Though the by-elections to the two Assembly constituencies, Vikravandi and Nanguneri, in Tamil Nadu will not change much of the state’s political calculations, it will surely be a litmus test for the two major Dravidian parties here.
Despite its Lok Sabha poll debacle, the ruling AIADMK, an ally of BJP, had managed to retain power after winning nine of the 22 seats where bypolls were held simultaneously with the Parliamentary elections.
On the other hand, the opposition DMK, led by MK Stalin, had a thumping victory in the Lok Sabha election besides winning 13 Assembly segments in the last bypolls.
The two seats had fallen vacant following the death of DMK MLA K Rathamani and resignation of Congress’s H Vasanthakumar, who had won the Lok Sabha polls from Kanyakumari. Clinching victory in these two constituencies is now being seen as a compulsion for the two Dravidian majors, keeping in the mind the 2021 Assembly elections.
While both the parties are eyeing victory in the bypolls, N Sathiya Moorthy, director, Observer Research Foundation (Chennai Chapter), feels that the AIADMK has got greater compulsion to win the two seats as its need to re-establish themselves in these two regions.
“The AIADMK will have to win both the Assembly constituencies by a respectable margin. While Nanguneri is in the deep-south and Vikravandi is in the north. They have to re-establish themselves in these regions,” he says.
As for DMK, he feels that the opposition party will have to win the bypoll to prove that the Lok Sabha election results were not a fluke. “More importantly, the DMK has to win to keep up the morale of its workers, keeping in mind the 2021 Assembly elections,” Moorthy says.
In the history of Tamil Nadu’s politics, the ruling party has won all the bypolls since 1989, the recent one being the only exception. “Therefore, the DMK will still have an explanation if they lose, but the ruling party won’t,” Moorthy adds.
However, it is the AIADMK which has to prove that it has got public support, given the state’s bypoll jinx, says A Ramasamy, Tamil department head, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. “More than the party, the pressure lies on Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami who has been showcasing himself as their leader. It is also evident from their work at the ground level,” he adds.
Explaining it constituency-wise, Ramasamy says that Nanguneri in Tirunelveli district has always been a stronghold of the DMK and the Congress.
“Even though the AIADMK had once won from the segment, it was by a meagre margin, which was less than 1,000. But now, the party is working hard at the ground level to make people believe that everyone would vote for the ‘two leaves’, irrespective of its leader,” he says.
In a sharp contrast, Ramaswamy feels, the DMK itself is sceptical about winning the bypolls as it has fielded a lesser known candidate from Vikravandi and allotted the Nanguneri seat to the Congress. He opines that by giving Nanguneri seat to Congress, the DMK is testing the party’s prospects in the constituency that was earlier held by Congressman Vasanthakumar.
“If they (Congress) lose in Nanguneri constituency, it would reduce the bargain capacity of the Congress in the upcoming Assembly elections. Congress would be pushed to a situation where they will have to accept whatever seats are allotted to them in the next Assembly polls,” Ramasamy adds.
Another aspect that comes into play in these bypoll is caste. Even though both DMK and AIADMK have their roots in the Dravidian movement, which strongly advocated against caste discrimination, caste and electoral politics have always been inseparable in the state.
Since the Vikravandi segment is home to a sizeable number of Caste Hindus, both the parties have picked a candidate belonging to their community. While the DMK has fielded N Pugazhenthi, the AIADMK’s MR Muthamizhselvan is contesting the bypolls from the segment.
It must be noted that while the DMK does not have any strong allies to woo the Caste Hindu votes, the AIADMK has allies like Paatali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which enjoy the support of Caste Hindus.
However, Moorthy feels that the victory will ultimately depend on how efficiently the two parties convert their leadership commitments into votes. “It also depends on how the leaders of the ally parties take it with their cadre to get votes,” he says.
Ramaswamy adds that it will not be easy for the AIADMK unless the PMK and the DMDK cadres work at the ground level in addition to their parties’ verbal support.
Meanwhile, political commentator Ravindran Duraisamy pitches for a huge victory for the AIADMK party. “The ruling party would always win the by-elections. It should also be noted that the victory margin in bypolls will be 15% higher than the victory margin of the general election,” he says.
However, he termed the DMK’s victory in the 13 Assembly constituencies in the latest bypolls as an exceptional case. “It was like a mini Assembly election as it was held along with the Lok Sabha polls,” Ravindran said.