Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Thursday further consolidated his hold over the ruling AIADMK by leading the party to a spectacular win in two assembly constituencies that went to by-polls by decimating the DMK-Congress combine which originally held the seats.
The victory comes within five months of the DMK-led alliance pulling off an impressive victory in the May Lok Sabha elections by winning 38 of the 39 seats when the entire country looked the BJP way. AIADMK’s victory, that too with wide margins, in Vikravandi and Nanguneri – won by DMK and Congress respectively in 2016 elections also makes the 2021 contest for the Tamil Nadu assembly wide open as the field is expected to be crowded with too many players like actors Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth planning to try their luck.
While AIADMK’s R Muthamilselvan romped home by polling 44,924 votes more than his nearest DMK rival N Pugazhenthi, the ruling party’s V Narayanan emerged victorious by defeating Congress’ ‘Ruby’ Manoharan by 33,445 votes.
Through the victory, Palaniswami, who was handpicked by V K Sasikala to be the Chief Minister before she went to Bengaluru’s Parapana Agrahara prison to serve her four-year term in the disproportionate assets (DA) case, has also neutralised the other claimant for the leadership -- his bete noire within the party O Panneerselvam. Ever since he was sworn in as Chief Minister in 2017, Palaniswami has been keen on consolidating his grip over the party and he can hope to quell any rebellion that come his way without much problem.
With the win, Palaniswami’s hold over the party will tighten and he will be free to take any decision ahead of the 2021 elections – whether the Chief Minister will move to abolish the “dual leadership” formula and take the reins of the party also on his shoulders from that of Panneerselvam’s is yet to be seen. Panneerselvam is the coordinator of the AIADMK while Palaniswami is the joint coordinator.
The message that he is no pushover was also delivered to Opposition Leader M K Stalin, who nurses hopes of defeating the AIADMK and installing his party’s government at the St. George Fort in 2021 after a gap of 10 years. Though by-election results cannot be taken as a clear pointer to what would happen two years later, political analysts say there is “something wrong” in the DMK’s campaign which needs to be corrected if the party was interested in learning lessons.
“While Edappadi has strengthened himself by gaining considerable ground with backing from the BJP, the by-election results cannot be brushed off as one-off incident. Losing an election with wide margins just five months after winning the Lok Sabha elections in a spectacular way shows that there is something wrong in the DMK’s strategy,” Prof Ramu Manivannan, Head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, told DH.
Stalin, whose numerous attempts to pull down the Edappadi government have failed at every stage, too was muted in his response to the loss – he thanked the voters and promised to look into the cause of the defeat.
AIADMK’s victory has also enthused the party cadre who hadn’t tasted victory after the death of their charismatic leader J Jayalalithaa in December 2016. The victory will also take the AIADMK’s tally in the 234-member Assembly to 125.
The Chief Minister’s gamble of enlisting the support of ally PMK, which wields considerable influence in Vikravandi, and ensure that the leaders of that party campaigned worked wonders for the AIADMK – the DMK lost the seat by 45,000 votes just three years after winning it.