Polls sans Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi a test for DMK and AIADMK

Last Updated: Thu, Apr 18, 2019 09:19 hrs
Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi

Tamil Nadu heads to the polls on Thursday sans two big names on the ballot. Two titans of not only Tamil Nadu politics but Indian politics, former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK and M Karunanidhi of the DMK have passed on marking the end of an eventful era in the state.

The current AIADMK government has been shaky from the day their party leader died; infighting and the formation of camps within has proved to be disastrous for them. With 39 seats up for grabs, a political outsider but hugely popular film star has entered the political fray; Kamal Haasan and his Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) make their debut. What makes the state such an important one every election? Viju Cherian, in a column for Moneycontrol writes on this –

Two factors are responsible for this: one, the minimal presence of the BJP and the Congress in the state; two, the electoral monopoly the DMK and AIADMK enjoy across the state. Tamil Nadu is facing one such important election, the results of which could change the decades-long course of regional politics in the state.

Elections in the state aren’t short of controversy. As the state gears up to vote, polls in Vellore have been cancelled after Rs.11.5 crore cash haul was seized at a warehouse. In the continuing saga of IT raids in the run up to elections, a false tip sent the IT department to raid DMK member Kanimozhi’s house at her constituency in Tuticorin and hey came up empty handed. This was condemned by Stalin and other political leaders in the state per a Dinakaran report. The state also has the disgraceful distinction of being the one with the highest number of cash seizures.

DMK – Congress alliance

In the aftermath of Karunanidhi’s death, there wasn’t a question as to who would take over the reins of the party. His son MK Stalin was easily chosen to be the successor, despite some rumblings from his brother Alagiri who has been largely cast out. Polls have suggested a win for the DMK-Congress alliance; an APT survey for Puthiya Tahlaimurai predicted a 30-33 seats victory for this alliance with their main rival alliance getting only 6-8. A Times Now VMR opinion poll predicted 33 for the DMK front Venkatesh Kannaiah, in a column for the Indian Express however suggests caution –

It should all point to a clean sweep. But things have not really been as easy as imagined for the DMK- Congress alliance. While the DMK is the strongest of the alliance partners and Congress is also resourceful and capable, in some cases they are dependent on the DMK for manpower and cadres.

He rightly points out that state politics have become about money and having a well-oiled machine to deliver the votes. An anti-Modi campaign from the DMK and the Congress needs to be good enough to overcome the opposition alliance. A few high profile outsiders could threaten the challengers and siphon votes away from them making it harder to overcome the AIADMK-BJP alliance. Stalin perhaps provided a hint at this alliance when in December he suggested Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial candidate.

Last month, during his visit to Chennai, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi gave a preview of the party’s manifesto promising 33% reservation for women and criticised Modi for ‘remote controlling’ the state from New Delhi. The manifesto addressed two issues that the state has brought up many times with the centre to no avail – scrapping the NEET entrance exam for medical colleges, which was a source of controversy and comprehensive education reforms. The minimum income scheme that has garnered a lot of attention has ensured the support of the state’s cotton workers union as reported in Dinakaran.

AIADMK – BJP alliance

The AIADMK, unlike their chief political rival in the state has had a rough of it since their leader J Jayalalithaa died. The party had no clear plan in place for succession. In the weeks that followed, the party struggled. Camps formed and the party seemingly fractured, but they maintained some sense of structure to continue governing the state.

Sumanth Raman, Chennai-based journalist, in a column for Moneycontrol states just that – the Congress DMK alliance is ahead and the NDA will need to overcome anti-incumbency – 

AIADMK leaders including Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami has run a spirited campaign, hitting the streets with gusto, talking about various welfare schemes and invoking the name of late Jayalalithaa. A reasonably good performance will boost the morale of both the AIADMK and the BJP in Tamil Nadu. If the alliance manages to win about 10 seats, it should be satisfied.

E Palaniswami has his work cut out for him. The party needs to win at least 8 assembly seats to win comfortably in the assembly. Him forming an alliance with the BJP was and is risky. The national party doesn’t have much of a presence in the state and some have a grudge against the state and national party for not properly reacting after cyclone Gaja. The state has seen controversies such as the violent and deadly protests surrounding the Sterlite plant and the Chennai-Salem expressway which has strong opposition.

Others

Two big names dominate the remainder of the field. Hugely popular film star Kamal Haasan and his MNM will for the first time contest elections in the state. He has the backing of former AAP leader Yogendra Yadav. While campaigning for him, he said “I believe that political establishment of TN which includes the DMK, AIADMK and national parties they all have reached a dead end.” Dismissing the notion that he’s drawing crowds only because of his status of a film star, Haasan said, “If you wanted to watch me as an artiste, you might as well have preferred the comfort of an air conditioned theatre...but I stand here on behalf of the masses and to work for your welfare.”

TTV Dhinakaran, the nephew of Jayalalithaa’s confidant V Sasikala could play a role in who forms the government in the state. The 56 year old could be the disruptor. Ejected from the AIADMK, he now calls the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) his political home and the current government is one he’s after. This could potentially help the DMK-Congress alliance. In an interview to the Economic Times earlier this month, he predicted a defeat for the ruling party saying in part, “The AIADMK needs to get at least eight seats to keep its government, which they will not. After this election, almost all the AIADMK cadre will be by my side.”

More columns by Varun Sukumar