Tamil Nadu will witness an intense three-cornered electoral battle during the April 18 Lok Sabha elections with the Supreme Court asking the Election Commission to allot a common symbol for all candidates fielded by Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, an outfit run by AIADMK rebel T T V Dhinakaran.
DMK and AIADMK have stitched together rainbow alliances by roping in national parties and other local players, while Dhinakaran has fielded candidates of his own in all seats.
The AMMK is not just expected to eat into AIADMK votes, but might also perform well in the southern districts, where Dhinakaran seems to enjoy popularity.
A common symbol for 40 Lok Sabha candidates and 19 nominees to by-polls in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry will ease the pressure on Dhinakaran as his party will not have to waste time in popularising a separate symbol in each constituency.
The AMMK, however, did not get its preferred symbol, 'pressure cooker', since it has not been registered with the poll panel.
The Dhinakaran faction lays claim to the 'two leaves' symbol of the AIADMK and calls itself the "original inheritor" of the late J Jayalalithaa's legacy.
However, the verdict has presented a complex situation for Dhinakaran to deal with — though all will fight on one common symbol, they will be treated as independent candidates, which allows them to take decisions on their own in case they win the elections.
The anti-defection law won't apply even if the winning candidates join the AIADMK — this could help the Edappadi K Palaniswami camp to woo them in case they fall short of numbers to keep the government afloat.
The AIADMK government is surviving on a wafer-thin majority and the results in by-polls to 18 constituencies will have a major bearing on its survival.
"They are at their own will to join any political party after they emerge victorious. There is no bar on them joining any outfit since they will be treated as Independents by the ECI. Non-registered parties are not given common symbols, but the SC has taken a broader view since all candidates belong to one group," former chief electoral officer of Tamil Nadu Naresh Gupta told DH.
Political analyst Aazhi Senthilnathan said the SC allotting a common symbol is a major victory for Dhinakaran as it allows him to forget about different symbols and get into campaign mode.
"It is certainly a cause of worry that the anti-defection law won't apply, but that issue comes into play only after the elections. For now, the SC has ensured a level-playing field by allotting common symbol," Senthilnathan told DH.
AMMK leaders said they are confident that none of the candidates, even if they win, will switch sides. "The 18 MLAs who were disqualified are united till date. So, where does the question of winning candidates shifting sides arise?" a senior AMMK leader said.