Tamil Nadu will go to the polls later this year, probably by mid-April 2016. The election battle will be essentially between the two powerful Dravidian parties – the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK – although smaller parties are giving themselves a fighting chance. Interestingly, this time the question before the Tamil Nadu electorate may not be which of the two Dravidian parties to vote for but why the opposition DMK or People’s Welfare Front (PWF)- a third front floated by Left parties – should be given a chance.
Although it is too early to speculate on poll alliances, three facts are already clear at the beginning of the year. First, despite the dozen social welfare schemes it has introduced, the incumbent AIADMK has suffered a major blow due to its image because of its high-handed style of functioning, allegations of rampant corruption, extravagance and
Second, the DMK, led by M Karunanidhi and his son M K Stalin has been unable to capitalise on the anti-incumbency wave across the state. It seems to have no clear election strategy.
Three, the PWF, the third front floated by CPI(M), continues to fumble without a vibrant leadership or a concrete vision statement for its existence.
In Tamil Nadu, politics is largely controlled by the two Dravidian parties. Others, including national players such as the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties play a minor role. That hangover continues into 2016 assembly election but what is new is the large number of undecided voters.
History says it will be the usual DMK vs AIADMK battle with smaller parties joining the larger parties in the final stages of the election; however, the election may be decided by the undecided votes with a two or three percentage of votes perhaps deciding the verdict.
On the other hand, the AIADMK may return to power because it has all the advantages of holding power and the ‘maximum resources’ to win.
Until three months ago, Jayalalithaa had the unquestionable upper hand. However, the heavy rains and floods in November and December exposed the inefficiency of the Jayalalithaa government both in terms of handling the disaster and its poor relief efforts.
People remained homeless after the floods in Chennai and other northern districts and allegations have been made that the floods occurred due to the mishandling of Chembarambakkam reservoir. Jayalalithaa and her government have disputed this. However, observers and top bureaucrats believe that Jayalalithaa could exploit relief work and direct money transfers for flood victims to swing the elections her way.
The irony is that these developments which have steadily eroded the image of the Jayalalithaa government have not benefited the DMK. There is no visible wave in favour of the DMK. DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi continues be the peacemaker between his sons M K Stalin, M K Alagiri and daughter Kanimozhi – the party hasn’t been able to project Stalin as the CM candidate. Stalin’s well-designed political campaign directed by event managers from north India saw him tour the entire state but that failed to energise the public.
January will witness crucial developments in Tamil Nadu politics. Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a caste-based party representing OBC-Vanniyars and led by S Ramadoss and his son Anbumani might join the DMK alliance. While an alliance with the PMK will benefit the DMK with its strong vote banks in at least 10 constituencies in the northern districts, there are two road blocks that could delay the deal: the PMK has a notorious past of anti-Dalit riots that will make the unconsolidated Dalit votes critical for DMK. Also, PMK’s desire to project Anbumani as the CM candidate makes the alliance difficult.
Anbumani is not the only one eyeing the CM post – there is ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth too. His DMDK claims to have at least 6 to 7 percentage of the vote share. Interestingly, the DMDK is more in demand than the PMK and that allows the captain to keep everyone guessing. He was part of the NDA alliance in the last Lok Sabha elections but he has been inviting all the top leaders in the state to his office for the past three weeks – only to serve them tea and gave them a handshake. Tamilisai Soundararajan, BJP state president was excited when she got a call from the captain last week. A few days later, his office invited the entire PWF leadership him and promised nothing in return. A source said the captain had even questioned the purpose of their visit.
Sources in the AIADMK said they are now planning on alliances. “There are indications from Amma. We will come to know about it by January 20,” said a senior leader. Sources in the PWF, said this month will be crucial. “There is no point in keeping a front going without even 15 per cent vote share. If there is a strong wave against DMK and AIADMK, our 6 to 10 per cent vote share will still not double to 20 per cent,” he said.
AIADMK has already started informal talks with CPI, which is now part of PWF, while G K Vasan’s Tamil Manila Congress (TMC) hopes that they will get a fair deal if they go with AIADMK. A party source in TMC, which is yet to contest any election, said they should be getting minimum 20 seats from AIADMK, out of a total of 234. AIADMK sources maintain that if there is an alliance, still the party will contest in minimum 200 seats while sharing the rest with smaller parties including actor Sarathkumar’s party claiming OBC-Nadar votes base from south and Muslim political party, MMK.
For all the parties, 2016 is crucial. A loss for the AIADMK will put a question mark on Jayalalithaa’s political future as her mobility is already restricted. For the DMK too, if they are defeated again, turbulent times are ahead, especially for Stalin who was mostly invisible and inactive for four years. All the smaller players — CPI, CPI(M), VCK, MDMK, Vijayakanth and the BJP — face a major crisis if they don’t make their presence felt in the 2016 polls.