For the first time in the postindependence era, Tamil Nadu is going to the Lok Sabha polls next week without a charismatic leader in any party. There is a tectonic shift in the political scene as political realignments are different this time. Basically the fight is between the ruling AIADMK front and the multi-party coalition of the DMK. The DMK has cobbled up a formidable alliance with the Congress, CPI (M), CPI, MDMK headed by Vaiko, VCK, a Dalit party, Indian Union Muslim League, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, and Kongunadu Makkal Desiya Katchi, a Gounder outfit. The AIADMK front has the BJP, DMDK and PMK. The DMK hopes to consolidate the Muslim votes.
Going round the state one finds there is no pro or anti-wave or any emotional issues. There is no religious polarisation. Even at the height of the Modi wave in 2014, Tamil Nadu stuck to the AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalitha and gave her party a whopping 37 of the 39 seats. There are also no new factors although Tamil superstar-turnedpolitician Kamal Haasan has emerged as a fringe player while another superstar Rajnikant is still shy of active politics. Jayalalitha’s close aide Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran has emerged as a claimant to Jaya’s legacy. He may not win seats but might be a spoiler.
The ruling party has two factions – one belonging to the chief minister E Palaniswamy and the other to deputy chief minister O.Pannerselvam. This will be first acid test for both on whether they can retain Amma’s vote bank. There is also a perception that the EPSOPS duo have become puppets of the Modi government in the midst of an anti- Centre atmosphere.
The two national parties – the Congress and the BJP are minor partners in the two coalitions. While the Congress is riding piggyback on the DMK, the BJP is a partner with the AIADMK. Both are irrelevant in the state. The BJP has been trying to find a toe-hold for decades but in vain and the Congress has not revived since 1967. The Congress is contesting in 10 of the 39 seats while the BJP is contesting in five.
The election campaign is on a low key with no big rallies as the leaders are doing more road shows and door-to-door campaigns. DMK chief Stalin too is struggling hard to claim Karunanidhi’s legacy.
National leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi have drawn lukewarm response as voters and political parties are looking inward. For the Tamil Nadu players, the 22 Assembly bye-elections are more important than the Lok Sabha polls because the stability of the Palaniswamy government depends on the results. The government is running with a wafer- thin majority.
The DMK wants to capture government if it can win 15 more seats while the AIADMK needs just six more seats. The TTV factor also worries the AIADMK as Dinakaran can cut into their votes. If the AIADMK loses, there is a possibility of the DMK capturing power or there could be President’s rule.
What are the main issues this time? The first is the double antiincumbency, as the opposition is depending on this factor. The second is the Cauvery water dispute. The third is the farmer’s crisis. 116 farmers led by Ayya Kannu had been agitating for months now and even camped in Delhi for 141 days with their demands. Ayya Kannu explaining their volte-face says, “ We were planning to go to Varanasi and contest against the Prime Minister but now that the BJP manifesto has accepted five of our six demands we have given up the idea.” There is severe water problem in Chennai and other areas. Next is the NEET issue and the students are agitated that the government is not doing anything. Some students even committed suicide on the issue. Finally, there is the perception that the Centre is undermining the state. Fishermen, Sterlite, corruption and price rise are other issues. Interestingly Sri Lanka is not an issue this time.
The caste- based parties like the PMK and VCK are depending on the caste factor. In the north it is the Vanniyars, in the west it is Kongus and in the south it is Thevars and Nadars. Money is yet another factor. Tamil Nadu has perfected the art of distributing money to bribe voters despite restrictions. The Election Commission has so far confiscated more than Rs 120 crore, transported illegally during the elections. The other crucial factor is the 25-lakh first time voters and it is not clear whom they would prefer. NOTA is also on the increase.
Going by present indications, it is advantage DMK coalition. It is likely to get around 25 to 30 seats, the AIADMK about eight to ten seats, the BJP and the PMK one each. Tamil Nadu has the record of not repeating the same government since long except when Jaya managed a second consecutive term in 2016. The needle of the pendulum is moving towards the DMK coalition. It also has arithmetic on its side.