After a hard-won poll battle, DMK has its task cut out in Tamil Nadu

The rising COVID cases present an immediate challenge to the new government; putting the state back on the growth path will require canny governance

Stalin, DMK,
MK Stalin led the DMK's electoral battle, using his grassroots level reach to counter the ruling AIADMK that gave an equally tough fight

With crackers and merry-making – despite the Election Commission’s (EC) dire warnings and the party chief’s own directives – the mood among DMK cadres (frighteningly mask-less) is jubilant. Kept out of power in Tamil Nadu for 10 years by the AIADMK, led by its chief J Jayalalithaa in two Assembly elections before her death in 2016, the DMK is now returning with a convincing majority.

At the time of this article being written, the DMK is leading in 134 of the 232 seats for which elections were held, followed by the AIADMK at 94. While the TTV Dhinakaran-led AMMK is leading in three seats, newbie MNM, founded by actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan, has one seat to its credit.

This is in significant contrast to the exit poll results. While they uniformly predicted a DMK win, most said the party is likely to sweep the polls. As it turns out, the party has fought neck and neck with the AIADMK in most seats, and no victory has been easy or predictable.

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Battle sans titans

The 2021 polls, held on April 6, also mark the DMK’s first electoral battle fought without party veteran and several times Chief Minister M Karunanidhi at the helm. His son, party leader and CM candidate MK Stalin led the brigade, using his grassroots level reach to counter the ruling party that gave an equally tough fight.

According to political experts, the AIADMK might have made some gains from its alliance with the BJP, with several votes in urban pockets swinging in its favour. But the alliance might also have been the undoing of the ruling party, as there is sizeable anti-BJP sentiment across Tamil Nadu, particularly against its advocacy of a One Nation, One Language policy.

The latest election has significant political bearing for Tamil Nadu. The absence of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi and, in fact, all the original Dravidian stalwarts, means the electoral tone is forever changed. How the state shapes up from here will make history.

Once the initial euphoria subsides, Stalin has his task cut out for him. The state is now facing the brunt of the second wave of COVID, with over 11.6 lakh cases and over 14,000 deaths to date since the start of the pandemic. The next week or so is seen as crucial, as the cases are predicted to peak.

Super spreader event?

The election results may in themselves turn out to be a super spreader event, going by the crowds at the counting centres and the jubilant partying at Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters in Chennai, and other places in the rest of the state. “EC takes serious note of reports coming in of congregation(s) of people to celebrate anticipated victory. EC has directed Chief Secretaries of all five states to file FIR in each such case, suspend concerned SHO and report action taken immediately of each such incidence,” said an EC statement.

Immediately after taking over, the new CM would need to work on brining the caseload down. This can be achieved only by strict implementation of social distancing and masking. More importantly, he needs to get the vaccination drive for 18- to 44-year-olds going. Here, again, he faces a tough time as vaccines are scarce, promise to be expensive, and mired in political controversy.

The incumbent Edappadi K Palaniswami government has largely been seen as a quietly efficient one, which handled crises like the Vardah cyclone and the current pandemic with a degree of poise. However, observers say there is a policy vacuum in the state, due to which the industrial growth has not been very impressive. The new government will need to give an impetus that will help the state grow its financial muscle and cope with the aftermath of the COVID crisis.

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