-sharing process has been completed only in respect of the PMK, which has been allotted 23 seats. Though the seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP has not yet been finalised, the AIADMK is expected to give around 25 seats to the national party, which has gained more visibility in recent months after its State unit president L Murugan launched a couple of programmes centering around Lord Murugan, regarded in certain sections of society as Tamil god.
There is a grudging acknowledgement among Chief Minister Edapadi Palaniswami’s critics that he has made use of the COVID-19 pandemic to showcase himself as an able administrator even though all the “hard work” has been accomplished by the bureaucracy. Positioning himself as a farmer, he has taken several steps to woo voters in rural areas. The waiver of crop loans, totalling ₹12,110.75 crore taken from cooperative institutions, was among the policy announcements made a few weeks prior to the announcement of the election dates.
Notwithstanding Mr. Palaniswami’s showing, DMK president M.K. Stalin is banking on the core vote base of his party, the arithmetic strength of the coalition being headed by him and the anti-incumbency against the 10-year-rule of the AIADMK. Essentially, these factors played a big role in the 2019 Lok Sabha election when the DMK-led alliance registered a landslide, bagging 38 seats with a vote share of around 53.3%.
Mr. Stalin and his colleagues have been highlighting, what they consider, several shortcomings of the Palaniswami government on a host of areas, including the handling of the COVID-19 management. Two tragic events in Thoothukudi district in the last couple of years involving the death of 12 persons in police firing and a father-son duo in custody who were picked up for a lockdown violation; alleged corruption in several departments, especially in local administration; a sex abuse scandal in Pollachi; and loss of livelihood opportunities due to the pandemic are some of the issues that are being flagged by the DMK, which has been accusing the AIADMK of being subservient to the BJP.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the State should help in consolidating the DMK’s support base. The two parties have faced three Assembly elections (2006, 2011 and 2016) together. Just like the AIADMK, the DMK too has not completed the seat-sharing exercise with all its allies, including the Congress, but it is hopeful of resolving the issues.
What is also being keenly watched is whether there will be a “spoiler” this time, just as the Makkal Nala Kootani did for the DMK last time.