Poll season an acid test for Stalin, DMK

The DMK alliance has the Congress, Left parties, Dalit outfit VCK, MDMK, IUML and KDMK.

Tamil Nadu is truly at crossroads as it votes on Thursday in a watershed election — the first after the two political colossuses M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa passed away — not just to elect the next prime minister, but also the new generation leaders of the Dravidian land.

It is a five-cornered contest with alliances led by two dominant forces, DMK and AIADMK and AIADMK rebel T T V Dhinakaran’s newly-formed Amma Makkal Muneetra Kazhagam (AMMK), actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) and Tamil nationalist outfit, Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK).

The DMK alliance has the Congress, Left parties, Dalit outfit VCK, MDMK, IUML and KDMK, while the AIADMK combine consists of BJP, PMK, DMDK, TMC, Puthiya Tamizhagam and New Justice Party. The AMMK has tied-up with SDPI and MNM and NTK are contesting on their own.

Nearly 6 crore citizens are eligible to vote on April 18 in the single-phase polling. The results would chart the future course for Tamil Nadu in more than one-way. Dhinakaran is certainly the man to watch out as he is expected to make a dent into the traditional AIADMK votes, and MNM could split the anti-BJP votes, but to what extent is anybody’s guess. However there is no clarity on what the vote share of parties would be.

Voters in 18 assembly constituencies will also cast their ballots in by-elections that has the potential to send the AIADMK government packing.

Modi factor

Never in an election in the past, one personality dominated the narrative of both the ruling and the opposition alliance despite him not belonging to the state — Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the talking point of both combines.

The anti-Modi sentiment is not a social media phenomenon alone, there is deep resentment against the BJP and AIADMK Governments at the ground level. While the DMK-Congress alliance looks better in most parts of the state, especially in South and Central regions where Modi’s unpopularity is widespread, the AIADMK-BJP combine looks good in the West, a region which had always stood behind the regional party.

DMK and Congress made Modi their primary target and the AIADMK government led by Palaniswami the next target. 

Stalin’s acid test

Not just for Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, who should win at least 8 assembly seats to sail comfortably in the Assembly, the elections will serve as an acid test for Stalin as well, as an acid test to his popularity as a leader and his political acumen.

The DMK President has got everything on a platter — an unpopular government, anti-incumbency against the BJP and Modi, absence of Jayalalithaa and the inevitable split of AIADMK votes by rebel Dhinakaran. If he does not get 39 seats this election, it would mean that the DMK’s organisation set-up has a faultline.

"The party certainly needs to restructure its public image at large irrespective of its performance in this election," Professor P Ramajayam, Assistant Professor, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli, told DH.

He said the not-so-good image of DMK’s district functionaries and the wrong guidance they provide to the cadre affects the party as a whole. "Though the DMK has worked a lot on the ground bringing about several sections of the society together, they are losing their base to parties like AIADMK," he said.

Prof Ramu Manivannan, head of Department of Politics and Public Administration of the University of Madras, said Stalin’s ability will be tested on the numbers that he delivers as the leader of the alliance. "Also, only numbers can tell whether the sentiments have been translated into seats and whether the sentiments have been cashed in," Manivannan told DH.

He added that the number of seats that Dhinakaran gets in the by-polls would draw the new battle line in Tamil Nadu. The rebel leader claims to be the true inheritor of Jayalalithaa’s legacy and his performance this election is certainly being watched very closely not just by observers but also the people.

Issues dominated

While the DMK-Congress alliance projected Modi as "anti-Tamil" and "anti-Tamil Nadu" for imposing NEET, Hindi and not being bothered even to visit the Cyclone Gaja-affected areas, the combine led by AIADMK sought votes on the plank of "continuity at the Centre" under Modi’s leadership.

Extraction of Methane and Hydrocarbon in Cauvery delta region, Cyclone Gaja, Sterlite killings, protests over the eight-way express lane between Chennai and Salem, NEET are other issues that dominated the campaign.

One section that could play havoc for the AIADMK alliance is government servants, particularly teachers, who are holding a grudge against Edappadi administration for not looking into their demands. Jayalalithaa antagonising the section saw her getting thrashed by the electorate in 2004, though the opposition of the government servants is not the sole reason.

Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi? Who will win the battle royale of the Lok Sabha Elections 2019


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