The roller-coaster of a ride called the Vellore Lok Sabha election has finally ended with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) fighting tooth and nail to secure a Lok Sabha berth.
DMK treasurer Durai Murugan’s son Kathir Anand emerged as the winner by a slender margin of 8,141 votes over AC Shanmugam, the founder of the New Justice Party, who contested on AIADMK’s two-leaves symbol. The constituency has 14,32,55 voters amongst whom 10,24,352 voted. The DMK candidate pocketed 4, 85,430 votes while the AIADMK alliance candidate managed 4, 77,199 votes. With this win, the number of MP’s in the DMK alliance has risen to 38.
The voting game – How it panned out?
Vellore Lok Sabha election was seen as a litmus test for AIADMK given their performance in the previous election and their party’s intra politics. After managing to win just a single seat in the first round of the Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu, Edappadi Palaniswami had to showcase his strength in the Vellore polls. Under the Vellore constituency, there are six assembly constituencies, namely Vellore, Anaikattu, KV Kuppam, Gudiyatham, Vaniyambadi, and Ambur. Known for its sizeable minority population, the Vellore constituency is estimated to have around 21 per cent Muslim and 9 percent Christian voters.
AIADMK was criticized by the minority voters for not allocating a ticket to even a single Muslim candidate during the Lok Sabha election 2019. To overcome this charge, Edappadi offered former Minister A. Mohammed John a Rajya Sabha seat over former MPs and senior party leaders.
Knowing the pulse of minorities, Edappadi avoided his ally BJP throughout the Vellore campaign. Though TN BJP president Dr. Tamilisai Soundararjan brushed aside those allegations stating they were busy on BJP’s membership admission, it was clear on the ground that the saffron party, which looked to piggyback on the AIADMK to gain a foothold in the southern state, was set aside by Edappadi.
Though BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls nation-wide, its leaders failed to secure a single seat in Tamil Nadu.
Throughout the campaign, Edappadi projected AIADMK’s welfare schemes and reminded people of their party leader J Jayalalithaa’s sacrifices and achievements when and wherever required. Edappadi played the ‘Amma’ card over Prime Minister Narendra Modi to give the AIADMK an ‘independent tone’.
On the other hand, basking in the Lok Sabha and by-election victory, DMK too campaigned individually without indulging its allies. Even in Dalit populated areas, DMK wasn’t too keen on having VCK by its side. It was a show of strength between DMK and AIADMK, it was either Stalin or Edappadi.
A nail-biting finish for DMK
Contrary to the opinion that AIADMK’s vote share has eroded, the party pocketed a sizeable amount of votes in Anaikattu, Kudiyatham, and KV Kuppam while DMK secured the lead in Vellore, Vaniyambadi, and Ambur constituencies. AIADMK’s Shanmugam established an early lead of more than 15,000 votes by the end of seventh round but Kathir Anand reversed the trend and sustained the lead till the final countdown.
Kovai Selvaraj of AIADMK says DMK’s victory is similar to the Panchayath President election. “There is a lot of difference between Vellore and other constituency elections. DMK leader gave fake promises like a jewel loan waiver, jobs for one crore people, crop loan waiver, etc. DMK got 47 per cent of votes and we got 46.2 per cent of votes, the difference was just 0.8 per cent of votes which is common only during Panchayath President election,” he told indianexpress.com
Selvaraj also accused DMK of causing disharmony in Vellore for vote bank.
“Stalin held a meeting with leaders of the Muslim community breaking all the EC norms. AIADMK campaigned without mentioning any religion or caste but DMK appointed cadres for each community and canvassed for votes,” he said. Responding to AIADMK’s strategy of not utilising BJP in Vellore poll, the AIADMK spokesperson said those allegations are false. However, he said his party will not lose its independent tone.
“In the Vellore election, people have recognized AIADMK’s hardship, that’s the reason why we received these many votes. The Muslim community may not like BJP and BJP may not like them, but we got nothing to do with that. They don’t have any anger over our party, we have a cordial relationship with all the minority communities,” Selvaraj said.
The candidate selection also was crucial for both parties. Since DMK’s political heirs have performed well, they had no hesitation in nominating senior party leader Duraimurugan’s son, Kathir Anand. On the other hand, AC Shanmugam, a familiar face to Vellore constituency was picked by AIADMK.
Shanmugam, a former AIADMK MP from the Vellore constituency founded New Justice Party in 2014. In the previous Lok Sabha election, he contested on the ticket of BJP and finished second. He got back to AIADMK this time and was defeated by a margin of 8,141 votes.
This isn’t the first occasion when such a close contest had panned out in Vellore constituency. In 1977, V.Dhandayuthapani of the Janata Party which had the support of DMK then managed to win the election with just 3,161 votes against A.K.A Abdul Samad of the Muslim league. 1998, 1999 polls also saw such crucial contests.
Also, the absence of any other alternative parties like AMMK and MNM made the contest between both Dravidian parties crucial. A year-old MNM, which put up a decent show in its debut election in the city circuit, wasn’t able to attract the rural vote bank. They needed time to rekindle their strategy and hence they played safe by not fielding a candidate. On the other hand, TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK doesn’t want to blemish their image again. With their intraparty structure in a state of bother, they needed time. Though the only non-Dravidian outfit, Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar contested in the Vellore election, it managed to secure only 26,955 votes.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, DMK spokesperson Saravanan says the victory in Vellore polls has reinstated people’s trust on DMK. “This is the first time in 28 years; an opposition party has won a by-election in TN that it is a huge achievement for the party. We thought that we will win by a comfortable margin but the ruling government tried their best to influence voters. That’s the reason why our margin of victory has come down, unlike other constituencies.”
Saravanan also brushes aside the allegations that DMK was over-confident over the minority population vote share and avoided his allies during the campaign. “We were aware that the election will have all the trappings of a by-election. We were not over-confident; we were not able to prevent the money-power and muscle-power deployed by the ruling government. Ours is an inclusive party; we are not AIADMK which completely avoided BJP to attract minority votes, our allies were always with us. Even VCK leader Thirumavalavan participated in the rally on the last day,” he said.
According to EC, the polling percentage is six assembly constituencies were as follows: Vellore – 66.65 per cent, Anaikattu – 74.77 per cent, KV Kuppam – 75.60 per cent, Gudiyatham – 69.06 per cent, Vaniyambadi – 73.25 per cent and Ambur – 70.53 per cent.
The Vellore election was originally scheduled to be held alongside the other 38 constituencies in Tamil Nadu. It was rescinded after President Ramnath Kovind approved Election Commission’s recommendation to cancel the poll over a cash-for-votes scam.