In the end, MK Stalin’s DMK won the Tamil Nadu elections with a comfortable margin although it was not a sweep as many pollsters had expected. Though the party’s performance was short of expectation, trends indicate it is on course to form the government comfortably. The outgoing Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami did put a formidable fight but he couldn’t carry the weight of anti-incumbency.
In the neighbouring Union Territory of Puducherry, the NR Congress is leading the pack as expected. In Kerala, the LDF has won for the second time.
In all these three places — two states and the union territory — the challenger BJP made minor gains. It was clear for a while that the party won’t be able to make any major inroads in these places. And, perhaps reading the tea leaves, the party abandoned its heavy-duty campaigning in the south and preferred to focus on Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal, where it got a bloody nose. But that is another story.
Eye on the crown
The elections should come as a shot in the arm for Stalin, who has been eyeing the chief minister’s post for a while. He had campaigned heavily for the party, both in the 2011 and 2016 Assembly elections, in which it lost narrowly to arch rival AIADMK.
Before the 2016 election campaign season, Stalin actually went up to his father M Karunanidhi, hoping that he would be anointed as chief ministerial candidate. The old man did not oblige though his health was deteriorating.
Stalin has been in politics for nearly five decades, including as Mayor of Chennai Corporation and Deputy Chief Minister under his father, but the chief minister’s chair seemed to elude him consistently.
In fact, Edappadi mocked him in election rallies, saying he was a “luckless” candidate who could get the CM’s chair only in his dreams. Now, that dream may come true for Stalin.
DMK’s tally in the central region has played a big role in its unprecedented performance. Though the party was expected to do well, it has surpassed its own expectations and is leading in all the 16 seats in Chennai. The party is also doing well in the neighbouring districts of the state capital. As expected, it has done well in the Northern region as well.
It had a disappointing performance in the Western region, which is dominated by ‘Kongu Vellalars’, an intermediate community of agriculturists to which the Chief Minister belongs.
The DMK was leading in only two of the 10 seats in Coimbatore city, considered the commercial and business hub of the state. In Coimbatore South, actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan is locked in a three-way contest. There is a see-saw battle going on between him, the BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan and Congress candidate Mayura S Jayakumar. For all the hype and hoopla, it is the only seat in which the MNM is leading.
The Tamil Nadu contest is, as expected, reduced to a battle between the two towering Dravidian parties — the AIADMK and the DMK, with little space for other smaller parties. Though the contest was said to be “five cornered”, the other three — MNM, AMMK and NTK — are likely to bite the dust.
The AMMK, led by TTV Dhinakaran, the nephew of N Sasikala who was a close associate of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, could not make much of a difference. The vote share obtained by him in the southern districts would give an idea of whether he proved to be a “vote katua” party (one that’s in the fray to erode the votes of others without any benefit for itself). Similarly, Seeman’s NTK that propagates strong Tamil nationalism may have won no seats, but may have cut into rivals’ vote shares.
The Congress’ performance, if the leads are true, should give it some consolation since, of the 25 seats it contested from, it is leading in 16. It seems Rahul Gandhi’s intense campaigning in some of these seats helped.
Also, the party is leading in the by-elections to the Kanyakumari parliamentary seat, which fell vacant following the death of Congress leader and businessman Vasant Kumar. His son Vijay Vasanth is contesting the seat.
The BJP’ social engineering in South TN, giving last-minute recognition to Devendra Kula Vellalar as a backward community, doesn’t seem to have worked. The party may still end up winning three seats and that would mean a lot as it was drawing blank for decades.
The Tamil Nadu election were held in the backdrop of the absence of dominant leaders such as M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa.
The Rajini factor
The BJP had hoped to fill the void by making superstar Rajinikanth the face of the party and win the elections. In January, he cried off and the BJP was forced to tie up with the AIADMK. In fact, the BJP became a liability for the combination. Every time Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tamil Nadu, there were protests.
Though Edappadi has lost the elections, he is leading handsomely from his seat near Salem. As opposed to this, his deputy O Panneerselvam is struggling. Since a number of ministers have lost, EPS is likely to consolidate his hold over the party post elections.
LDF’s clean sweep
In Kerala, of the 13 districts, LDF has made a clean sweep in nine. It is likely to form the government for the second time in a row, in a record of sorts. In 1992, K Karunakaran (Congress) became the UDF’s Chief Minister for the second successive term. Before that, in 1970, the LDF ministry led by C Achutha Menon returned to power after the Assembly was dissolved and President’s rule imposed, on November 1, 1969.
The credit for winning Kerala would go to Pinarayi Vijayan for his strong leadership and administration skills displayed during successive cyclones and management of the COVID crisis. He was also helped by the fact that a section of Kerala Mani group (a party of Christian community) broke away from the UDF and joined the LDF.
Also, the Congress could not put up a cohesive fight against the LDF though it kept hurling a lot of allegations. The 2019 performance of the Congress in the parliamentary elections in the state have had no impact though Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka campaigned in the elections.
Solace for BJP
In Puducherry, the results are largely on expected lines. Besides N Rangaswamy’s win, the BJP can take solace from the fact that A Namassivayam has won his seat and opened the party’s account in the Union Territory.
Namassivayam had defected to the BJP at the last minute before the election and after helping topple the Congress government. He was No 2 in the Congress government and was upset that he was not offered the chief minister’s chair. His grievance is likely to continue as he might have won his seat but he is part of an alliance that fought the elections under the leadership of Rangaswamy, the boss of NR Congress.
Post poll, Puducherry would be an interesting place to watch as the NDA would claim its victory riding piggyback on the NR Congress.